Thoughts on heroism and gender in Netflix’s Daredevil

Your blogger is a fan of comics, and of well-made television, and so Netflix’s Daredevil has been an absolutely treat; a rare intersection of these two worlds. The characters have enough depth to add a layer of intrigue that comics take months or years to develop, and while artistic license has led to choices that are not necessarily true to canon, the overall flow is quite compelling.

One of the best things about great comics, or television, is their ability to spark conversations. In an interview with DailyXY, Deborah Ann Woll, who plays Karen Page on the show, discussed how important it was for her to have a nuanced character with impact, and not wind up as a plot device. In doing so however, she seems to suggest the issue of who engages in conflict as a matter of gender.

The double standard I was scared about with this show was that if Karen walked down a dark alleyway in search of truth, they would call her an idiot, and if Matt walked down a dark alleyway in search of truth, they would call him a hero

This, unfortunately, isn’t quite right, and it isn’t the gendered double-standard that she seems to think it is. There is a key difference to recognize: Karen is untrained and proved largely unable to defend herself in a physical altercation, while Matt, being the titular Daredevil, has an uncanny ability to protect himself in some of the most brutal of encounters. Karen doesn’t go out looking for ‘trouble,’ but as a reasonable-enough person she can certainly foresee when she is more likely to encounter it, and having her character go forth regardless isn’t the solution to a gender bias. Setting Karen and Matt on the same plane is an apples-and-oranges comparison issue.

While there is an overarching element of a gender issue, in that female characters should be as complex and capable in media as women are in real life, it isn’t the driver in this particular situation. The truth of the matter is that it would be equally foolish for Foggy to engage in any kind of physical escapades, but outside of one incident, he contributes by using the tools at his disposal as effectively as he can. He uses his friends, network and skills as a lawyer; the tools he is effective at wielding. If anything, Foggy’s intervention and protection of her in an incident that arises partway through the season does more gender damage than any protection offered by the Daredevil.

Like Foggy, Karen is highly capable, and contributes significantly to the plot and the eventual success of the protagonists as a whole. She is not in a position to do so as a fellow vigilante, and that’s why a differentiation in behaviour between her and and Matt isn’t a double-standard. What’s important to recognize here, is that a selfless act isn’t necessarily heroic. To sacrifice oneself, without any significant reason to think that this will lead to a positive change, is reckless, not brave, and it’s philosophically important to observe that distinction.

Ms. Woll’s character was well developed, but it can’t be her responsibility to battle bad guys toe to toe.  The real test of gender parity will come when Elektra, the Black Cat or another combat-oriented female character enters the mix. As of now, there’s no reason to think it that these characters will be treated any differently from expected male cameos, like the Punisher, Luke Cage or the Immortal Iron Fist.

What Daredevil did exceedingly well is develop the entire main cast in a way that made each character a multi-faceted human, a unique feat in a universe of superheroes. The next step, for characters like Karen and Veronica in particular, will be to build up a larger sense of motivation. Once a viewer can truly imagine how each character would react to a given scenario, the show will be able to operate fully on its merits as interesting television, above and beyond its draw as a comic-based series.

Note: This is an extrapolation based on a single line of an interview. It is not meant to critique Ms. Woll, nor does it assume any understanding of her opinion or an accurate interpretation of her statement; it is meant to look at the words as phrased, and raise an issue based on the immediate message they convey.

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About johnaroberts

Educational backgrounds Philosophy, Economics, and Business, which I use to build and dissect perspectives about the world around me. Not really an expert in anything, just trying to question everything, to see past the imposed constructs we live in. I want to push people out of their comfort zone, to make people think and hopefully see something more grand than what's immediately around us.
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