By Meg Zulch
With the obvious absence of feminine superheroes in Marvel and DC tales, it's about time that ladies were front in center, rather than posing as attractive sidekicks or heroes with a smaller role and lesser powers. This year, Supergirl and Jessica Jones came into existence, finally speaking to a broader spectrum of genders in their audience. The latter show was what everyone around me was raving about. Despite my natural aversion to all things superhero and Marvel, I settled into my bed and Netflix account with the will to give it a try. 20 minutes into the first episode, I realized my aversion to superhero flicks was entirely because of the lack of representation of feminine characters. Any character in Jessica Jones with real substance was female (including the sharky lawyer), and the men all posed themselves to be less capable complications on Jessica’s journey. The greatest complication of all was the show’s super villain Kilgrave, played by David Tennant (which my Doctor Who-related love for him quickly turned into hatred). I was delighted to discover that the villain, the man Jessica was using all of her (super) strength and resources to destroy, was her rapist. The real life villain lurking in the shadows of every survivor’s life.
There was nothing that gave me as much joy as her bravery to track him down, and the satisfaction she felt in wounding him when she finally got her hands on him. It made me think of my own attacker, but without any feelings of defeat or shame. Jessica is a ridiculously powerful superhero, but acknowledges her attack without any guilt or hesitation. She takes back control over her own agency as she hunts him down, choosing to address the damage he's caused, and discovers that Kilgrave has less control over her than she originally thought. The show has all the action, braun, and sexual prowess of an ordinary superhero flick, but with undertones of real vulnerability and relatability from her trauma.
I found myself being able to relate to this superhero, not only because she was non-male but because she was a survivor, not a victim. She got triggered, had flashbacks, and used methods recommended by a therapist to bring her back in the moment. She was sometimes emotional and disoriented after sex. Her abuser affected her in many ways, but she wasn't letting him take over her life, hunting Kilgrave down between her obligatory shots of whiskey. With most media, such as Law and Order: SVU, portraying assault survivors as one-dimensional broken victims, Jessica Jones is refreshing. It portrays all the realities of PTSD with all the badassery of a lady with superpowers.
Her commitment to bringing her abuser to justice, for the sake of liberating Hope Shlottman from jail and saving others from even worse fates at the mercy of Kilgrave’s mind control overshadows her personal experience, pointing to her larger concern of annihilating sexual abuse and emotional manipulation of women. Despite the number of times Jones denies this fact, she is the true hero as she sacrifices her own mental health and safety to defeat Kilgrave. It's reminiscent of the bravery of those who testify in court against their abusers, but without all the legal bullshit and misogyny that often gets in the way of a rape conviction.
Jessica Jones, like last year’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, portrays survivors as they are: living among us, still strongly plugging on and making the best out of their situation in the midst of their healing process. Some survivors, like Kimmy Schmidt, decide to keep looking forward with an unbelievable optimism. But there are those, like Jessica Jones, who feel that they must face their painful past head on for the good of the long term, for closure, and for personal growth. “Knowing it's real means you gotta make a decision,” she said in the show’s first episode. “One, keep denying it. Or two, do something about it.” For someone who is more at a crossroads about how to deal with their trauma, I appreciated the alternate reaction to trauma that Jessica Jones portrayed.
Speaking up about your abuse, reporting an assault, or confronting your attacker can all be incredibly terrifying experiences that many survivors like myself cannot even imagine doing. And with the way law enforcement dismissing many victims and questioning the validity of our stories, our fear in doing these things are justified. But Jessica Jones doesn't care how many odds are against her or how difficult the process may be- she does something about it. And it doesn't make me feel guilty that I didn't press charges, or ashamed of my own reactions to my trauma. Jessica Jones validates my experience to its core, and makes me feel like the superhero I am for simply getting up everyday, and fighting to be more whole and at peace with myself.