We just had an Oscars ceremony that shone its bright and powerful spotlight on women. It followed hot on the heels of two other high-profile awards ceremonies – the Golden Globes and the Baftas – that did the same. It’s unprecedented – and further evidence we’re slap bang in the middle of a sea change. Fourth-wave feminism is currently seeing huge publicity around the Time’s Up and #MeToo movements — and Jessica Jones is undoubtedly a part of that conversation.
With superheroes in control at the box office, it’s clear that the appetite for all things comic-book related is still growing. But while women still have a long way to go in terms of representation in superhero fare on the big screen – even in Wonder Woman – Jessica Jones is doing the business on the small screen. She’s the perfect antidote to the sometimes toxic masculinity and heavy male bias of the comic-book movies Hollywood delivers with regularity.
The Star of Her Own Story
Instead of being sidelined, sexualized or underwritten like so many of the women superheroes we see in movies, Jessica Jones is a three-dimensional character who takes centre stage in her own story. And not only is she allowed to hold this position without being undermined or supported by a male character given equal standing – like Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor, or the Wasp and Ant-Man — she’s the main character in one of the most critically acclaimed of all the Defenders’ series.
Crucially, too, she’s a victim, but refuses to fall into the victim role we’re used to being fed. In a shifting landscape that’s dependent on victims coming forward and telling their stories of sexual harassment, it’s vital we start to look at victims differently. Not as weak or, on some level, to blame for what may have happened to them, but as strong for surviving or speaking out. To paraphrase Ashley Judd who spoke out about the subject at the Oscars, it’s also vitally important we start to recognize that shame belongs with the perpetrator and not the victim.
Re-writing the Victim Narrative
Jessica Jones is a character who has no shame about what she’s been through at the hands of her tormentor, Kilgrave. She declares herself a rape survivor, using the word to describe what happened to her when Kilgrave controlled her mind. She even accuses him directly of rape. She’s very clear about it, and doesn’t question herself, her version of events, or whether she’s in any way responsible. Nor does she dance around the topic with soft language or inferences.
She has more in common with the heroines of low-budget rape-revenge horror flicks than she does with anyone in mainstream pop culture – and even gets her own grisly revenge on Kilgrave when she snaps his neck at the end of Season 1.
In short, Jessica Jones is rewriting the narrative around female victimhood in pop culture. Yes, she’s suffered. And she’s still suffering. She’s dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder and all the things associated with that, such as flashbacks. And she’s self-medicating via alcohol abuse and meaningless sex. But at the same time, she’s strong – both physically and mentally. Her superpowers make her stronger than almost anyone she comes up against, while mentally she’s tough, with a sharp line in smart remarks and put-downs.
Finally, and refreshingly, she’s not sexualized. Where Wonder Woman was objectified in Justice League and Black Widow scrutinized by the male gaze in the Marvel movies, Jessica Jones is never subjected to the same treatment. And that’s despite taking charge of her sexuality. In large part, that’s due to the predominantly female production team on the show.
Jessica Jones is most definitely a feminist hero. Indeed, she’s a superhero for all thinking people, and one of the most important characters in pop culture right now. Full stop.
Jessica Jones Season 2 arrives on Netflix on March 8, 2018.
Kim Taylor-Foster is Entertainment Editor for Fandom in the UK. She was raised on an unsteady diet of video nasties and violent action flicks.