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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at U Toronto chapter.

Edited by: Laura Sweet

Let’s reimagine our concept of heroines for a second, shall we?

The chaotic, femme-fatale counterpart of the Joker, Harley Quinn, is a cynically playful calamity. While she begins her DC journey as the Joker’s girlfriend and partner-in-crime, we see a steady line of growth and personal development in Harley as she progresses from Joker’s more passive, manipulated lackey to her independent self-reliant, takes-no-BS from anyone version we all know and love. 

While her actions may be blood-stained, Harley brings the explosive energy of a madwoman and the uncaged anger at the patriarchy in her escapades. The epitome of “nice girl gone crazy”, Harleen Quinzel begins her DC journey in Suicide Squad as a psychiatrist, who, upon attempting to treat the Joker, falls in love with him. However, she’s not a passive sidekick or a prized possession. Unlike classic female DC characters like Batman’s Rachel or Superman’s Lois Lane, Harley is a force to be reckoned with. While her innate nature is a bit psychotic, Harley embraces her individuality, sexuality, and raw energy, capitalizing on her assets and using them to her advantage.  

Despite originally appearing in the DC universe as Joker’s sidekick/mistreated girlfriend, Harley comes into herself over the course of the two movies. Birds of Prey takes us on Harley Quinn’s crusade for emancipation from her role as Joker’s harlequin, a cunning play-on-words with her real name. Learning more about her background of being a neglected child tossed over to a nunnery where she was kicked out (“I was never an establishment kinda gal”), Harley learned to fight and defend herself. Putting herself through college and earning a PhD (at least paying for tuition through the money you steal from bank robberies is better than a loan), she’s smart, tactical, and strategic; she knows how to take care of herself. 

But Harley isn’t the kick-ass, hardcore villain she fronts. She’s just like us. She pretends to be strong and unemotional. She fronts a “fearless to the point of recklessness” facade that actually masks her inner fear. She’s stuck in a toxic relationship with the Joker, who views her as his property and takes credit for all of her brilliantly criminal ideas. She, like many of us who have experience with toxicity in romantic partnerships, completely loses herself in her relationship with the Joker, with no sense of identity and individuality. She cannot fully come into her own while in a hierarchal relationship, and their breakup, to say the least, was not taken well (blowing up a chemical manufacturing plant is one way to deal with feelings, I guess). While she struggles to find herself again minus the Joker and his maniacal influence, she breaks free of his reputation and comes into her own, making a name for herself in Gotham City. She’s no longer “Joker’s girl”, but Harley Quinn, queen of crime. 

The anti-damsel in distress, Harley rescues herself time and time again, along with plenty of other male and female heroes and villains. With her chaotic ingenuity combined with her thirst for justice through revenge, Harley is a karmic happening to her enemies and an essential asset to her allies. No one owns her, and no one can stop her once her mind is set. With her guns loaded with hackey sacks and glitter bombs, she’s her own saviour and the female hero we all need and should strive to be like. Because what’s a little chaos when you can be true to yourself? 

Sarah Cassidy

U Toronto '22

University of Toronto Classics & Political Science