Big Girls Cry: A Tardy Defense of Birds of Prey (but Mostly Harley Quinn)

I watched Birds of Prey a couple weeks ago. Talk about being late to the party. 

I had my postgrad thesis submission a few days away. I had about ten thousand more words to write. I was thinking way too much about a girl I like who will never like me back for very practical, non-sad reasons. I watched Birds of Prey and ended up crying for the better part of it. 

A friend asked me why this movie in particular, and I did not have an answer. It was a genuinely fun romp (for me at least), it had some #girlpower sprinkled in, some fun fight choreography, hot ladies, what was there to cry about? But then I went on YouTube and searched up reviews because I like knowing if people like the thing I like. 

They did not.

The opinions ranged from vapid and boring to too on-the-nose-feminist. I’m paraphrasing obviously. The words of men are easy to reduce to the core but the words of men looking at women and their things? Notoriously so. Cut away the film theory trappings and what you get is this: I don’t get it but Harley Quinn sure is annoying.

To that I say: Harley Quinn is annoying. She is also trying to gracefully move on from a codependent relationship, and from experience, that makes you quite annoying to be around. 

Here me out, I’m not here to defend her actions. She rams a truck into a chemical plant without checking if there are people inside, and God knows how many she killed with Mr. J. But the emphasis on her loud, obnoxious voice, and clothes disheartens me. Surely you have seen someone overcompensating with an unpalatably large personality after deriving all self-worth from someone else for years? Surely you too, have been that person?

It was the playwright William Congreve who was the guy behind the famous quote, hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, which is a misquote actually, because what he said was

Heav’n has no rage, like love to hatred turn’d,

Nor hell a fury, like a woman scorn’d.

Indeed, the furious, vengeful woman trope has long persevered in media. We have our Medeas, our Clytemnestras, our Jennifer Checks, our archetypal Brides come back from the dead, fuelled by revenge. Media concerning the “vengeful woman” usually goes one of two ways. She either becomes a flaming sword of retribution like Carrietta White, or she becomes Leila Williams, shadowing Christian and Anastasia, confronting them with trembling hands and a quivering voice, before being brought to her knees. Both instances result in the woman’s death, literal or metaphorical. 

Very rarely do we get a Harley Quinn. Very rarely, do we get a look into someone still hung up on bad habits and bad lovers, yet determined to slog through what poet-essayist Anne Carson calls, the human custom of wrong love. I watch vengeful-woman-media, bang my fists on my table, and yell: “Where is the nuance?!”

Well, it’s Harley Quinn.

Following the YouTube reviews, I made an angry tirade on Twitter where I said something like can men not watch this movie lol this isn’t about you. I still stand by it, but I want to add nuance to it. Harley Quinn, this Harley Quinn, is not for men. How do I phrase the feeling I got when Black Mask asks a woman to strip and Canary cries silently behind him? Or when Harley jokes in the mouth of death and Black Mask clocks her in the jaw? There is a central conceit here, of women and their voices, and their things, In Birds of Prey? Incredulous readers will ask, In that dumb chick flick? Yes. Yes, here in this “dumb chick flick”. 

Perhaps I’m too protective of this movie because I was Harley once. It looks heavy-handed to you, but it’s a lived experience to me and countless others, as “cringe” and “bad writing” as it may be to you. Real life is often cringe and bad writing.
I’m being bitter. Isn’t this old news? It is, but I can’t get over it. I, too, am hung up. I have wounds. I dwell. I see my pain in things and want people to see it too, and perhaps it is too much to ask from a fun, quirky movie like Birds of Prey, but isn’t it also the easiest to understand this from? No literary language, no veiled metaphor, just simple, in-your-face images and dialogue. Perhaps listen, perhaps understand. Pain, dressed up in pigtails, fringe jackets, and hot pink tops, is still pain.  



Sera Khaled is a postgrad student with a bachelor’s degree in English Literature from Lahore, Pakistan. They like Greek tragedy, films, and pigtailed women in roller-skates with acid-wash skin.   

Categories: Essay, Film

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