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Good Woman vs. Bad Woman: Gender Representation in Marvel’s Daredevil

Good Woman vs. Bad Woman: Gender Representation in Marvel’s Daredevil

This article is dark and full of spoilers if you haven’t seen the second season of Daredevil yet.

I know many people will disagree, but I was deeply disappointed by season two of Daredevil. I loved the first season so much I watched it all in one weekend, but it took me a while to finish the second season because I felt betrayed by the show.

Don’t get me wrong, there were things about it that were great. Jon Bernthal was cast perfectly as Frank Castle and I was riveted any time Vincent D’Onofrio was on screen. And it’s impossible not to love Charlie Cox as Matt Murdock.

But the show failed me in the way it represented women. For one thing, Rosario Dawson as Claire is one of the best, most interesting characters in Hell’s Kitchen. She’s smart and resourceful, and full of unshakeable integrity. But her role in the second season is small, and after she stands up for herself and refuses to work for a hospital anymore because they’re closing their eyes to crime, she’s never heard from again.

We spend time on a bland scene that features Foggy getting offered a job that he’s way, way under-qualified for and will be paid way, way too much to do, but we never find out what happens to Claire after she walks away from a job because she can’t morally afford to do it.

But [Daredevil] failed me in the way it represented women.

Claire’s disappearance from the plot was disappointing, but what really rubbed me the wrong way about this season was the juxtaposition of Karen and Elektra. These two characters were forced to inhabit two of the most annoyingly traditional female roles: innocent goodness and sexy badness. Even though they are written to be smart, capable, and brave, they still can’t escape being defined by the boundaries of Matt Murdock’s interest in them.

A budding romance between Karen and Matt is introduced this season, which I immediately didn’t like. I enjoyed the camaraderie of Karen, Matt, and Foggy and the idea that men and women can just be co-workers and friends without wanting to kiss each other’s faces. In the first season, there was a brief flirtation between Foggy and Karen, but it didn’t last long and the two clearly value each other as close friends. But, okay, so Matt and Karen are going to fall in love. I can deal with it.

But then Elektra is introduced as Matt’s sexy, crazy ex-girlfriend, and the comparison between her and Karen is too stark to ignore.

Karen is blonde and winsome, and always looks put-together and remarkably clean (even after she’s been chased, shot at, kidnapped, kidnapped again, and in a severe car accident). She’s so excited by Matt that she appears to be actually panting when he just touches her arm, but Matt will only kiss her on the doorstep because he doesn’t want to move too quickly with her and sully their relationship with sex.

Elektra, on the other hand, is dark, dangerous, and dripping with sexuality. We know Matt is willing to sleep with her because we see it happen in flash back. Like Karen, she never looks disheveled, but where Karen is always dressed like Ingrid Bergman, Elektra is in clinging fabrics and dark shades.

You could reason that Elektra is a trained killer, and even seems to enjoy killing, which isn’t something good people do. But while Karen clearly represents goodness and innocence, she’s also a killer. She shot someone in the first season in self-defense, which is a line Matt won’t even cross.

Actually, Karen flagrantly breaks laws all the time. Matt and Foggy are constantly exasperated with her for doing dangerous things without them because they want to be able to protect her (despite the mountains of evidence that she does not need bodyguards).

Yet Elektra is somehow supposed to be more monstrous and not worth protecting. She was trained as a child to fight and kill and has known no other life. I’m not sure how that makes her worse than Karen, but we’re clearly supposed to think it does. The main difference, I think, is Elektra’s overt sexuality, but even that isn’t a choice she made.

For example, one of the most poignant parts in the show for me was when Matt accuses Elektra of being arrogant for saying one of the rules for their crime-fighting partnership has to be “no sex.” He sarcastically asks if she thinks every man she’s ever met wants to sleep with her, and her honest answer is yes. Because every man she’s ever met since she hit puberty probably has.

That’s not arrogance, that’s her heartbreaking reality. I think it was written to be flirty, and to show that Elektra is confident and enjoys teasing Matt. But the truth that’s underneath this exchange makes me feel for Elektra more than any other character, because she’s been defined and shaped by her beauty more than her prodigious skills.

But the truth that’s underneath this exchange makes me feel for Elektra more than any other character, because she’s been defined and shaped by her beauty more than her prodigious skills.

And, okay, I know that actors and actresses being beautiful is a reality of the film and TV industry. And Daredevil takes every opportunity it can to show Charlie Cox with his shirt off or a close up of his butt in tight pants about as often as it shows the women in revealing outfits.

But while the objectification may be somewhat equal, what isn’t equal is that Matt Murdock never has to answer for his nice butt. Elektra has to answer for her beauty and desirability immediately; right away it’s held against her as proof that she’s trouble. And her admission that most men want to sleep with her isn’t arrogance, it’s actually vulnerability and a window into a life that has not been made easier by her beauty.

And at the end of season two, Karen has a really cool new job at a newspaper where she gets to write stories and have the ways of the world mansplained to her by a bearded editor every day. Elektra is dead.

To add insult to injury, even though Elektra is revealed to be a mythic warrior, Matt is given all the focus in their final battle and it’s Frank Castle and Stick who serve the finishing blows. Elektra is there only to be martyred, to be cried over while she dies in Matt’s arms.

And that’s because the only way Elektra could possibly make up for being a smart, capable, efficient assassin and also have the audacity to have a personality that goes beyond flowing hair and wide eyes is to die. It’s not enough that she gets hurt fairly often this season. Or that she decides to leave her old life behind to be with Matt. In the end, Elektra is little more than a vehicle to show Matt Murdock suffering.

It’s heavily implied that we’ll see more of Elektra, but if she’s brought back to life by The Hand (a preposterous army of mythic ninjas) as it seems she will be, I can only assume she’ll be a monster that Matt will have to destroy.

As for Karen, she’s finally clued into the fact that Matt is Daredevil, because even though she’s a good enough detective to start a career in investigative journalism despite having no experience in it, and had basically been doing the work of a lawyer while Matt kept dropping the ball this season, it would have been inconvenient for her to solve that whopper of a mystery.

And Claire might have been evicted, we don’t know, but at least Foggy’s doing well for himself.

Because really, in the end, what’s so frustrating about this show is that we’re given some really cool, complex, fascinating female characters who are then given no agency. This show is about Matt, Foggy, Stick, and Frank. Claire, Karen, and Elektra are interesting roadblocks that get in the way of the men that drive the plot forward.

Even Marci, Foggy’s sort-of girlfriend, only appears to offer him the job he’s not at all experienced enough to do. (I mean, Marci has been working in corporate law offices since she graduated from law school and would probably be the more practical choice for a major promotion than someone who did one improvised opening statement for a case he lost, but what do I know? I’m not a lawyer)

Returning to the metaphor I abandoned for this brief rant, I just hope in the next season we get to see at least one of these women take the wheel in their very capable hands.

Laura Jewell writes for Girls in Capes and has a BA in Theatre from Miami University. She currently lives in Chicago and enjoys many fandoms, including her favorites Harry Potter and Doctor Who. Her favorite weekend pastime is curling up with a book and her fifteen-pound orange cat, Orange Cat.

Laura Jewell
Staff Writer at Girls in Capes
Laura writes for Girls in Capes and has a BA in Theatre from Miami University. She currently lives in Chicago and enjoys many fandoms, including her favorites Harry Potter and Doctor Who. Her favorite weekend pastime is curling up with a book and her fifteen-pound orange cat, Orange Cat.
Laura Jewell
Written by Laura Jewell

Laura writes for Girls in Capes and has a BA in Theatre from Miami University. She currently lives in Chicago and enjoys many fandoms, including her favorites Harry Potter and Doctor Who. Her favorite weekend pastime is curling up with a book and her fifteen-pound orange cat, Orange Cat.