I wish they hadn't pulled the Batgirl cover.
Before we begin, let me issue: A trigger warning. No, seriously; a very real one. In discussing this, I'm going to go Full Frontal and tell you some personal experiences that are going to make you feel really squicky inside. You're going to have to deal with it; the masses can complain enough to cancel a cover, but you can't erase my true life experience.
Some background: Recently, DC issued a Batgirl cover as part of a "Joker appreciation month" deal, which had a callback to the Killing Joke, in which the Joker sexually and physically abuses Barbara Gordon, leaving her disabled, broken, and humiliated on a whim.
It's a sore spot for people because it's… well you know, horrifying. And he's not even attacking Barbara Gordon to attack Barbara Gordon; she's a pawn in his plan to hurt others.
The controversial cover portrays Joker holding a gun downwards at Batgirl, having drawn a crude Joker smile onto her face in.. paint, blood? Who knows. She has true fear in her eyes. He is smiling and holding her with casual ownership. I can tell you personally, it definitely inspires some truly painful gut feelings.
Let's flash back for a second. It's the summer of 2008; a young Dangrrr Doll is brutally, helplessly in love with an abusive sociopathic lying sonofabitch.
Baby Dangrrr, much like Current Dangrrr, was not much of a masochist. But I was addicted to this man. Emotional abuse is a crazy thing folks. I was trapped in a Harley Quinn prism, brainwashed, isolated from my friends, trained to think I was terrible and could do no better.
In June 2008, on a day much like any other day, I went to see his shitty punk band play at one of the bars we'd frequented. The catch of it was, the girl he was fucking behind my back was there. Ok- it wasn't super behind my back. I knew it was happening. But I'd been told I was "just" crazy and paranoid so many times that I talked myself out of my own knowledge.
Anyway I guess he "didn't expect me to come," even though he'd told me I was a piece of shit if I didn't come. He manufactured a lot of circumstances like this. One time, my house lost power and so he told me I could go over to his place in the morning to take a shower before I went to work, told me he would leave the door unlocked for me and that I should come wake him up to say hi before I left. And of course, I went there, as I was told to, and found him with another girl in his bed. DELIGHTFUL.
So here we are at this show. He gets drunk as hell, and she leaves in a huff. He grabs me and says "FUCK that bitch! She shouldn't have come anyway! Drive me home." Well, I did, but he stopped me halfway there. Dragged me out of the car into a cornfield, threw me down and fucked me while I cried and screamed no, stop!
The rest of the way home, he yelled at me for "ruining and complicating his life." By the time we got to his house I was sobbing violently and shaking. He shoved a blunt knife into my hands and goaded me to end my worthless life.
After almost an hour of this, when I finally started scratching away at the skin on my wrists, he quickly grabbed my hand. "You idiot," he laughed, "I was only joking!" and with that, laughing like a schoolboy, he skipped inside his house.
About two weeks later I tried to break things off, so he smashed a lamp over my head, then cried hysterically in the bathtub holding a razor to his own wrist this time until I apologized for making him feel bad.
Mine was the epitome of the Harley/Joker romance. A sociopath manipulating and abusing a once-intelligent woman into an empty shell of a hopeless soul, all for amusement and little else? Yeah, that was me.
Ok, so now you know that this is sort of personal for me, right? That's clear? Do you feel uncomfortable? Good, you should.
Here's what I hate about Harley Quinn: she cannot be saved. She has been torn down into nothing; she savors her own abuse, starved for any attention at all from her drug, the Joker. She will do anything for him, anything: Even kill herself. She is defeated. And she is ever present in nerd culture.
This is why we need that Batgirl cover. We NEED that Batgirl cover.
I know what you're thinking: Why, Dangrrr!? Why would you want to be confronted with those feelings?
The Joker is a sociopathic, psychopathic, crazy smart lunatic who loves to torture for little to no reason. He's also a representation of an actual sort of person that populates the real world, sans the clown schtick. If we pretend that the Joker does not exist, if we hide the Joker deep inside…. people like the Joker are given more power to hurt us. Do you think removing sexual violence from literature is going to erase it from the world? You are only hiding the problem, which allows it to fester and grow even further unchecked. Banning books and banning book covers was never, EVER the way to education. What sort of backwards thinking have we succumbed to as a society?
We need strong abuse survivors in pop culture to look up to, acknowledge, respect.. Barbara Gordon was paralyzed but instead of letting that trauma ruin her life, she rose up and became Oracle. She overcame her history and became a stronger person because of it.
When I was in my abusive relationship, I lost the ability to cry for over a year. I stopped expressing any emotion, fear, or pain; it was too much to handle. I made myself numb to the outside world. I could barely breathe, let alone cry. And if somehow I did manage to tear up, I got beaten down. If I expressed fear, I was abused. Batgirl crying on that cover shows me that she still has hope. Her fear means she is still trying to think of ways to escape. Thinking of ways to escape means she has not been defeated. It means she can turn this thing around.
Unlike how people often romanticize the Joker/Harley dynamic, absolutely noone can deny the onesided abusiveness of that cover. Noone will be seduced into thinking rape is okay by viewing it. However, they will be reminded that villains are out there doing unspeakable things, so unspeakable that even their slightest implication will create scandal far more easily than the outright graphic portrayal of violent murder. We need to admit that sexual violence is real, and that villains like the Joker will rape if they are able to rape, because if we can pretend that he would never do something like that- I mean for fuck's sake, if the Joker, pure chaotic evil, would never rape someone, how could you ever convince a jury that a frat boy or a straight A student or a CEO would?
Comics are the twitter of literature, easily digestable for short attention spans. Don't you want to teach younger generations that sexual violence isn't ok? Because honestly, Batgirl is a perfect place for that lesson. Showing that a strong superheroine like Batgirl can still be affected by sexual abuse will teach that sexual abuse survivors aren't "just weaklings". It will teach them that everyone, EVERYONE can fall victim to abuse. And then when you show Batgirl rising up, destroying the Joker, clearly confronting that history and then defining herself as more than just the victim from the Killing Joke- that's important. You help give abuse survivors hope; you help show moldable minds that sexual abuse has dire consequences; you help bring awareness to a huge, often-censored problem- as we're seeing now. Especially with its current team bring such badass feminist energy to the comic, this is the perfect time to show Batgirl dealing with the same problem that that majority of women on this Earth have to deal with at some point in their lives.
And in some ways, they did! Gail Simone particularly spent some time on Batgirl's PTSD and reclaiming her life when she wrote for the series. Why hush it up now? I keep seeing in the articles I've read that one of the main reasons this cover was an issue is because the series has been trying to move past that part of Barbara's history. Well I'm sorry to say it but it is still part of her history, and that cover is probably the image that would pop up in Batgirl's mind when thinking about herself and the Joker, whether she's past it or not. (The next image in her head of course is probably of her grabbing the gun and punching him smack in the jaw before shooting him in the nuts. Bam! Pow!)
Listen, it's been six years since my abuse ended and I am totally on with my life- I'm happy, able to have normal relationships, very good at saying no, and also pretty good at saying yes when the mood strikes. But I will always, always have it in my history. I have it, I acknowledge it, and I'm not going to pretend it didn't happen just because it makes other people uncomfortable. And yep, every now and then- like right now, writing this blog post- I think about the pain I felt and I cry; and then I smile at my victory in being able to feel that pain and still be a totally kickass human being.
Whether the cover should have been produced in the first place is a different story perhaps, but once created, it certainly should not have been taken back. Some have claimed that the production of that cover is an anti-feminist move, but there is nothing more anti-feminist than quieting the truths of the reality we face daily. There is no progress in that. If you think she can only be strong if this part of her character is ignored, then you are inherently calling her weak. This trauma is part of what makes her so strong, just like Batman having watched his parents get murdered is part of what makes him so strong. They have both risen above and become not just survivors, but superheroes. They both have reasons to want to dish out justice. Let Batgirl claim her history as her history, instead of banishing it to be another story that only affects the history of the men involved.