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[personal profile] espanolbot posting in [community profile] scans_daily
Harley Quinn is easily one of the most popular of the Batman Rogues, and in part that's due to her rounded characterisation, humour and tragic backstory... but there's one kind of questionable part that creators over the years have had a bit of difficulty ironing out.

Namely: How she got her degree.

See, the thing is that even back in the Batman: the Animated Series days, Harley was depicted has having cheated to get her degree by implictly sleeping with her professors...


On the one hand, even in these days she was shown to have some agency in this, it not appearing to be a case of her being exploited by her professors... but as I explain later, this combined with other stuff kind of goes in directions the creators might not want to explore.

But on the other hand, this combined with her goofy personality often has been used by some creators as shorthand for Harley being... well... somehow at fault for the Joker managing to brain wash her. Using the victim-blaming logic that, "If she had gotten into Arkham through actually working for her degree, the Joker wouldn't have been able to get control of her! She didn't even get into university on academic merit, she got there on a gymnastics scholarship! Huffduff!".

Hence, a lot of her portrayals tend to focus on her being a stereotypical "dumb blonde", most notably in the Batman cartoon and in the Arkham video games, the latter of which has Batman repeatedly calling her stupid over the course of the franchise ("She was never that bright." For example).

This hasn't stopped later creators from acknowledging that Harley is actually a lot smarter than people give her credit for, which unfortunately also leads to her having some issues with her own intelligence, as shown in Gotham Girls.




This issue (number 3 if you want to read it for yourself) does acknowledge that Harley cheated to get her degree despite her intelligence, but also implies that she really didn't need to, and that her fears that she's as dumb as people think she is lead her to, well, not even try. If that makes sense.

Obviously, the whole implied sex for grades thing made its way into the main, more adult-focused DC comics, where Harley was (mostly) allowed to demonstrate that she was legitimately a really good psychiatrist on multiple occasions in her own series. Even managing to set up a practice under an assumed name in the latter half of her solo series that even counted members of the GCPD among her patients.

The preboot series Gotham Sirens even gave Harley a non-Joker centric reason for wanting to study psychiatry in her coming from an exceedingly dysfunctional family (including a mother who is coded as having some form of bipolar disorder, and a father who made his living conning women out of their fortunes).





Harley's first solo series (ie the preboot, post-No Man's Land one) does acknowledge the Sex for Grades thing, but puts a different spin on it. Namely, her professor was totally down with making Harley exchange sex for better grades (again, despite it being unnecessary due to her being hella smart), only for it to turn out that Harley had recorded him propositioning her. She then uses the recording to blackmail him into getting her the Arkham internship that put her on the course to meeting the Joker.


This version of her origin also happens to be the only one that acknowledges that (despite what the novels by a certain type of person might say) the fact that the professor would be willing to use his position of power over Harley to attempt to exploit her like this is more of an issue with him than with Harley. Their's is a student/teacher relationship, him exploiting the power dynamic between them is hella creepy.

Which brings me back to my original point, with the creators probably not intending for the story or characters to go in this direction. Basically?

1. If the issue of Harley getting her degree (and by extention her brainwashing by the Joker) occurred due to her sleeping with her teachers, this manages to be both an example of victimblaming AND "slut shaming" at the same time (ie if she hadn't slept with certain people, then she wouldn't have become the henchgirl/lover of Gotham's most notorious mass-murderer).

Or, 2. If Harley was smart enough to get her qualifications under her own merits... but her internal issues lead her to think that she wasn't good enough to do it on her own, a frame of mind exploited by professors (who, let's not forget, were teaching PSYCHIATRY so should have recognised her issues), then this indicates that her relationship with the Joker is just one in a long line of abusive one-sided relationships with older, more powerful men (even her DAD, in a nonsexual sense)... Which is really sad!

What I'm saying is... her implictly making out with her professors might have begun as an off-hand reference to being a stereotypical "dumb blonde" (with the traditionally attached fingerwagging in regards to said stereotype's sexuality), but later developments with the character made this part of her origin even more gross and tragic as time goes on.

Up Next: Big Barda and Superman in THAT crossover...

Date: 2015-08-13 06:13 pm (UTC)
cloudtrader: (Default)
From: [personal profile] cloudtrader
Interesting analysis and examples! Thanks for putting this together -- it gives some nice insight into the character.

I forget...

Date: 2015-08-13 06:42 pm (UTC)
deh_tommy: (Default)
From: [personal profile] deh_tommy
Didn't the New 52 Suicide Squad series do away with the 'Harleen sleeps with her peers' backstory?

In any case, thank you for these posts, for I think you bring up many interesting points

Re: I forget...

Date: 2015-08-13 09:09 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] donnblake
Er... sleeping with your peers isn't usually as big a deal (assuming there are no other consent issues)- it's when it's with your superiors or subordinates that thinks can get squicky.

Re: I forget...

Date: 2015-08-13 09:19 pm (UTC)
deh_tommy: (Default)
From: [personal profile] deh_tommy
Well, I wanted to say 'superiors' but I was afraid that I was being offensive by implying Harley wasn't equal with everyone else (at least, I feared the term would be interpreted as such). I thought 'peers' could be used interchangebly with the former, but judging by your comment, I was wrong.

In any case, didn't the New 52 Suicide Squad remove this background for Harley Quinn?

Re: I forget...

Date: 2015-08-13 09:46 pm (UTC)
kamino_neko: Tedd from El Goonish Shive. Drawn by Dan Shive, coloured by Kamino Neko. (Default)
From: [personal profile] kamino_neko
Peer is...a confusing word. It's an autoantinym.

The most common meaning is someone's equal. This is the only sense you'll hear 'my/his/her/your/their peer(s)' in.

Then there's the other meaning...a hereditary noble. This is, oddly, a specific use of the first sense - a noble is a 'peer of the realm'.

Re: I forget...

Date: 2015-08-14 01:37 pm (UTC)
junipepper: (Default)
From: [personal profile] junipepper
Well, the term "peers of the realm" came about because originally, the nobles were considered the companions of the monarch. Not equals, necessarily, but the closest thing a monarch could have. (I think.)

Re: I forget...

Date: 2015-08-14 01:43 pm (UTC)
junipepper: (Default)
From: [personal profile] junipepper
You might be overthinking this. :-)

'Professors' or 'teachers' would have worked fine. There's no issue of inherent superiority here, it's an imbalance of power due to circumstances. A teacher is in a position of authority over his/her students, no matter who they are in other aspects of life.

/didactic tangent

Date: 2015-08-13 10:08 pm (UTC)
starwolf_oakley: (Default)
From: [personal profile] starwolf_oakley
There was a similar reference somewhere. "I didn't sleep my way to a psychology degree for nothin', you know!"
From: [personal profile] 7dialsmystery
Mother, brother, sister, father. She seeks out toxic, impossible to please, exploitative people just like them. Joker is the pinnacle (or nadir) of criminal scumbags.
Edited Date: 2015-08-13 11:20 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] 7dialsmystery
I think Harley seeks out romantic relationships with the same toxic people she grew up with.

Date: 2015-08-13 11:34 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] lego_joker
I'll be honest: I don't really like Harley (I feel that both the Joker and Poison Ivy are more interesting without her), but the idea that she's a "dumb bimbo" strikes me as just an excuse to hate her. ANY Batman character can be a total dumbass if the writer feels like it. It's why I've never found reason to respect characters with "intelligence" as a defining trait.

Date: 2015-08-14 12:08 am (UTC)
reveen: (Default)
From: [personal profile] reveen
I guess the writers never conceived of the idea that someone who seems ditzy can actually be very smart, or someone who actually is ditzy can manage to get a degree. Two misconceptions that can be dispelled with even brief contact with a University.

But hey, if the writers had PHDs they wouldn't be writing Batman comics now would they? ; )

Date: 2015-08-14 04:24 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] cricharddavies
Or possibly they thought if she was actually a capable psychiatrist, she wouldn't have fallen for Joker's bullshit. Except that Mr. Dini, who wrote the "Harley sleeps her way to a degree" story also wrote the story which portrays her as the only person who saw all the way through the Joker's bullshit.

Date: 2015-08-14 04:35 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] lego_joker
"Case Study", right?

My personal take is that on several (mostly subconscious) levels, Harley knew full well the Joker was lying his ass off; she just wanted a chance to throw away all civilized responsibility and get some fun out of life.

Date: 2015-08-14 09:06 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] kingofmadcows
I remember there being one interpretation of Harley where she was very career driven, and her unscrupulous plan to write tell all books about super villains was based more on ambition rather than finding an easy way to make money, but she was also very stressed by her success. She fell for Joker and became Harley because she yearned to get away from the pressures of her career so she could let loose and get away from the concerns of society.

Date: 2015-08-14 05:16 pm (UTC)
yap: (Default)
From: [personal profile] yap
Part of it is that Harley originated in a medium that mainly works as a morality play. Even the less TV-friendly Mad Love gn takes that position, contrasting Harley with Joan Leland who is presented as being genuinely interested in working at Arkham to do some good as opposed to being rich and famous. The second animated Harley, on The Batman series, is first introduced as a pop psychologist with her own tv show. She's been used as a vehicle to criticize the Doctor Phils of the world.

Date: 2015-08-15 07:43 am (UTC)
jekylls_salvation: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jekylls_salvation
Has anyone ever actually told her if she hadn't slept with certain people, then she wouldn't have become the henchgirl/lover of Gotham's most notorious mass-murderer? I'm not even seeing a writer directly tell us she's at fault for her fate. Writers have smeared parts of a lot of characters' pasts. Hal Jordan used to be way more sexist and racist. Now he's less so, because... it's unthinkable that a superhero would be sexist or racist? I guess? Anyway. The Joker is a mass murderer. Some writers make him Batman's whimsical frenemy.

Plus, I get that sad stuff has happened to her, but she seems to be taking it all in stride pretty well, right? Well, for a crazy person. She's silly and kooky and kinda sad, and that's Harley. My opinion of her isn't changed by what she did when she was 19. When Batman has sex with Catwoman, I assume he's human and so that's why he does that. When it's revealed that his having sex with Talia might not have been so consensual, I take the fact that he fell for her scheme to mean he's human, sometimes he's vulnerable-- Year One was painful for me. Harley Quinn Year One would probably look a lot like all this, and that'd probably be painful too. But not everybody came out of Smallville.

Also I know doctors who I would not trust with woodland creatures, because I don't care about their qualifications, I've seen them drunk. So I wouldn't put so much into the "But she's an actual, qualified health professional!" basket. I hate to say anyone can do it, but I've seen some objectively dumb people do it.




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