The Abuse Double Standard

I was discussing the idea of people thinking of Harley as an innocent angel the other night with someone and I just had an epiphany. It’s something I’m pretty sure I’ve seen before, but I never paid any mind to it.

Let me start off by giving you a list of Batman villains that have been abused in their backstory (or currently in one case).

  • Jonathan Crane - Bullied relentlessly and abused by his grandmother.
  • Thomas Elliot - Suffered emotional abuse at the hands of his mother even before the car accident. His father’s death just made it worse.
  • Harleen Quinzel - Continually abused by the Joker both physically and psychologically.
  • Oswald Cobblepot - Mocked for his appearance both by other children and his own parents.
  • Pamela Isley - Manipulated and experimented on by Jason Woodrue.
  • Edward Nigma - Beaten by his father often.
  • Roman Sionis - Dropped as a baby and his parents paid off the hospital to pretend it didn’t happen. And his parents were overall neglectful.
  • Waylon Jones - bullied for his appearance and had an abusive alcoholic aunt.

Okay now. There are a lot of villains that happen to be abuse victims. However, there are only two of them who are consistently treated as innocent in spite of the horrible things they’ve done. And I think you know which two they are.

Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy.

Black Mask, Scarecrow, and Hush are almost never excused for their abhorrent actions (Scarecrow on very rare occasions). And the Riddler, the Penguin, and Killer Croc don’t have nearly the same outcry of victimhood as Harley and Ivy do. This is one of the reasons why I believe that it’s based on the idea that people (especially on Tumblr) cannot accept the fact that a woman can be just as cruel as a man or need to be pushed into it. Therefore they cling to this idea of victimhood as a means to justify whitewashing the morality of (originally) intentionally morally complex characters.

The idea that Harley chose to join the Joker is immediately shot down because of the idea that it perpetuates victim-blaming and makes it look like she asked for the abuse. Clearly, she didn’t ask for the abuse. She asked for the criminal lifestyle. The excitement of causing chaos and destruction to get into the spotlight. She only puts up with the abuse because of her mad love for him and that desire to cause chaos and be seen. It’s not like she always wants to hurt people, but she does sometimes enjoy it. And it’s an aspect that is often ignored in favor of her sympathetic traits.

Same thing goes for Poison Ivy. Ivy is an ecoterrorist with good intentions. However, people see her “protector of mother nature” thing and emphasize that aspect. They often forget or ignore the often borderline genocidal methods that she has used to carry this out. And they’ve forgotten the fact that while she deserves some sympathy, she’s still a homicidal maniac at the end of the day. And no amount of good intentions can justify that.

When’s the last time you ever saw someone defending Hush in spite of him cutting out Catwoman’s heart? Do people ever try to bring up the abuse victim defense for him? No. He’s almost always considered a horrible person with no consideration taken for his past. Probably has something to do with his misogyny and racism. When’s the last time you ever saw anyone defending Black Mask in spite of him sadistically and brutally torturing a teenage girl? Do people ever try to bring up his neglectful parents? …Well, now that I think about it, people barely bring him up at all, which is a shame.

And how about Scarecrow, huh? I have yet to see someone try to use his past of bullying and abuse being used to justify performing horrific experiments on innocent people using his fear gas. Never. Even the people who acknowledge his past never sugarcoat his actions. He’s still portrayed as fairly sadistic and often remorseless. The only one who gets any kind of consistent pass is Croc and yet rarely will you ever see anyone ignoring the fact that he eats people. But as a whole, the male villains don’t get that consistent pass.

So you can’t tell me that Harley being an abuse victim is a good reason to excuse or ignore her villainous qualities. In spite of her good qualities, she has aided in some terrible things and done terrible things on her own. She isn’t an innocent angel who was corrupted and needs to be protected. She was already shady. Batman even says she was no angel in Mad Love! If you wanna bring up the fact that she was abused (and this includes bringing up Ivy as well), think of all those other villains I mentioned and tell me if you would extend the same sympathies to them as you do to the female victims.

Healthy Body
Operation Ivy
Healthy Body

Operation Ivy - “Healthy Body”

Expensive vitamin pills and wheat germ on your windowsill
Your schedule’s hectic and you’ve got no time to kill
Earning money and you’re spending it the right way
You’re just in such a rush, you don’t know if it’s night or day

5:30, get up, run, run, run!
Then, you work eight hours
Slaving under the gun
Your little world is based on lies, lies, lies!
Always rushing, but you’re never, ever satisfied

Healthy body, sick mind
Working overtime
Healthy body, sick mind
Too hectic, too hectic
Healthy body, sick mind
Why don’t you just unwind?
It’s just a matter of time
Sick body, sick mind!

The money you spend on running shoes could feed me for a week
Your plans are laid so well that you can’t even sleep
Pursuit of happiness got your life locked up under martial law
You’ve got everything to lose, so you’re paranoid about some fatal flaw

5:30, get up, run, run, run!
Then, you work eight hours
Slaving underneath the gun
Your little world is based on lies, lies, lies, lies, lies, lies, lies!
Always rushing, but you’re never, ever satisfied

Healthy body, sick mind
Working overtime
Healthy body, sick mind
Too hectic, too hectic
Healthy body, sick mind
Why don’t you just unwind?
It’s just a matter of time
Sick body, sick mind!

Outlast in Arkham Asylum

Think about it. It would be a great idea. And I don’t mean like Batman: Arkham Asylum. I mean like the atmosphere and gameplay mechanics of Outlast but set in Arkham. More of a survival horror than an action-adventure game. Probably playing as either Jack Ryder or Vicki Vale.

Imagine having to run from Killer Croc in the same way that you run from Chris Walker hunting you in the corridors. Or you stumble across Ivy’s domain and she traps you there and you have to find a way to sneak around her plants.

Maybe you could have people like Crane and Harley still working on staff. Maybe have Harley pretend to be helping you only to lure you in for the Joker. How cool would that be?

Maybe have a scene in which you get kidnapped like the Rick Trager sequence, only it’s Crane. Maybe he tries testing his fear toxins and the effects last throughout the rest of the game kinda like the beginning of Whistleblower.

And the real kicker? Batman isn’t coming to save you! No, no, no. Then we wouldn’t have a game. You’ve gotta fend off the Arkham psychos on your own.

It could work. Who knows? I think it would be a great idea. Send in some suggestions and I might make a more organized post about it.


The front and back covers of Ivy’s album “Lint Rides Again” (1989)

This is basically the non-studio recorded version of their self-titled album “Operation Ivy/Energy” (1994)

If anyone knows the reason behind why it strongly resembles The Germs' album cover of “GI”, please add in a note below! 

Things to Note about Harley, Ivy, and the Joker
  • Harley is a victim and the way the Joker treats her is horrible. She doesn’t deserve the things he puts her through.
  • Harley is a villain and chose to be with the Joker in the first place. She was morally ambiguous from the start and was not completely innocent.
  • Ivy deeply cares about Harley and wants the best for her. She wants her to see the Joker for what he truly is.
  • Ivy has a general hatred of humanity that sometimes gets projected onto Harley. She is also easily irritated and is constantly annoyed by some of Harley’s behavior.
  • The Joker is an utter sociopath who is willing to kill people without hesitation and mostly sees Harley as a willing patsy.
  • The Joker does care on some level about Harley even if it isn’t the way someone with a normal emotional temperament would love someone.
  • Harley and Ivy have good qualities and are not completely evil people. These qualities should not be ignored.
  • Harley and Ivy are highly dangerous and violent criminals who have killed without remorse. They are not normal people and should not be expected to act as such.

None of the facts mentioned in this post are mutually exclusive. The sooner we can all accept that, the sooner we can all get along.

Palmiotti and Connor: Harley Quinn hates the Joker and always has. She wants to leave her criminal life behind and become an antihero. She’s also having sex with Poison Ivy but we don’t have to say that explicitly in the comic. We’ll just make it obvious through obnoxious and gratuitous amounts of fanservice alluding to it.
And Ivy is always supportive of Harley and has never done anything bad to her. Or anything at all outside of her relationship with Harley. She’s always been tied to Harley and hasn’t done much on her own.
We think we’ve done a good job of representing these characters.


Poison Ivy’s Independence

Guys, this needs to stop. I get you’re excited about the solo Harley movie and possibly getting Ivy in as her girlfriend, but you can’t just reduce Ivy’s character to just being tied to Harley. She has a long history in the comics (even longer than Harley) and she should have - no, deserves to have - a chance to establish her character in the setting beyond Harley’s story.

Look, I get how a lot of you are about Ivy being with Harley in the DCEU, but can we just take a step back here and consider the fact that she needs to establish herself as a character? I mean, she has been around longer than Harley. Her first appearance in comics was in 1966. Harley’s first appearance was in 1992. And that wasn’t even her first appearance in comics - let alone, the main DCU!

Yet so far, Harley has two full solo series before Ivy, and when Ivy finally got one, it was a miniseries and not an ongoing one. And Harley even appeared in the first issue! I think that seems a little unfair that Poison Ivy had to wait fifty years in comics to finally get a limited run and yet Harley was fresh off from BTAS and got an ongoing series a few years after her first appearance.

And thanks to certain writers (*cough cough* Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Connor *cough cough*) and a certain part of the fandom, she’s turned into nothing more than Ivy’s girlfriend who happens to have a thing for plants. Yet those same fans get angry about Harley being reduced to nothing more than “the Joker’s girlfriend.” Hypocritical much?

While the crappy writing is definitely a big component, it’s largely inspired by the fanbase. And since the fanbase accepts her being Harley’s girlfriend and not much else, that’s what the writers will make her.

It’s a pretty telling sign of how bad it is when this is an actual panel in her solo miniseries:

If even she’s sick of it, you know it’s bad.

And I think it’s a humongous insult to her character to only have her introduced in the new DCEU as Harley’s girlfriend. She deserves a proper portrayal in film independent of Harley’s story. Especially after… *shudders* the last time she was in a movie… She needs a fresh start. And that fresh start shouldn’t just be as Harley’s girlfriend. She’s a well-known character in the fandom. Let this be an opportunity to introduce her as something much more than a footnote in another character’s story.

Yes, it’s good for Harley to have a relationship with someone other than the Joker. Even though I prefer that ship, I’m well aware of the fact that he’s an abusive piece of crap. But I think that her well-being shouldn’t be at the expense of Ivy’s characterization. Maybe Margot understands Harley’s character, but that doesn’t exactly guarantee that she knows about Ivy’s outside of her connection to Harley. And even if she does, the fandom perpetuating this narrow view of Ivy doesn’t exactly help.

“But how would you actually go about doing that?” you might be thinking. Well, Ben Affleck’s Batman movie is potentially coming out before Harley’s. That would be a good place to introduce her. Even if Deathstroke is gonna be the main villain, that doesn’t mean Ivy couldn’t be included. Heck, they could be villains of equal threat level. Establish her character before you pair her off with Harley. And when you do, don’t just forget about all that characterization.

So come on, guys! Let her at least be her own character! Even if she’s gonna be paired up with Harley later, at least don’t let her defining character trait be her ties to Harley. She is one of Batman’s most dangerous foes. She is a complex character that deserves to be shown as such.