Relationship Goals or Relationship No’s?

Artistic rendering of comic book characters Harley Quinn and the Joker, separated by a jagged white line on a background of comic book spines

Relationship Goals or Relationship No’s?

By Anitra, youth organizer

Last weekend I saw the movie Suicide Squad. I had heard a lot about the “love story” between Harley Quinn and the Joker, and I wanted to see for myself if it lived up to the hype. Some people on social media have been calling their relationship “goals.” But it didn’t take long for me to realize that what was happening between Harley and the Joker is no love story.

It is common for unhealthy or abusive relationships to be portrayed as “passionate” when in reality they are quite dangerous. In the movie, the relationship between Harley Quinn and the Joker is meant to come off as a dynamic duo in a quest for equal power. But their relationship is not about equality. The Joker often uses abusive tactics to maintain control over Harley and their relationship.

Manipulation: The Joker is highly manipulative of Harley from the beginning. In their backstory, Harley is the Joker’s psychiatrist, and he uses his mental illness, his past as an abused child and the mistreatment he received from others to manipulate her feelings for him. Manipulating a person’s feelings to get them to behave a certain way is not healthy. It’s also important to remember that mental health issues do not excuse abuse, and neither does a person’s past.

Possessiveness: The Joker treats Harley as a possession that belongs to him. During one scene, the Joker “gives” Harley to a business partner, saying, “Harley now belongs to you.” In another scene, the Joker asks Harley if she is willing to die for him. She eagerly responds, “Yes.” He then says that dying is too easy and asks if she is willing to live for him. This implies that he wants her to submit to him and only him. But people are not possessions. Neither partner has the right to make decisions for or control the life of the other.

Physical Abuse: The Joker uses physical torture/abuse to control Harley and make her “prove” her love for him. In one scene he tells Harley that he doesn’t want to kill her, he’s just wants to hurt her “really, really bad,” to which Harley responds that she can take it. In the scene mentioned above where he asks Harley if she is willing to submit to him, she responds by falling into a barrel of what is believed to be acid. Physical abuse of any kind is never okay. In a healthy relationship, partners make the choice to care for and trust each other; these are not things you have to “prove” to your partner by acting a certain way.

I know this movie is fictional and it has a lot of extreme characters and situations. But, as we’ve talked about before, the messages we get from movies, music, television and ads can influence how we think and feel about our relationships. The relationship between Harley and the Joker may be romanticized in Suicide Squad, but abuse and manipulation are not #relationshipgoals. We think it’s important to think hard about the messages we’re getting and whether they’re healthy for us or not. Because at loveisrespect, we believe everyone deserves a healthy, safe and respectful relationship!

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