White Virgin/Whore of Color: #DaredevilProblems

I wasn’t gonna do this, but in a conversation on twitter, @BlackGirlNerds asked me to expand on what I recently called “Daredevil‘s White Virgin/Whore of Color Complex” and I would hate to disappoint. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not just trying to dump on Daredevs. I still love the first season, and the second season, despite serious problems, is still great television in a lot of ways.

But I hope — on this site especially — I don’t need to go over again why/how problematic representations of POC and women spread like mayonnaise over a beloved television property can be like an all-day, all-you-can-take, face-slapping machine. And Arthur Chu has already shown you the wasabi-infused mayo currently salmonellizing on Daredevil‘s bread.

I’m here to show you the ketchup.

For those of you who don’t know, the “Virgin/Whore Complex” arises out of Freudian psychology, where it is known as the “Madonna/Whore Complex” and describes a particular mindset in some men unable to maintain sexual arousal inside of marriage (or, today, a committed relationship). The woman they respect and desire as a life partner is for that very reason not sexually attractive, and the woman who is sexually attractive is for that very reason not worthy of respect or dedication. The idea that this mindset is a product of a patriarchal culture is a mainstay of feminist theory.

At the same time, our American culture has a long history of sexualizing women of color and holding up white women as paragons of sexual purity. Women of color are lower than pure-minded white women: spicy, sexually imaginative, animalistic. Although it’s natural to desire the superior white woman sexually, only white men are good enough for her, and they must spend their manhood proving their worth. This mindset lingers in our collective unconscious and is expressed in myriad ways. It gets a lot more nuanced than that, so I’d encourage those of you who haven’t to read up on this.

As you can see, there are sexual dichotomies set up here which which you can overlay upon one another, making one, big kyriarchal lasagna. The hypersexualized dark women are nature’s chaos-loving whores, and the lovely white women were designed by God to morph smoothly from girl-next-door to wife-and-mom. I’m calling it the White Virgin/Whore of Color Complex, and, though I’ve never heard a term like this before (as far as I can remember), I’d be shocked (shocked!) if you couldn’t find it spoken of all over the internet, especially in these intersectional days. (Post links below if you’ve got ’em).

With Daredevil/Matt Murdock as the stand-in for white men everywhere, you can see this dynamic woven throughout Daredevil‘s second season.

Are you strong enough to be my man?

Karen Page, a radiant blonde, is Nelson & Murdock’s assistant (i.e., helpmeet) who, it is suggested, could become a partner someday if she wanted it. She is of the daytime: the workday, the work, the vocation, the mission. She is deeply empathetic to the underdog; she is the heart of Nelson & Murdock, and literally keeps the light shining in the offices at night. She is therefore present at night, but only either as someone to be protected, or as part of a ritual of decompression/relaxation from the labors of the day.

Karen represents the light: not just the light of day, but also daylight/sunshine as a metaphor for public openness and accountability. As a researcher/investigator for both a law firm and a newspaper — eventually to jump to full-time journalist — Karen figuratively lets the light in on the dark secrets of Daredevil’s Hell’s Kitchen. She is also the light of human goodness. Her courage is held up by a sense of righteousness (or Spunky Agency, depending.) She is the avatar of truth, justice, the simple, the everyday, the ordinary — real human life.

Dontcha wish your girlfriend was hot like me?

Elektra Natchios, candle-light tawny, black-eyed, -tressed, and -dressed, is the eternal one-that-got-away. She is everything dark: nighttime, secrets, criminality, glamor, sex, hiding (information and identities). She has a mission as well, a secret, magic mission that requires her to kill a lot of people. Even her legal daytime activities are just a cover for this secret mission — not all of whose important details have been revealed, even after two seasons. She doesn’t have, or require, courage, because she’s motivated by an inherent desire and talent for violence.

And, in this version, she’s not “Greek,” casting back to the Freudian roots of her name and backstory, but rather a mysterious adoptee, whose role as the leader of a secret Japanese ninja org hints at oriental origins — and I use that word advisedly. The casting of a mixed-race Asian, Elodie Yung, makes this resoundingly clear.

Elektra literally comes in the darkness and even turns out the lights when they’re on. She’s slippery, won’t be pinned down, and only comes back after Matt has a chance at a “healthy” relationship with Karen, to pull him away from her light. There’s absolutely zero subtlety about Elektra representing Matt’s worst, most violent, mayhem-loving impulses, and Karen representing his best, law-abiding, mind-over-matter wishes. Matt courts Karen, wants to be worthy of her, but he can’t stay away from Elektra.

Now you might say that this dichotomy is baked into the Elektra character by infamous misogynst Frank Miller, and poor Karen was necessarily warped in her wake. And you’d not be wrong. You might say that they were taking Karen in a different direction in the first season, and you’d not be entirely wrong about that, either. But if you give it a gimlet eye, you’ll see that Season One also had a budding romance triangle that more than hinted at this dynamic.


I’m talking, of course, about Matt/Karen vs. Matt/Claire. Now Claire Temple, played by Rosario Dawson as an Afro-Latina, is not an avatar of violence or dark impulses — quite the opposite. But she is definitely of the nighttime and of the darkness. She’s a nurse who seems to always catch the night shift, or to be awake at night when Matt needs her. She exists to heal the effects of darkness and violence, and we only see her tending to men who are the victims of violence.

Claire is the first person to share and keep Matt’s Daredevil secret. It’s true that her depiction — and Karen’s first season — were more complex. Karen is naive and hopeful where Claire is experienced and jaded, and yet, Claire is the one who rejects Matt’s dark side, Karen the one who embraces Daredevil, even not knowing who he is. But we still have two women divided by light and darkness of skin, of work, and of symbolism.

And Claire is a mashup of two comics characters: Luke Cage’s Dr. Claire Temple and Daredevil’s The Night Nurse.

That’s right. Night Nurse. She’ll nurse anyone. At night.

She’ll only come out at night, the lean and hungry type.

So I rather think that the White Virgin/Whore of Color Complex is baked into Daredevil as well, and not because of Frank Miller. They could have easily racebent Karen and made a woman of color the avatar of light. Since the Night Nurse was originally white, they could have kept her that way and made the avatar of darkness a white woman. For that matter, they could have kept Elektra a light-haired Greek woman, like she was in that awful movie. There was no reason at all to make the evil one a woman of color. Well, no good reason.

And, perhaps less easily, they could have written the entire second season better. They were hinting at a dark side for Karen: where did that go? Since they made over Elektra’s origin story, why did Elektra have to be such a straight-up stereotype? Instead of her pulling Matt to the dark side, couldn’t he — in their earlier relationship — have pulled her towards the light? Or couldn’t their entirely made up “Black Sky” (whatever TF that is; it’s still unclear) not be a being of pure evil but rather a person, of no particular moral hue, with a great potential for power?

The one thing that is clear to me is that Daredevil is not kicking over the racist/sexist traces of its source material. No, it’s pulling its white man’s burden like a good little pony. Because to subvert dominant paradigms, you have to 1) be aware of them and 2) try.

I’m starting to think that the show with the glow is gonna turn out to be just another disappointment. I just looked and realized that I’m not actually excited about season three. That’s a bad sign.

And then there’s this:


15 thoughts on “White Virgin/Whore of Color: #DaredevilProblems

  1. Th white-owned media has been writing PoC, so badly, for so long, there’s almost nowhere they can step with such a character, that won’t hit a stereotype, that they created. This is also what comes of not having diverse voices behind the scenes. You need people in media who DO NOT think the same about things, or think in the same way that whites do, and are able to articulate these thoughts. WoC in their organizations could have pointed out these problems to the white narrators to whom none of this even occurred.

    1. There are SO MANY things they could have done with Elektra to make her interesting and not offensive. They were starting to do some of those things with Karen, and then just threw them over this season. It’s so frustrating. All it takes is a little imagination. *Gasp* I know! Imagination? In a scifi/fantasy show?

  2. Reblogged this on Geeking Out about It and commented:
    I seem to have developed a reblog theme song his weekend.
    Im just signal boosting this.
    Don’t get me wrong. I genuinely like the show, but it isn’t as good as the first season and does have some issues. Pointing out these issues can spur thoughts, for the creators, on how to approach these issues next season.

  3. I don’t watch Daredevil, but I do like Elodie Yung and applaud her casting. At least she is visible.

      1. If they can’t get Wonder Woman right, how do you expect them to get Elektra right? That’s why I don’t waste my time watching. I do applaud the casting of Elodie Yung. Keep Striving!
        Like Ikeke35 basically said above, it really has to do with the decision makers. You need more PoCs as writers and green lighters to make change, otherwise the actors are just beholden to the drek material these clueless writers come up with. There is only so much an actor can do.

  4. I wish that was possible but as my father who’s from Latin America it doesn’t matter the color of people’s skin, if it’s made by humans it will fail sooner or later…I think they should try to keep it balanced new ideas.

  5. The Electra problem could have easily been solved by keeping her Greek. Period. End of discussion. But so many were happy when TPTB “took risk” by casting Electra as a woman of color; celebrated it as progress. That was a mistake. First of all its tiring that progress is always represented via giving a white male lead a female love interest that isn’t white, in particular one whose original appearance, for decades in some cases, was as a white woman. think Iris West. Or in this case Electra. It is as if TPTB will only find the room to add a major non-white character t the mix if that character’s purpose to some extent is to have a romantic/sexual relationship with the white male lead. Well, this is not necessarily progress. This is standard business for Hollywood for a long time. Particularly when it comes to Asian women.

    Secondly the problem that inevitably arises when making such decisions is that now the writers have to walk on egg shells over the possibility of doing something that will be considered racially insensitive by how they characterize this female character or the situations they put her into. It leads to charges that the woman wouldn’t hadn’t been used in such a way if the character was white. Of course what such a charge ignores is that often the character is written that way with the idea that her race would be white. It’s the casting process that follows that causes the problem, because the people doing the casting might not take into consideration how a character can be viewed totally different just by the race of the person playing the role. For example to me the perfect example is Finn of TFA. Cast a white guy in the part and it is a bit refreshing to see a white male lead relegated to secondary, bumbling, inferior at everything, almost a damsel in distress status. After all white men have been the true lead characters of 99% of the adventure films over the course of Hollywood’s history. But casting Boyega instead tuns things on its head. The result of such is that that fresh idea of the white male lead I mentioned above instead becomes a distasteful, stereotypical Hollywood relic. We get a scared, janitor who isn’t really a janitor but not much of a soldier/fighter/rogue either; someone whose job appeared to be to get laughs (in contradiction to the promotions which hinted at the promise of a very rare black male lead who is powerful, capable kickass and just as pivotal to the plot).

    So what’s the answer? Don’t cast people of color in roles not written for them? Or for people to tweak scripts to be better sensitive to the individuals who are cast in roles? Neither may be a popular solution for the industry.

  6. Can’t get with you on this one. Elektra was the best part of this season. Elodie yung slayed it! You would prefer her to be like Karen? NO THANKS!

  7. Even when they race bend two prominent female characters for this series one can still find a way to complain about it.
    They change 2 of 3 white characters and all we get is: ‘It should have been the other one…’
    If they were all casted as they originally were, all these plot points still would have occurred. It would have shut this article down, but, since the complaining can never die, we could always have, ‘Why are they all white?’ to fall back on…

  8. Have no idea what your problem with Claire Templeton is, she’s one of the most morally upstanding characters, she actively saves lives, and for her to be a character that interacts with Daredevil, a vigilante that primarily operates at night, she’d have to be present at night.

    And Elektra was a cool take on a character. It tones back some of the negative aspects of the character and puts a person of color in the role. You have to be looking for things to complain about when it comes to her, unless your complaints are from straying from the source material. And they aren’t.

    1. One name and two words blows your whole theory out of the water Claire Light and that’s A/K/A JESSICA JONES.

      I just bingewatched DD S2 in prep for the upcoming PUNISHER standalone series (they started filming in September.) And. all I have to say about ELEKTRA is WOW! Between Elektra and Jon Bernthal’s Punisher, they made DD Season 2!
      I never saw Elektra as any of the negative things you characterized, Claire Light and if it cam down to who I’d rather be between Elektra and Karen Page, it would be Elektra Natchios all day long, and DD agreed because they were planning a life together.

      Elektra is the most beautiful, intriguing, martial arts BADASSES on TV and I look forward to DD Season 3, but I hear it’s going to be a long wait until 2018 because Iron Fist is debuting on March 17, 2017 and then THE PUNISHER and then the Defenders. BTW, just because a woman has a sexual pulse and she happens to be “of color” does not a “whore” make.

      BTW, Daredevil sorely needed a legal consultant because the stuff they were showing don’t play in the real world of law and Karen Page could have never been partner at Nelson Murdock unless she went to law school and passed the bar exam in NY, FIRST!

      Also, from my POV, Karen Page did just as much running around at night as Elektra so come off that trip.

      I hear ole Frank Miller disavowed Netflix’s version of Elektra and all’s I can say about that is THANK GOD because she was 1000% BETTER a s depicted on the Netflix version and doing some checking on the Internet, a multitude of fans agree!
      Leave Claire Temple/The Night Nurse alone. She is not a “whore” and she does good and rejected DD, ultimately as you stated.
      Rosario Dawson’s character in Daredevil was supposed to be named Linda Carter, but Marvel nixed that due to vague possible future movie plans (casting a white actress as The Night Hurse, no doubt.) Instead, they gave her the name of a lesser known character, Claire Temple, originally from Luke Cage. Daredevil showrunner Steven S. DeKnight has said that nothing changed about the character except her name. As you know, she also appeared in Jessica Jones and was in Luke Cage and in the upcoming Iron Fist, airing in March 2017.

      DD showrunner DeKnight revealed that Marvel is axing or apparently already axed their use of Linda Carter, the character from The Night Nurse comics. Now, it was widely assumed that Rachel McAdams’s unnamed character in the Doctor Strange movie would be Linda Carter. Carter was the main Night Nurse character and Dr. Strange was her biggest crossover appearance; there she was a major character and a love interest to the sorcerer. Instead, it’s been revealed that McAdams’s character is named Christine Palmer, one of the other Night Nurse characters. It seems likely that this change will be in name only, and that Palmer will play a similar role as Carter in the comics. But it does leave the possibility open that Marvel has still bigger plans for Linda Carter. Hmm.

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