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Feminism in Superhero(ine) Movies

By: Jasmine Zepeda

What defines feminism? What might come to mind is strong women in your life; perhaps family members, senators, or world leaders. Can feminism be found in superheroine comics where the majority of the women wear bikinis or skimpy outfits that are only functional for the male gaze? When discussing feminism in today’s world of superheroines, there is still much to be worked on. There have only been two solo heroine movies, the catwoman movie we have collectively decided as a society to forget, though two more are coming out soon. What mostly comes to mind is the most recent solo hero Marvel movie Captain Marvel. She is tough, bad ass, and wears practical outfits for battle. Captain Marvel became a pioneer in what a female superhero could look like and be, not just sexual costumes and sexual poses. However, she isn’t the only one to pioneer the feminist superheroine film industry to recently come out in theaters. Harley Quinn’s new movie has the potential to show that feminism isn’t only about one type of woman or one type of representation in women.

Equating the two as pioneers in feminism in movies can be confusing. Both women show different aspects of feminism but they are also more alike than you may think. The women’s solo movie, is based around the fact that they escape toxic masculinity. Captain Marvel escapes her mentor’s limitations that he puts on her and his constant comments about controlling her emotions. A comment most women get when they become passionate or angry. Harley Quinn is broken up with her long term, verbally and physically abusive boyfriend and struggles to cope with the aftermath of that damage. Both women were under constant restrictions given by their male partners/mentors and have broken free from that cage where they find their true power and strength in themselves and among female companionship. Focusing on Harley Quinn for a second, she is powerful in that she is able to find herself again outside the constraints of an abusive relationship. 1 in 4 women are likely to be in an abusive relationship and about 3 women a day are murdered by their partners according to The National Domestic Abuse Hotline. Harley Quinn’s story of survival and thriving life after an abusive story is one to admire. It is also one many women can look up to and see themselves in. 

Captain Marvel breaks free of societal norms and empowers women to be who they are despite what is being told around you. Many women are able to see themselves in Captain Marvel’s position. Being told how to act and react, that they need to prove themselves to male figures in order to be accepted and valued, and cat calling. This movie marks a new era of superheroine movies to come, showing that a stand alone film with positive female lead and relatable stories that the average woman can relate to. She doesn’t need any man to save her in the film, instead she learns to discover her unlimited powers and not be afraid to show who she is. 

This is an important factor for both women. The most heavily debated and often times conflicting aspect of what feminism is, is how women express themselves. If they choose to cover up or to dress provocatively is something a woman chooses for herself. Harley Quinn’s signature look has always been short shorts and a sports bra or something similar to that type of outfit. She bodes off her child-like behavior and was only brought in for a side kick to the joker. Captain Marvel’s outfit in the movie was more practical and functional instead of revealing and sexualized. While there is nothing wrong with either costume, the Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad was dressed for the male audience it was trying to attract. The new Harley Quinn, directed by a Cathy Yan, still wears revealing and sexy clothing but in a more natural way that fits her character and not just there for the male gaze. 

They both support other women and find companionship in other women. They show different sides of what feminism is and not just one cookie cutter shape. Whether she dresses in short shorts and revealing clothes or chooses to cover up and be modest is the women’s choice in how she expresses herself. There are different forms of feminism not limited to clothing or how they choose to be. What makes these women significant is that they are not afraid to be who they are. Whether is crazy, sexual, and out-going like Harley Quinn. Or stoic, strong, and sarcastic like Captain Marvel. There is no one way to be a feminist. All there is to do is support one another and promote strength in women, together.