Masochist or machiavel?: Reading Harley Quinn in canon and fanon

  • Kate Ellen Roddy Trinity College Dublin
Keywords: BDSM, Comic book, Fan fiction, Fan vid, Gender, Masochism


Creative responses to the DC Comics character Harley Quinn, sometime girlfriend and assistant to the Joker and established favorite among female fans, are considered. By means of examples from an array of media (fan fiction, short film, and comics), I observe how the character's trait of submissiveness is read and (re)constructed. First acknowledging the antifeminist possibilities of the submissive female and masochism's portrayal within medical and psychoanalytic discourses, I then move on to explore the ways in which fans use the Harley character to overcome these negative stereotypes of sexual submission. I show that fan works exhibit evidence of familiarity with concepts of the Jungian shadow self and with real-life BDSM practices and philosophies. The central thesis is that we can understand the masochist as potentially Machiavellian—that is, creative and manipulative. Fan fiction echoes postmodernism's concern with ambiguous subjectivity and employs strategies that shift the responsibility for character construction from creator to reader.

Author Biography

Kate Ellen Roddy, Trinity College Dublin
PhD graduand in School of English, Trinity College.
Special Issue 2