About 20 minutes into Marvel's Daredevil, the new Netflix show that debuted on Friday, we're treated to a delightfully weird exchange between Matt Murdock and his law partner/friend Foggy Nelson. Foggy (forever the best name for any best friend) is convinced that Matt (blinded as a child in an accident) has an uncanny ability to pick a beautiful woman out of the crowd.
"I’m only going to say this once, and we can move on. You don’t necessarily show the best judgment when beautiful women are involved."
"How would I even know if she’s a beautiful woman?"
"I don’t know. It’s kind of spooky, actually. But if there’s a stunning woman with questionable character in the room, Matt Murdock is going to find her, and Foggy Nelson is going to suffer."
This seems like a typical conversation for people to have; if your friends really know you well, they're going to judge your romantic decisions and give you hell for it when necessary. What's weird here is that in our cultural landscape, even a blind man has to participate in the weird, creepy aspects of judging a woman's worth based on how she looks. Women he literally cannot even see.
And in the premiere episode, Murdock does have very beautiful women around him. Even the real estate agent that finds their new law office curtseys when she meets him, so disarmed is she by his charm. Foggy is right — Murdock's preternatural ability to sidle up to the most conventionally beautiful woman in a 20-mile radius and low talk at her until her eyes cross is weird.
But here's what's really messed up — he lost his eyesight when he was a kid. So are we saying that before his balls even dropped, Murdock had already seen enough of the world to know not only what counts as a traditionally beautiful woman but also how to seduce her? Because that is cringe-inducing. The male gaze is a strangely desperate aspect of our societal mistreatment of women to reflect on this show without putting forth any examination; the series relies so heavily on our willingness to suspend disbelief enough to believe in a blind, ass-kicking superhero, but not that a woman could be anything other than a Ford model.
Robin Hitchcock at BitchFlicks wrote a great post about how this version of Daredevil treats women, and how incongruous it is to the rest of the Marvel universe. Hitchcock makes a particularly salient point about Karen Page, who in the series is introduced as a murder suspect before becoming an employee.
In the comics, she’s a love interest of Matt’s, but many of the early episodes give her nothing more to do than be made goo goo eyes at by Foggy. (Nearly every female recurring character on this show is a love interest for someone.) Later, Karen is given “something to do” as she conducts her own investigation of the Kingpin alongside journalist Ben Urich. Naturally, this makes her a damsel in distress once again, but at least she’s given the opportunity to save herself.
It's commendable what Marvel has done to change their approach to women in comics — Captain Marvel, Miss Marvel, and the new Thor are all great steps in offering women more space to exist as human beings with interior lives. Let's just hope that attitude carries over to the next season of this show.
Danielle Henderson is a lapsed academic, heavy metal karaoke machine, and culture editor at Fusion. She enjoys thinking about how race, gender, and sexuality shape our cultural narratives, but not in a boring way.