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.