Misogyny is prevalent in more places than you may think. Over time, we have been conditioned to overlook basic generalizations and fantasies about women portrayed in entertainment and media. These common similitudes are more often referred to as tropes, and when it comes to sexism in film, the list of tropes seems endless.
For starters, can you name five movies off the top of your head that feature a businesswoman who isn’t “cold and heartless?” If you were able to name five, congratulations. If not, don’t worry. Not many people can successfully list off movies fitting that bill, and there’s a reason for that. What about films where the female lead is over-emotional, portrayed as a trainwreck, or stuck in a love triangle? I’m willing to bet you can think of a lot of movies fitting that description.
When it comes to film, over half of the scriptwriters in the industry are men, and a staggering 78.9 percent of the movie and film directors are also men. This leaves the role of female characters in film up to the imaginations of men. This results in over-sexualized female characters and female leads who are standing in the shadows of male leads.
To pull an example of a character that was the result of the male imagination, let’s take a look at Harley Quinn, a key antagonist in the Batman movies, as well as in Suicide Squad. Her character was created in 1992 by Bruce Timm and Paul Dini, and her first official appearance in the comics came about in 1993.
Previously known as Doctor Harleen Quinzel, Harley Quinn began as a promising young psychologist at an asylum. She was an independent, level-headed woman with a good career path and a bright future ahead of her. However, while working at the asylum, she would come to meet the Joker. After which, she would become the Harley Quinn that we all know today. But who is that?
Harley Quinn is a woman who is obsessed with a man, living her life in his shadow. Finally, she gave up her excellent career in pursuit of a man she knew had a severe case of psychosis and was also a known criminal. What does this series of decisions say about the way men view women?
Harley’s obsession with the Joker led her to stick by him for a substantial amount of time. However, was it her fault that she stuck by him for so long? Throughout the comics and even the movies, you witness the Joker cutting Harley, beating her, and isolating her from everyone. He emotionally manipulates her, leading her to believe that she is nothing without him. At one point, the Joker punishes her for becoming “too independent.” In the Joker’s eyes, Harley is just a pawn for his schemes. However, to Harley, the Joker is the man she loves. Love is a powerful thing and can lead people to do things that are completely out of character. I could go on and on about the misogyny we see in the Batman films. There are plenty more. However, the Joker and Harley are the most well-known, and their duo makes a good example.
So, how could this be representative of the writer’s internalized misogyny? In psychology, you can find a term called “psychological projection.” It’s a defense mechanism where individuals project their subconscious thoughts and desires onto other people, and sometimes, fictional characters. We can find a more common and relatable example in dating. Have you ever been with someone who constantly wanted to check your phone, fearing that you’re cheating? However, often, they end up being the ones cheating. This is an example of psychological projection. It occurs when individuals project their subconscious thoughts and feelings onto other people because they are uncomfortable with having those thoughts and feelings themselves.
Of course, Harley Quinn does eventually gain complete independence. However, using misogynistic trauma as grounds for character development is far from desirable, as it doesn’t paint a realistic picture of women.
So, why are women so obsessed with Harley Quinn? This next part is not so much based on research as my previous paragraphs were, but it is a conclusion that I have come to myself that I feel makes sense. Harley is a highly sexualized character. She’s skinny, blonde, has blue eyes, and wears clothes appealing to the male gaze.
I want to preface this next part by stating that not all women fall into this category. Some women may dress like Harley Quinn for Halloween as a power move. Some may choose her as an icon, symbolizing the ability to wear whatever they want. However, in my experience, the fascination with Harley Quinn comes from the subconscious desire to be found attractive. Unfortunately, this is not the fault of the women doing this. It is, in my opinion, a result of what the world has raised women to believe they should be skinny, fair-skinned, blonde, and visually attractive. Many women feel confident when they fit that bill, but that is a feeling that I believe was taught by society. Allow me to elaborate.
Growing up as a female, we are told things like “watch your weight,” “wear flattering clothes,” and “if you want to find a date, put on some makeup.” This eventually leads to women who subconsciously cater to the male gaze. This is a mindset that is perpetuated through media and is harmful to women today.
Bear in mind that women wearing what they want is not grounds for men to approach these women or demand their attention, as women do not owe men a thing. There will be more on that in my next article.