Sexualized Saturdays: Suicide Squad and the Harley Quinn Problem

HarleyQBTASHarley Quinn is one of my all-time favorite characters. I have a lot of feelings about Harley Quinn, and it has been one of my greatest wishes ever to see Harley Quinn in a live-action movie. So when I first heard about Suicide Squad becoming a movie, I was very excited. Harley has been a major player in the Suicide Squad comic and it’s always interesting to see the kind of person Harley is away from her evil counterpart and love interest, the Joker. That was always part of the appeal for me. No matter what, the Joker’s character kind of looms over Harley even when he is not present. Through mental, physical, emotional, and verbal abuse, the Joker molded Harley into the villain we see in the comics. But I think Harley is at her most interesting when she is removed from the Joker’s influence. We get to meet something of the real Harley when she is away from the Joker, and Suicide Squad was one of those comics that gave us a rare opportunity to do that.

In the New 52 her story is a little different than the original. She is still a psychiatrist who is seduced by the Joker, but she is seduced more by his ability to show her how to wield power and live freely. The original Harley was very much tricked by the Joker. He makes her think he had a broken home, a bad past, and that he doesn’t mean to be a bad guy but he can’t help it (and somehow it always ends up being all Batman’s fault). Harley falls for it and falls in love with him. The New 52 Harley is not fooled by the Joker trying to play on her emotions. She is only truly seduced by him after he gives her the severed thumb of the man who killed her father. Eventually, however, this new Harley leaves the Joker. While their relationship is still very clearly abusive and codependent, Harley seems more willing to separate from the Joker. And she’s more capable of making her own decisions, though it’s clearly hard on her when the Joker doesn’t care or notice. Though she still loves him and wants to be with him on some level, this Harley seems to be more aware that the Joker is bad for her. Her codependency and psychological issues are still everpresent and very connected to the Joker, but, at the same time, Harley is more willing to leave the Joker and pursue other romantic relationships in the New 52. (For more info about Harley’s history and development click here.)

Harley-Quinn-New-52-Origin-StoryIn the new Suicide Squad movie, I was excited to see what version of Harley would be featured. Or if would be a mix of her various incarnations. But alas, once promo pictures and more news about Harley’s character in the Suicide Squad movie were revealed, I and other fans became dubious about this phenomenal female character’s portrayal. And sadly for me the issue revolves once again around her costume.

Harley’s extremely sexualized costume is again the focus of this debate. Harley’s costume in the movie is modeled after her New 52 look, which also appears in Suicide Squad. So really, her current look in the movie is at least in line with the current comics. However, I was never a fan of Harley’s New 52 look, which I saw just as a ploy by DC Comics to up her sex appeal. My main issue is that Harley was always trying to appeal to the Joker’s tastes, which her original costume reflects, but her New 52 outfit doesn’t. It makes sense, then, that Harley’s original costume before the New 52 makes her look more like a clown rather than stereotypically sexy. Because of this, when I saw her New 52 costume, I found it to be at least mildly out of character for her. Harley’s street clothes have often been very stereotypically sexy, so she definitely likes to show off her body. But wearing basically underwear as her uniform didn’t seem right (or practical). Add to that that there are very few female comic heroes or villains who don’t show any skin (like Harley, who used to not show any skin though her outfit was practically painted on) and you certainly can see the issue many feminists like myself have with female objectification in comics.

pic via MTV

pic via MTV (pictured left: Suicide Squad live action movie; pictured right: Suicide Squad comic)

Some people made the argument that Harley’s New 52 costume actually showed her as being more independent and breaking away from the Joker. And it is true that the New 52 did portray Harley with more self-esteem and more independence. Though I wasn’t entirely convinced, I can at least buy the argument that her new sexy look is a reflection of her moving on from the Joker and loving herself more. But that whole argument seems to be undone in Harley’s costume in the Suicide Squad movie. The back of her jacket reads “Property of Joker,” her shirt says “Daddy’s Lil Monster”, and her choker says, “Puddin'” in big chunky letters. This new costume spells out the Joker’s claim over Harley’s mind and body more than even her original costume did. This, more than anything, tells me that Harley’s sexed up transformation is just that. Just more male objectification of a female character with no concern over character history or development.

Now, before anyone starts, I am not slut-shaming Harley. First off, Harley’s allowed to wear whatever she wants, but as she’s fictional she actually has no say in the matter, and in this case her outfits are chosen without taking her personality into consideration. Secondly, I wouldn’t mind Harley’s sexualized outfit at all if all the other female comic book characters weren’t almost totally naked. Women are more diverse in their fashion choices than that. And finally, let me say again that I mostly object to what is written on her costume, especially if Harley’s sexualized clothing is supposed to show that she has grown more independent and has moved away from the Joker. I’m not going to lie, while the outfit is not practical for fighting in any way (especially the shoes), I think it’s cute and totally one I would enjoy cosplaying. But I really do not think it is in character for Harley, no matter what stage her relationship with the Joker is at.

All this being said, Harley Quinn’s character doesn’t begin and end with an outfit, and whether this movie is good (for me at least) will depend in large part on Harley’s portrayal. She is an extremely nuanced character, and it would be nice for once to have her costume reflect that and not just have her paraded around as a sex symbol.


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19 thoughts on “Sexualized Saturdays: Suicide Squad and the Harley Quinn Problem

  1. I actually think the Costume make sense for her personality.

    Batman V Superman and Suicide Squad are gonna be awesome next year, DC is about change the entire game. We should be glad they’re including their female characters unlike Marvel. I don’t really care how they dress.

  2. she’s in a t-shirt, jacket and shorts. I’m sorry but people are choosing to sexualize her. I think they’ve done a great job in creating a new and better fitting costume for a live action movie.

  3. http://consequenceofsound.net/2015/05/suicide-squad-has-dc-shot-itself-in-the-foot/

    “A fan favorite originally created for Batman: The Animated Series, Quinn’s obsessed with the Joker, and so having her adopt a similar street aesthetic as her love interest here makes sense. Except what street is this, Bubble Gum Punk Lane? Going blue-and-red as opposed to the classic black-and-red is fine — we’ve seen it in the New 52 version, after all. But, still, that’s red, not cotton candy pink. It’s nice that they haven’t over-sexualized Margot Robbie (despite the hotpants), and maybe going pink lets it be more “cute,” but it also lessens the character’s strength. She doesn’t seem that big of a threat, even with her “Good Night” bat.

    Moreover, it’s pretty lazy that they didn’t alternate the coloring along her costume. Instead of having red down one side of her body and blue down the other, Quinn’s usually depicted as switching it up: left ponytail red, right half of her top red, left pants, etc. It’s a minor detail, maybe, but indicative of what’s happening everywhere with these costumes: They seem to be bashing fans over the head with comic references without focusing on the details to make the page-to-screen transition actually work.

    You can see it on Quinn’s jacket (the back reads “Property of Joker” — ’cause she’s obsessed with Joker, see?!) and the overuse of the phrase “Puddin”, her pet name for Joker. It’s there on her collar and inked upside down on her leg. It’s as if the filmmakers are trying to prove they’ve read the source material, but it puts into question whether they’ve absorbed it; Quinn calls Joker Puddin, so why would she label herself with the word? Twice, even. And again, that ripped “Daddy’s Lil Monster” shirt just screams of being too self-aware. The diamond tats on the leg are a nice callback to her animated duds, but they’re cheapened by the rest of it.”

  4. for that matter, either stick with the original wardrobe like this: https://cdn-img-0.wanelo.com/p/032/86e/2cc/62950b2b7adf0166175a0fe/x354-q80.jpg

    or go for a real bad-ass wardrobes ranging from black & red hi top converse/doc mart with mismatch socks, distressed boyfriend jeans, a burnt out shirt (https://41.media.tumblr.com/0e4596ee4fcb52a35d853da592b8749c/tumblr_nrjzrdrZHs1u3o4lxo1_500.jpg) might suffice for a fan service or ‘male glaze’, a red ripped trench/biker jacket (bonus point if it had an elbow-torn), a sophisticated face mask ( an example: http://i00.i.aliimg.com/img/pb/260/589/108/1108589260_206.jpg), pixie side-cut dyed/natural hairstyle (this: http://cdn.buzznet.com/assets/users16/faithyfantastic/default/large-msg-133402171673.jpg or this: http://lionessebeautybar.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Scorpio-Hair-Pixie-e1414792024368.jpg), lots of piercing, tattoos that resemblance her old worshiping behaviour that only understoods by her & joker that preferably small-written on her left wrist diagonally and the dates where they met for the first time in the form of QR code on her neck, red & black sketchy nail polish, black fingerless right hand gloves (http://www.rannka.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/Women-black-Leather-Lambskin-Punk-Boxing-Fingerless-Gloves.jpg), with LOTS of accessorizing.. IF she had to have anything written on the back of her jacket, on her shirt, or anywhere on her wardrobe then it should be MAX SCHRECK, who was occasionally referenced as an inspiration in the creation of the joker..

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  7. Harley’s time in the Suicide Squad comes before the New 52 – those comics came first. Therefor the movie is set before the New 52 comic series. They haven’t devolved her character with the jacket, shirt and collar. They’re telling the story of her time when the Suicide Squad first comes together.

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  9. I just thought she was a shit actress and downplayed the extent of crazy in order to keep her attractive enough for men to fantasise over. Theres a reason she didn’t have to audition for the role, they looked at her and her body and just thought ‘yep she’ll be enough of a distraction for how badly done this film is’

  10. OK. To some extent I agree with your characterization of Harley and the practicality of the outfit being out of character for Harley. Having said that, the collar coupled with the jacket is actually the underlying theme for the Harley/Joker romance. It describes a typical D/s couple. Yes, that particular relationship has situational ownership of one member of the relationship and as is prevalent in many of the comics and storylines it typifies a 24/7 TPE D/s relationship. So in short while as a feminist I can understand your issues, but even independent subs in such relationships wear things to remind them of their role and relationship with their dominant partner. In modern day society people will get tattoos and even piercings (visible or invisible) to proclaim their particular role in a relationship. So in short I think the costume could have more practical however the choice of the collar and jacket are keeping with her relationship to the Joker no matter how independent.

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