Is Harley Quinn our Jane Everywoman?
I watched Suicide Squad and came to the realization that Harley Quinn reminded me of every woman that I know, depending on the scene. (Please note that this is ONLY a reference to the character as portrayed in the 2016 movie. There may be some minor spoilers ahead.) Harley’s character came off as strong, independent, sexy, smart, abused, lonely, in love, intelligent, goofy, brave, and more.
For most of the movie, Harley wears skimpy, tight, revealing outfits. She works her body to distract others. She uses it to draw attention to herself. But she also dresses this way when she’s in a cage, alone, so she might well be doing this for her own reasons without giving thought to other people. Looking good for yourself, not for anyone else. That reminds me of several women I know. Dressing provocatively to get more attention also reminds me of a few women I know. (That’s not a degrading observation, they will tell you that they are doing it.) There’s also a flashback which shows her before, back when she was a doctor. She’s dressed modestly there. And in another scene, she’s dressed comfortably in more modest attire while caring for children and her beloved.
There’s a lot of online chatter about a need for strong female characters. Though Harley is a villain, I submit that she qualifies for the slot. Take, for example, the glass elevator scene. She separates from the group. Monsters attack. She deals with them. The elevator opens. How the others got to the floor faster than the elevator is slightly unclear, but there they are… waiting to rescue her. Harley, however, is in no need of rescue. She handled her business.
Her relationship with the Joker is how she’s too often defined. That happens to a lot of women. The relationship errs on the abusive side. She fights for the love of someone who is unable to return her feelings in the way she wishes would happen. That reminds me of every woman I know. Perhaps not wasting time with a boyfriend, but with a friend or a family member, that is how I can include every woman I know in this generalization.
But there’s another side to her relationship that I didn’t know about. Consider that the Joker is named as Batman’s main antagonist (I’ve seen several compelling articles about character construction and relationships that support this yin - to - his - yang theory.) Batman struggles against committed relationships because he feels he’d put the other person in too much danger. The Joker addresses this head on in the Suicide Squad movie. He asks Harley if she’d die for him, and she says yes. But then he asks if she would live for him. Her agreement to this leads him to helping her transform into her own formidable character. Yes, the Joker does come to get her during the course of the movie. But look at her, she’s fine! He’s not coming to rescue her so much as he’s coming to give her a ride. Add in the phone updates and his “rescue” is basically an Uber upgrade.
The relationship between Harley and the Joker is considered abusive by many. I’m no psychologist, but one should perhaps evaluate based on what happens to Harley after she thinks she’ll never see the Joker again. She’s sad, she grieves a little, but she picks herself back up and goes off to save the day. And then, given the opportunity to rewrite her fate, to have her dreams come true, she (SPOILER) picks her friends instead. There’s such strength there. Not only does it remind me of many of my fellow women, but it’s a moment that makes her a good example to females everywhere. A hero. Someone to look up to, to strive to be like, and to idolize. It’s so unexpected, but there it is. She’s vulnerable and feminine, but she’s also brave and confident.
As for being goofy, the scene where she acquires a purse and, when the guy looks at her like she’s nuts, she responds that it’s normal behavior for villains. It’s a very funny moment. I definitely know a lot of women who rock that sort of off the cuff humor. And a few who would love that purse.
Her character shows off brains during the flashback of her days as a prominent psychiatrist. Are those smarts gone, drained away in the vat that made her the Joker’s jester? No, I don’t believe so. The bar tending scene has her dishing out the same sort of medicine. Except she has no filter, no bed-side manner reservation. She flat out tells one character to own what he did. Women far too often hide their brains behind their beauty, as Harley demonstrates.
Not every woman can wield a baseball bat, giant mallet, and a revolver. Not every woman wears pigtails and two different eye-shadow colors at once. We aren’t all in love with a green-haired fellow. But I believe that, if you look just a little, you’ll find at least one trait of every woman in the Harley Quinn character played by Margot Robbie in the movie Suicide Squad. Finally, a Jane Everywoman to pair against the John Everyman.