Poison Ivy And Ecofeminism

"Britta tries really hard to be relevent. She does her best to act compassionate and kind, but that doesn’t stop her from being selfish. She isn’t an honorable, strong hero, but she WANTS to be." (stickingupforsammy, tumblr)

As someone who enjoys Media I went looking to see if there were any portrayals of Ecofeminism to analyze. How we are reflected in modern pop culture can in turn show how any movement is thought of or what is considered relevant at any particular time; I’ve seen plenty of examples of feminism, straw feminism, animal rights activists, but no one who I could safely classify as an interpretation on Ecofeminism. It’s perfectly understandable, you only have to look at our classes first blogs to realize most people don’t know what Ecofeminism is, but it still bothered me. Could I call Britta Perry from television show Community an Ecofeminist? She’s a vegetarian and self declared feminist but I really couldn’t describe her as an Ecofeminist. She has a leather jacket and in three seasons her biggest eco issue was an oil spill. The Companions on Doctor Who? On a show where people can go to space it is the almost always female Companion who keeps the connection to the Earth. Who keeps the alien Doctor from getting lonely. But that felt like a stretch for a brain trying its hardest to find Media Representation.

Until I found her. My Straw Ecofeminist made by men who were likely unfamiliar with the term itself. Poison Ivy.

Poison Ivy caring for her plants.

Yes, this is going to be a post about cartoons and comic books. But please stay with me on this one. For the purposes of this blog I define “straw” to mean: A character whose feminism/Ecofeminism is drawn only for the purposes of either proving them wrong or ridiculing them. Often made in ignorance of a movement. For the sake of exploring the character as a character and not a cheesecake pinup I will try to avoid including any overly sexualized images. However those are few and far between.

Pamela Isley is generally considered an ecoterrorist supervillain in her superhero world. She’s green, literally, and she uses her intense knowledge of plants and toxicity to destroy the spiraling urban wasteland of Gotham City whenever possible. Her real world origin is out of seductress— the character was created in 1966 but it wasn’t until after the rise of feminism (it was decided Batman needed a less sympathetic foil then thief Catwoman) that she got an origin of her own. In 1988, with little bumps and changes every since, Pamela was given an origin story that strangely suits the ones we’ve heard in class. And then sexism in comic books was gone forever.

… No, just kidding. Poison Ivy is a straw Ecofeminist, remember? She was a botanist who was seduced by a dude, experimented on, and subsequently gained toxins in her blood stream that made her deadly to the touch and immune to all poisons, viruses, bacteria, and fungi. The experiments also allowed her to produce mind-control pheromones that drive men wild at her touch. And infertility so she’d be grouchy about all this. The point being to make her natural but still “less than a women”.

When looking at Poison Ivy again after all this Ecofeminism I’ve been learning I honestly feel like the people who wrote her were listening in to our conversations through a muffled doorway.  So many things we talked about are inherent to her place in Batman mythos: the contrast between man as strong urban city with technology and strong will while women is all things natural, seductive, and planted.  That is essentially what we talked about the first day of class; when we all charted out womanly things and manly things. Poison Ivy sits very happily in the feminine and she’ll still destroy you with ease. Her questions of self worth when she becomes infertile are interesting, as a character she never seems to wonder why she feels less than for being unable to have children, but just like in class she wonders why so much of her worth is defined that way. Pamela no longer considers herself a person but rather an extension of the Earth; like someone was listening to us talk about the spirituality of soil and got an entirely literal idea from it.

She also spends a lot of time holding sharp objects and looking annoyed.

She’s not a good person, supervillian and all, but her style does occasionally indicate a writer who has picked up a copy of feminism 101. A copy of feminism 101 written in the 1970s. Despite (or maybe because she spends so much time) seducing men frequently she has a very low opinion on them. It always makes me think of when I talk to people and they act like being a Feminist means hating men. A lot. “Thoughtless. Worthless. Stupid. Man.” – (Poison Ivy, Batman: Hush) is the sort of quote you read coming out of her word bubbles quickly. When given time to elaborate on her loathing she expresses it in feminist rhetoric with eco inclinations to go with it. “I hate men. Because of what they do. They clip. They prune. They make us remake ourselves into what they want. A Madonna. A whore. A partner. A foe. And we do it. Because we need.” (Poison Ivy, Solo #6)

That quote is what makes her feel like a tragedy to me: because the character is made to be exactly all those things. She was innocent botanist academic; she was turned into temptress, and now she’s a partner to the villains, and simple Batman foe. She’s someone’s attempt at a feminist character in a universe where no one is quite sure what that entails. In the quote above she’s connected to the natural world and she describes it in feminine ways. A central part of Ecofeminism.

Click to enlarge. It's a little gross though.

Oddly enough one could make the argument that she is a terrorist community organizer. She cares about Gotham and about women— frequently growing parks without permission and taking care of Gotham’s large teenage runaway population. In this role she is Mother Earth: vengeful, nasty, but Mother Earth all the same. There are plenty of stories where she uses her powers to rob jewelry stores but those are often followed by ones where she rails against the ridiculously corrupt Gotham City system. In the comic Gotham Central she goes about it in extreme unethical ways, murdering her charges murderer but it’s interesting to note the way she phrases her revenge. First she humanizes the victim, reminds them that she was fifteen, that her name was Dee Dee, and that she loved to read. But when the time comes to destroy her enemy she does the “logical” Ecofeminism thing. She recycles their bodies into the soil!

Which is horrible, but exactly what you’d expect an angry Ecofeminist Supervillian to do.

Pamela is also very clearly in love with Harley.

She’s also one of the only people who consistently speaks out against one of comics most blatantly abusive couples: the Joker and Harley Quinn. For those of you who don’t know The Joker is a sociopath who likes to claim people just “Don’t get the joke.” Less well known is Harley Quinn- his former psychologist turned loving sidekick. She’s very smart, essentially powerless, and though very cheerful her self esteem is almost non existent. While the relationship is acknowledged as abusive by the narrative it is also a frequent form of comic relief. Batman himself seems sympathetic and will occasionally show kindness (he’s usually a bit busy when anywhere near the two of them) but Poison Ivy is the one who is consistently there to show support to Harley as a person. She’s blunt about how bad the situation is but always opens up her home when Harley tries to break the cycle. They fight and they argue and, yes, they rob the city blind, but at the end of it all Pamela consistently says the same thing. “You are a strong woman capable of so much. You are not alone.”  This is where she as a character gets to express values without having them undermined. She’ll never succeed, statue quo is all in comics and Harley Quinn will always revert to her old ways, but the simple message of it suits the character Poison Ivy has the potential to be. For all of the things she fights because she dislikes them there are people it is in her nature to fight for. It’s something positive in all of this.

Ranting about fictional Supervillians can be bad for your health.

Media Matters. While Poison Ivy will never be a good person or a consistently well written character I can see aspects of the Ecofeminist Movement in her. She equates herself to all things in nature, she’s aware of social roles in society, she tries her immoral best to Community Organize, and she’s sympathetic to women in need in her community. Her inherent loathing of men, her tendency to seduce everyone in sight while the artist loving draws in her curves, and her origin story keep her from being a fully fleshed out exploration of Ecofeminist (or Feminist) Issues. Personally I’m still glad that she as a character exists. I love nitpicking at aspects of portrayal in media and the thought that there were no fictional Ecofeminists to be found is inherently depressing. I’d rather find flaws in a portrayal, or reinterpret someone else’s bit of straw, than to discover there was nothing there at all. If nothing else the character gives me hope that the quality of character has great potential and will only improve.


, ,

  1. #1 by Chaaz on May 31, 2014 - 5:51 pm

    This was an absolutely wonderful article. Thank you for sharing.

(will not be published)