The main female character in Watchmen is Laurie Jupiter,* the second Silk Spectre. Her mother Sally Jupiter, the original Silk Spectre, was one of the first generation of costumed heroes. While Watchmen‘s other “legacy hero,” Nite Owl, was inspired to follow in his predecessor’s footsteps, Laurie was pushed onto her path by her domineering mother.
One common complaint that I have heard directed at Watchmen is that Laurie is defined by her relationships to men, romantic relationships with first Doctor Manhattan and the Nite Owl, and the revelation of her familial relationship with the Comedian. But the relationship that I found most developed for Laurie was that with her mother.
Sally Jupiter originally became a costumed hero to boost her modeling career, and retired when it looked like a good business decision. Always proud of her heroing career, she pushed her daughter to do the same from a young age, supervising her training and driving her to the short-lived ‘Watchmen’ meeting. She overall seems to fit neatly into the archtype of the ‘stage mother,’ pushing her child to recapture her own lost glory.
What I find very interesting about Laurie is how aware she is of how her gender has affected her role. While the male heroes get their own independent motivations for becoming costumed heroes, she is pushed into it by a mother who is herself fulfilling societal expectations. And she resents it. She ends up with an impractical, sexualized costume – and she resents it.
It’s rather sad that it took as long as it did for a female superhero to recognize that the treatment of the typical female superhero sucks.
*In the book, Sally Jupiter’s original name is Juspeczyk, which she changed to hide her Polish heritage. Laurie changed her own name back and corrects Rorschach when he calls her “Mis Jupiter.” Presumably this was dropped from the film to reduce audience confusion.