I’m going to let you in on a little secret: us “crazy” people, those actually diagnosed with a mental illness, look nothing like Harley Quinn. Harley Quinn wouldn’t even look like Harley Quinn in “Suicide Squad.”
First of all, when we meet Harley Quinn in the prison, she doesn’t even look unkempt. I’m sure they’re not giving her shower privileges, much less a razor. But when she changes into those bright colored undies and high heels to kick some ass, her legs don’t have any hair on them. How is that even possible? She wouldn’t look or smell that great. But everyone is ogling at how hot she is. The film baits viewers into thinking she’s so hot, and yeah, her ass in half the frames is eye-catching, but it’s overdone and sexist. Who wears high heels and undies to fight in a top secret mission? It’s just so stupid. She’s eye-candy. That’s it. And it’s disappointing because her character could be so much more. She’s got a great backstory and a strange if abusive relationship with the Joker that could’ve been explored more.
So, she’s crazy. She was zapped by the Joker and fell into a pit of chemicals. What does that mean exactly? Is she crazy or does she have superpowers? Is it a mix of both? Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if the whole “crazy” getup was all a show just to please the Joker. The Joker wanted her to be his sexy psycho girlfriend, his crazy bitch to control. So she complies because she’s in love with him. But the “crazy girlfriend” is a sexist stereotype. And Harley Quinn glamorizes mental illness. She jokes about what “the voices” are telling her. She even jokingly asks Deadshot if he can also see the crazy lights that The Enchantress is making as she like, throws all this trash up into the sky. Then she laughs that she hasn’t taken her meds. The whole thing is stupid and ableist and it hurts people like me that actually suffer from a mental illness.
How? Because when I was first diagnosed at 15 years old, I made jokes like that all the time. I thought people would think I was this crazy awesome person. I thought people would think I was cool because movies like this one glamorize mental illness. I was wrong. No one thought I was cool. The very guys who said they liked “crazy girls” like Harley Quinn… those guys broke up with me every time I had a panic attack, started crying, or exhibited any type of emotions. Apparently, I was TOO crazy for them.
The real Harley Quinn, the crazy one wearing booty shorts and high heels would smell and be hairy as hell. There would be no makeup on her. Her colorful locks would fade, frizzy and tangled. She’d grow weak from sitting around in that cage 24/7. Her awkward, if a little witty remarks would grow old, too. No one would give a shit about her anymore. Because no one in the media gives a shit about the mentally ill unless they’re ass cheeks are jiggling, and their red lips are wrapped around their finger as they smile coyly at the camera. The real Harley Quinn does not look like that. The real Harley Quinn is dead in a cell somewhere because her beauty faded, her wit grew old, and no one cared enough to check on her anymore, to feed her, or even talk to her.
Mental illness isn’t glamorous. It isn’t funny. It isn’t something to be used for laughs. It isn’t something to make a character more interesting or mysterious. The real Harley Quinn’s of the world are forgotten, overlooked, invincible. Because they’re not sexy enough for the men living in the glass castles in New York City to notice with their briefcases and their drugs and their women. But let’s face it, that’s just a stereotype, too. And even though the film was definitely sexist and ableist, I did enjoy it.
Yeah, I did, despite my stance. And there’s no denying that Margot Robbie was hot. But all that aside, it was still damaging. I can say so personally. As someone who suffers from a mental illness and feels rejected, alone, and often on the outskirts of society, I saw a beautiful woman joke about her mental illness, and people liked her because of it. I am ashamed of this, but I’m going to be honest. In that movie theater, I watched Harley Quinn, and I thought to myself, “Maybe if I stop taking my pills and hallucinate again and hear voices, people will like me more. Maybe they will think I’m cool like her.”
Logically, it didn’t make sense. My inner monolog was cut short by experience, by education on my illness. I’ve been there. I’ve seen things and heard voices and had delusions… and no one thought it was cool. People acted like I’m a freak like they’re scared of me. Ultimately, I watched Harley Quinn, and I was angry. I was jealous. The ableism hurt, as did the sexism. I was the crazy, sexy, psycho girlfriend, and no one kept me around for long. You know why people were scared of me? Because characters like Harley Quinn are violent, so people think those with a mental illness are always violent, which isn’t true. People with a mental illness are actually more likely to be a victim of violence. But that’s just the usual stigma surrounding mental illness.
The truth is, she’s harmless. Her beauty isn’t dazzling. She sits, crying, alone, because no one understands her, not even the man she loves. She isn’t in a prison because she was never violent. She’s in a hospital, writing in her journal, drawing pictures of The Joker because she can’t get over her obsession with him. But he doesn’t visit. He doesn’t care. She swallows the medication that numbs her. She sleeps her life away. She dreams of a world that had more to offer someone like her.
August Pfizenmayer is the founder of Survival is a Talent. She is a freelance writer, blogger, and student. She writes poetry and creative nonfiction. She loves reading, sweets, and warm weather. You can connect with her on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.