The Problematic Treatment of Titans’ Heroines [Spoilers]

In lieu of a standard review of Episode 2 and 3, I’d like to address a trend that has been bothering me in the new Titans thus far: The problematic portrayal of the female heroes. Many bloggers have already covered the disturbing behavior of Dick Grayson, and with Beast Boy so far barely getting any screen time (which needs to change ASAP, I’m stoked to see him more), there’s not much to say about the male heroes at this point. Hopefully, once they are more fleshed out, I will be able to discuss their portrayals, whether good or mad or neutral. For now, I’m going to focus on our heroines, Raven, Kory, and Dove.

Before delving in, I’d like to make a few distinctions. There will be spoilers for the first three episodes of Titans, so if you’re not caught up, I recommend stopping now. Secondly, my references to the comic book materials will be drawn solely from the Marv Wolfman and George Perez run on The New Teen Titans from the 1980s. As I am not as familiar with their iteration in the more recent New 52, I will not be talking about it. Furthermore, as a Progressive Feminist, this article will be written with that mindset. If you don’t care for that, you may wish to click away from this, rather than sending us hate mail. Much appreciated.

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I will first address Raven’s loss of agency. In the comics, Raven is the one who brings the Titans together. Knowing the arrival of her father, the dreaded devil Trigon, is imminent, she takes action, finding heroes with specific characteristics that will be able to take down the fiend. At first, she is portrayed as a woman with unshakeable willpower who is in control of her emotions. It was only later that we discovered that she was someone who needed help. She could be vulnerable and tender, and she truly loves her friends, despite her icy demeanor.

In Titans, the writers have opted for the inverse. Raven is, straight away, a damaged individual who needs protection. She’s basically helpless on her own. Even when she does “save herself” from dangerous situations, it is actually the dark spirit inhabiting her that takes action. Yes, Raven is much younger than she is in the comics. But I feel it would have behooved the show to show her as an old soul, with wisdom remarkable for her age. No, she doesn’t need to be perfect. It would make sense that she is less disciplined and more flawed. But, I would have liked to see Raven possess more agency, and more able to defend herself.

KORY

Our next subject is Kory. Volumes have been written on the unfortunate wardrobe, and I fully agree it was a poor decision to dress her in such a way. It’s an odd choice, and led to a lot of PR problems that sadly dissuaded many from watching the show. It wasn’t worth it. Kory is vastly different from her comic book portrayal, showing almost no relation to the endearing but powerful alien girl we came to love. Don’t get me wrong, Kory is a compelling character in her own right, but if you’re going to do an adaptation of Starfire, you need to retain some of the traits that have made her such a classic character. Kory is all toughness, no heart. And that was what made us love Starfire: She beautifully juxtaposed a warrior identity with compassion. She could be filled with fury, she could luxuriate in a pool party with her friends, she could be tender with Dick, and merciless with her enemies. She was naïve, but she had convictions. This complexity is what made her beloved by fans.

Minor gripe: When Kory meets Dick, sparks should have flown. They’re one of the best couples in the DCU, and the show needs to do justice to that.

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Finally, we come to Dove. And my goodness, despite a good performance by Minka Kelly, and a comics-accurate costume, I have a lot of problems with Dove’s characterization. I’d like to first call your attention to the Women in Refrigerators trope, a term coined by veteran comics writer Gail Simone. I suggest perusing the page linked above, but the basic idea is that there are countless female comic characters who are mistreated in various abhorrent ways, often of a sexual nature, solely to provide motivation for the male characters. In Titans, Dove is not only weaker than she is in the comics (though her male compatriot Hawk is depowered as well), she is given a previously nonexistent sexual history with Dick Grayson, and is swiftly put into a coma before we can really get to know and care about her.

Why? What does this do to service the plot, other than to give emotional motivation to our brooding male heroes. It actually robs the story of an intriguing character. Okay, sure, she’s in a coma, which is TV code for “She’ll definitely positively absolutely be back soon,” but in the meantime, her absence is just a testament to the fact that writers often don’t care about their heroines, viewing them more as plot points than as active protagonists in their own right. I’m not saying writers don’t create complex, amazing female characters. I’m not saying such unfortunate treatment doesn’t befall male characters. I’m saying, by and large, these kinds of tropes are imposed upon female characters.

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Within her first episode, Dove gets refrigerated. Raven’s adopted mother, Angela, is also refrigerated in her first episode. Rather than develop her into Raven’s biological mother, Arella, whose actual name is Angela, they kill her off to motivate Raven. Arella, also a fascinating and powerful character, who stands against Trigon and leads the forces of Azarath, seems to be inconsequential in the context of the show.

I would like to sum this up by saying, I don’t hate everything about the heroines in Titans. I honestly think the show is worth checking out. As I mentioned earlier, Kory is an intriguing character, and, while she’s not our Starfire, she could go to some very interesting places. Raven could grow into a stronger, solid character in her own right. And Dove is comics accurate and likable. As I said, the show has potential.

All that said, my biggest complaint is the way Raven drinks her coffee. There’s a handle there for a reason: So you don’t burn your hand holding the ceramic cup. Because coffee is hot. Drink your coffee like a normal person, Raven! Jeez. Also, Raven likes pineapple on her pizza. It’s canon. Get it together, people.

(I have no life, help me.)

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