What My Sons Think Of Joker And Harley Quinn's Abusive Relationship

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"Suicide Squad" Teaches Kids About Abusive Relationships
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From the mouths of babes ...

With everything Suicide Squad EVERYWHERE at the moment, I've been involved in several conversations about — who else? — Harley Quinn.

How could anyone not be talking about her, right? 

The trailers, print ads and Pinterest boards dedicated to Margot Robbie's portrayal of The Joker's infamous partner in the dance of domestic violence and her screamingly sexy and badass persona.

Plus, anytime an interestingly unique female character shows up in the mix of a new superhero movie, color me intrigued.


I've been discussing Ms. Quinn with some fellow parents, wondering what messages both her overt sexuality and her abusive relationship with the Joker are, or maybe are not, teaching our kids.

These conversations initially centered around the daughters among our collective kids. What if one of our girls dresses as her for Halloween? Should we be worried? Would we be judged as bad parents? If Harley IS problematic, is it because of her short-shorts, or because she's been abused? Either way, is she all that different from so many of the other tragically mistreated females in both the DC and Marvel universes?

I have two boys myself, so as I considered these discussions I wondered aloud, "Would you allow your son to dress up as the Joker?"

The answer was immediate and unanimous: "Yes." 

"But," I wondered some more, "HE is the abuser."

Well, didn't that double standard stick in all of our craws. What do we do with that one?


I admittedly know almost nothing of the back-story of most of these characters, and I definitely wasn't familiar with the complex relationship between Harley and the Joker, so honestly, I didn't know what to make of the whole thing.

Yesterday, as I found myself thinking about the questions while driving in the car with both of my boys, I decided to go directly to the source of infinite knowledge regarding what kids think about mass-media's messages — the kids themselves.

And I had one of the most amazing conversations of my life, which went a little something like this:

Me: "My friends and I were talking about Harley Quinn and The Joker, and I get that they have a few different origin stories, right?"

Both of my mini-men chimed in, "Oh, yeah! Totally."

Me: "So I'm kind of confused. My friends were talking about the relationship between the two of them, and I don't get what it's like ..."

The mini-men answered me in unison (or completely spoke over each other — same diff): "Oh, dude! Joker is totally abusive! He totally hits her and calls her names and stuff. It's really bad. Whoa! Yeah."

Me: "Interesting. What do you guys think about that?"

8-Year-Old: "Well, what I think is that, Mom, who do you think should be her boyfriend? The Joker ... or Deadpool?"

Me (having zero idea what Deadpool is like, since I can never remember the difference between Deadpool, Deadshot and Deathstroke): "I'd really love to know who YOU think would be a better boyfriend, and then I'd like to know who your brother thinks would be, and then I'll tell you what I think."

8-Year-Old: "Well, what I think is that Deadpool should be her boyfriend, and do you want to know why? Why is because A) he's a lot funnier than Joker actually, and B) is because he wouldn't hit her and be abusive and stuff. Who do you think should be?"

Me: "I'd like to know what your brother thinks first, remember? Thirteen, what do you think?"

13-year-old: "I think it's kind of a good thing that Joker and Harley are like that, because then when kids watch the show —"

8-Year-Old: "Dude! We're talking about in REAL LIFE!"

13-Year-Old: "Dude! I'm talking about in THE CARTOON!"

(OK, fine, I'll spare you the rest of that part. Sheesh.)

13-Year-Old: "So anyway, I think it's good, because then kids see that being abusive to someone is SO bad, and they learn they shouldn't be like that."

OK, I'm thinking, so far so good. Both very different perspectives, and both have merit ... and then ...

13-Year-Old: "And also, I think they should just stay together because they've been that way for so long now. Like, for the whole history of the DC series' they've been a couple. If they weren't together anymore, that might make people who've been following them for a really long time feel kind of weird or confused. Everyone is used to it."

Whoa. I did NOT see that one coming. But wow, am I grateful for the opening.

I managed to get in a few solid points about how that's exactly the problem with real-life abusive relationships, and how so many people stay in relationships where they are hurt or hurting because they feel used to it, or because their family and friends are used to them being in it.

Because they don't know that there is any other way to be. But there is!

I mean, how fun would it be to see Deadpool and Harley Quinn discover each other and take off on an exciting adventure of their own?! 


And with that, we shifted back to a discussion of the action figure and other merchandising possibilities (i.e., toys they would like to someday purchase). These golden moments can only last for so long, after all.

My verdict on Suicide Squad is still out until I can see it for myself, but I already love it for the gift of this conversation and that glimpse into their beautiful minds.


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