Hey, guys! I am a woman of my word sometimes and am officially moving back to critiques of feminism. Yay . . .
So Jessica Jones. It’s a Netflix show. Anita Sarkeesian has taken it upon herself as The Official Voice of Women in Pop Culture to review the show for our pleasure and to tell us if it’s morally acceptable for good, 21st century folks with modern sensibilities to enjoy without guilt.
If I ever actually watch Jessica Jones, I’ll do my own review of it up on my Pop Culture blog (which has been wallowing in neglect ever since classes started up again, sorry to say). But this is a critique of a critique, not a review.
I know a bit about the show through reading its Wiki and TvTropes pages extensively and watching clips on Youtube so that I am informed. It’s in the Marvel Universe along with the Daredevil show, it was apparently really hard to find a place to syndicate it because of all the disturbing sexual abuse (totally working with the rape culture narrative, by the way *sarcasm*) so it wound up online, it has one of the most OP villains in Marvel history. Yadayadayada. I’m not emotionally attached to this show, is what I’m getting at. If Anita has a legitimate criticism of it at any point, I won’t be flustered.
(EDIT: Holy shit, guys. I think I actually don’t hate Anita in this review. Read on to see why, but holy shit right? Didn’t expect that. She’s still a con artist who takes advantage of stupid people, doesn’t do her own work, doesn’t respect actual content creators, and makes pointless generalizations and disparages entire groups of people for no reason. But half of her review of Jessica Jones is okay.)
Spoiler Warning: This post discusses events from season one of Jessica Jones in detail.
What, no trigger warning for all the rape talk about to happen? How un-progressive of you, Anita. You don’t even kind of mention it.
The new Netflix series Jessica Jones has so much potential, and I watched it in the hopes that it might deliver on that. Unfortunately, the show reminded me of something I learned through a series of failed relationships in my 20s: on its own, potential doesn’t mean much of anything.
Throwing shade, Anita. Throwing shade.
I was intrigued by the first episode, which introduces Jessica as a tough, flawed private investigator, and in so doing flips the male archetype of the haunted, hard-drinking noir PI.
You can’t flip an archetype just by changing the gender, at least not this one in particular. Making the Tough Police Chief a woman instead of a guy doesn’t make the Tough Police Chief any less of a Tough Police Chief. Same goes for the Grizzled PI. Archetypes don’t tend to be specifically gendered things, they’re about personality characteristics. It’s actually not that uncommon to see non-stereotypical versions of this archetype (Veronica Mars, iZombie, Nancy Drew, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, the American Sherlock, Hannibal, Law and Order, Criminal Minds, Angel, Filmore, etc.). Flipping the gender isn’t all that impressive.
At times, Jessica Jones reminded me of another show about a young female investigator, the cult favourite Veronica Mars (which is amusing, since star Krysten Ritter played a supporting role on that show).
So you knew that there was another huge, well-known, popular show that had this exact “female PI” character, and yet you still acted like it’s never taken off as a concept?
It’s not just the fact that they’re both investigators that makes the two women similar. Just like Veronica Mars and many other “strong female characters,” Jessica Jones’ rough edges, the aspects of her character that fuel her internal conflicts and make her tough, badass, and emotionally wary, originate in her history as a survivor of rape and psychological abuse.
Anita, you can’t put “strong female character” in quotes. You cannot. You talk about them too much–vague qualifications and nigh impossible, difficult-to-understand standards and all. The strong female character is something you both want and something that you don’t really seem to know the qualifications of, meaning that you are not allowed to act like “strong female character” is some nebulous term that you can make fun of. You and your show are probably one of the key reasons, in 2015, why many people make fun of the idea.
Also, I am triggered. Why didn’t you warn me, Anita?! Why?!!!
Like I said, I haven’t watch this show yet, but I’m having a hard time believing that Jessica Jones was a world-loving flower child who was feminine and breathy and waif-like in her womanly innocence, and then rape happened and that gave her every single character flaw she has now. If that is the case, that actually is an issue, but that’s an issue of poor character writing, not poor . . . feminist-ing. If they had a guy whose entire character was nothing but “I WAS IN THE WAR!” that’d be bad character writing too. From what I’ve read of reviews (both professional and on random blogs), though, the biggest complaint about Jessica as a character is that she’s bitchy and unlikeable, not that she’s a poorly written unlikable bitch. I’ll give the show the benefit of the doubt here and say that “RAPE” isn’t the only facet of her character.
Of course, we need stories about survivors, models of women (and men) who do the heroic work of putting one foot in front of the other and trying to heal after suffering traumatic experiences.
I look forward to your sincere apology to every single fanbase of every single show/video game you’ve criticized for having a male character be affected by the death of a girlfriend/wife. You also need to apologize to all the people who liked the “dark, brooding” characters that you seem to patently dislike for no well-explained reason. You know, since we need stories about people trying to heal after traumatic experiences and everything.
Also, just not ceasing to exist after something horrible happens to you is grounds for being called heroic, I guess. I feel like Jessica Jones is heroic because she beats up muggers in alleyways and saves people who are in trouble, not just because she continued to live after being sexually abused. That’s actually really degrading to the character and characters like Jessica Jones by tacking their heroism not onto what they do or accomplish but tacking it onto something bad that was done to them.
What happened to the whole “Why aren’t stories about women seen as universal?” idea, Anita? Is Jessica Jones a story about heroism in the face of tremendous adversity that anyone dealing with trauma can relate to, or is it about and for women telling a woman’s story and specifically a woman’s story? And which one of those do you actually want?
But too often, a history of abuse is used as part of a female hero’s origin story, part of what gives them their strength.
What do you want? Seriously.
“Why aren’t stories staring women seen as being relatable to everyone?”/ “We need more stories about women’s experiences.”
“Why can’t women be interesting, well rounded characters?”/ “Giving this character a dark backstory is bad because it’s too dark!”
“We should tell more stories about strong women living through traumas that they have endured. No one cares about women’s stories.”/ “How dare you have this character be a survivor of trauma, don’t you know we don’t need more of those stories?”
Yeah, Anita, her history of abuse gives her strength because, as it turns out, nothing ever happening to a character is a pretty piss-pour backstory that no one finds interesting. If you want to complain about superhero tropes, fine (“Raise your hands if you have dead parents/parental figures!), but this is so vague.
I cannot think of one superhero whose backstory/major character arch doesn’t involve some kind of abuse being dealt to them. This counts domestic abuse. Fucking Hawkeye couldn’t go anywhere without being egregiously abused by his parental guardians. I can think of five movies/tv shows off the top of my head that have male characters whose backstories involve them being raped by Catholic priests (only once was it played seriously too, unlike with the female characters where rape is always serious business). Hell, in this same show, the male villain is also subjected to domestic abuse in his own backstory.
You do realize that there’s nothing wrong with this, right, Anita? This argument is the equivalent of me saying, “I’m not going to watch Better Call Saul because its main character’s backstory involves him being a reformed criminal, and too many characters are reformed criminals.” It’s the biggest non-argument there is. So okay, the Rape as Backstory trope exists. You personally find it to be annoying. Okay. Why is this a fault of the show? Why is this an automatic knock against the show? There’s nothing inherent within this idea that makes a story bad or poorly constructed. Does the show do this backstory well? You haven’t said. You’ve just said that that is what the backstory is, and that, in of itself, is an issue. Why?
To its credit, as one critic observed, Jessica Jones conveys the horror of Jessica’s past without ever depicting it. In this way, it avoids sensationalizing sexual assault, acknowledges that trauma leaves a lasting impact on people, and relieves the audience of the burden of having to bear witness to the worst of what Jones has endured.
So, what I’ve learned about Jessica Jones so far is that it teaches you how rape is bad. Does anything else happen in this show? I wouldn’t even know that Jessica was a superhero if I didn’t look it up first. Anita makes it seem like Jessica Jones is nothing but thirteen episodes of Jessica talking about how she got raped once but the camera never actually showing it because this show is classy.
I just want to note that Jessica Jones has such things as a man slitting open his own throat in gory detail, callous child abandonment, child abuse, crippling and starkly depicted heroine addiction, people ripping their faces off, people bludgeoning themselves to death by ramming their heads repeatedly into posts, and more to come. But rape. That is too horrible and traumatizing to depict. That is the worst thing that they could show us. Our standards are weird. . . .
By doing this, it demonstrates that as the audience, we can believe in the horror of what she has suffered without needing to see it.
Aw, but I was really looking forward to some good, ole, Game of Thrones style sex scenes.
This is significant, considering that we live in a culture that still far too often dismisses the accounts of women who have suffered rape and assault.
Where is this happening? Were you not present for the two false-accusation scandals that happened in one year where people were calling for innocent guys to be hung from the rafters for being rapists? Are you talking about the culture where even prisoners think that being a rapist is abhorrent and will “punish” a rapist the same way they punish child molesters? What culture that is dismissive and permissive of rape are you talking about, Anita? It sure as hell isn’t the one I’m in.
Are you talking about rape kits? You know, those things that police offices physically cannot afford to have tested because they’re forced to spend most of their funding on continuing the drug war instead of allocating their already meager financial resources more evenly, and since rape is very difficult to get a conviction out of compared to other crimes, they put it on the backburner? Are you talking about interrogations? A necessary part of investigating a rape accusation, that is, admittedly, not done very well, but which isn’t done well for anyone, alleged rape victim or no, because most cops aren’t taught how to successfully interview victims of crimes, only potential perpetrators.
You mean these things that have concrete reasons behind them that can’t just be blamed on blanket “sexism,” but you’re gonna go ahead and do that anyway? Yep.
And as writer Arthur Chu noted, the particular brand of psychological abuse the show’s villain Kilgrave employs is also noteworthy for the striking similarities it bears to the online abuse many women suffer; Jones can’t trust anyone, can’t feel safe anywhere. At times, it feels as if the entire world is out to get her.
Did you just equate someone being a control-freak rapist with . . . being an internet troll? Okay. This is Arthur Chu, though, so it’s not like I expected anything to make sense if it came from him.
I’m actually kind of insulted by this. The Kilgrave scenes are some of the only ones I’ve watched because people on the Internet kept talking about how awesome Tennent was in that performance. He isn’t a fucking internet troll telling you mean things. He tortures and abuses and rapes people. Are you seriously saying that getting lots of unnecessarily mean comments and patently illegitimate threats online is the same thing as being actively abused? That is fucking ridiculous. Go and say that to an actual rape victim’s face, Anita, that you totally know what she/he went through because people call you a bitch online. Let me guess, you’ve got Twitter PTSD? Then again, you did go to the fucking UN, a place that’s still dealing with honor killings and beheadings for apostasy to talk about how women getting called names on the internet is a serious problem (even though men get abusive language and threats hurled at them online more than women, and women make up the majority of cyber bullies, so acting like this is a gendered issue that victimizes women and women specifically makes no sense).
Fuck you, seriously.
On the other hand, the show shuns the opportunity to depict something akin to a genuine attempt at recovery in favor of portraying Jones as being above such things.
Fuck this show for having characterization, right? It’s almost like they want to have Jessica Jones be an actual human with flaws and a personality who makes choices that may or may not be the best. Oh, no! We can’t have that. I’m going to apply this line of reasoning to another show to show how ridiculous it is:
Why didn’t Walter White get help with his financial troubles? He had the opportunity. People were there to help him, and the show could have depicted a genuine attempt at cancer recovery for those of the working class. But the writers refused to do that, instead favoring to portray him as being above getting help from others. Isn’t that awful.
A support group is formed for people who have been violated by the villain, Kilgrave, but Jessica never participates.
So? Support groups aren’t for everyone. They’re actually not that affective. They tend to only be helpful when the person is already of the mindset that a.) they want to get over this, and b.) this support group will be helpful. That’s why forcing someone to go to AA usually doesn’t work. That’s why just going to a support group usually doesn’t work any better than just having a good support system at home. It’s better than nothing if you don’t have any support system at all, but it’s not the end-all-be-all way of dealing with trauma that Anita seems to think it is.
Also, plenty of real-life women don’t go to support groups after experiencing a trauma, for a variety of reasons. Are you seriously getting mad at a show for acknowledging that victims of violence deal with it in different ways? Not every goes to a support group. Not everyone needs to go to a support group. And since our reactions to adversity tend to be very individualized things based in our environments and our own mindsets about the world, treating one method of dealing with trauma like the one-size-fits-all best does not work. So what if Jessica Jones doesn’t go to group therapy? So what if she thinks group therapy is stupid? Does it matter?
In reality, many people who have been traumatized carry around a tremendous amount of shame and do avoid opportunities for help and support. However, having the show’s hero be the one character who doesn’t ask for help suggests that it’s stronger and braver not to seek help, when it’s actually just the opposite.
Seriously, guys, where does Anita get off saying these things? Yeah, I understand the sentiment: It’s okay to ask for help when you need it, it isn’t embarrassing, yadayadayada. But Anita is so entrenched in this Mother-Knows-Best attitude that it’s starting to insult me. Not only is attributing “strength” and “bravery” to victims who seek help rather insulting to the people who didn’t deal with their trauma in that fashion (those weak cowards, amiright?), but it once again attaches “female” bravery and strength to nothing but how they deal with what others do to them. They don’t do brave things, they react bravely. That is why she can act like super hero Jessica Jones who beats up dangerous criminals is somehow not brave because she doesn’t have the “right” reaction to this one thing. This is not the only way to deal with emotional/mental issues, Anita. It is not. And being firmly against this show because it depicts someone dealing with trauma in a way that you don’t like makes no sense.
It’s a tv show. A show for adults, at that. Anita has some weird notion in her mind that characters have to be role models, that they have to do the best, most advisable things or else they perpetuate bad ideas. Even if Anita’s idea that there’s a one-size-fits-all method of confronting PTSD that Jessica Jones wasn’t adhering to, so? Jessica Jones isn’t a fucking role model, the character can make bad decisions and wrong choices and have incorrect notions of what is best. That is what makes her character fucking interesting, Anita. Having a character who does everything right and makes no mistakes is boring. If women are turning to Netflix series to find out how to deal with emotional trauma, that says more about them than the show. The show should not be required to the lowest common denominator of people just because you think audiences need to be spoon-fed “good ideas.”
In fact, Jessica’s neighbor Malcolm might just be the most heroic character on the show. Also one of Kilgrave’s victims, he’s the one who maintains the support group. Recovering from the abuse he suffered under Kilgrave, he resumes his plans to become a social worker, and he has a genuine interest in helping Jessica. The long-form nature of television has the ability to show characters growing and changing over time, and I hope that future seasons of Jessica Jones find her bravely seeking the support that someone who has endured the kinds of abuse she has suffered might need.
Is the abuse Malcolm suffered also akin to horrible, horrible internet harassment? Or does his penis cancel that connection out seeing as how it’s only “internet violence against women” that Kilgrave’s actions are reminiscent of? So, you like Malcolm better than Jessica, fine. Why is this show disappointing, then, when it clearly shows that Jessica’s way of dealing with shit isn’t the only way, to the point of having another major character being the model for an alternative method? Another major character who the audience is clearly supposed to have a connection to, so it’s not like we’re supposed to look at Malcolm running a support group and scoff at him for it. It’s depicted as a good idea, the fruition of Malcolm’s previous social work skills.
So, no, Jessica Jones doesn’t depict this as being the bad thing to do, which is your entire argument for why this show is bad. Do you have another reason?
Further undermining the show’s handling of trauma recovery is the fact that the support group of Kilgrave survivors is easily whipped up into an angry mob misguidedly seeking revenge against Jessica. It’s a contrived scenario that makes the group function primarily as a plot device that exists to generate tension and conflict rather than as an opportunity to explore the show’s characters and themes.
Oh my God, guys. I think Anita actually made a legitimate criticism of the show based off of it’s narrative quality and merit and not just “I don’t like this!” Bravo, Anita, for showing that you’re actually capable of acknowledging things like narrative and contrived plot points, you know, things that actually are objective problems in fictional works, unlike, “I’m personally annoyed by the use of this trope that isn’t objectively good or bad! Take it away.” It’s like an actual critic jumped into your brain for a minute.
This sacrificing of character development to ratchet up the tension in ways that feel implausible and manipulative repeats throughout Jessica Jones.
While I don’t agree in the slightest that Jessica Jones’ character development should absolutely and necessarily be centered around her getting help they way you want her to and that if that isn’t how the plot plays out that is horrible, I will once again applaud your efforts to point out flaws that are about something other than the show not being feminist enough for you.
The character of Simpson veers unbelievably from seemingly sweet, trustworthy guy to murderous psychopath. We become invested in sympathetic characters like Hope and Wendy, only to see them methodically killed off when they’ve served their purpose to the plot.
Seeing as how characters are ultimately just plot devices there to serve a purpose, I don’t mind killing off sympathetic ones once they’ve served that purpose. It just has to be done well. Does this show do it well? Who knows.
The evolution of these characters and their struggles could have given future seasons of the show more complexity and depth. This focus in later episodes on absurd plot twists and contrived deaths over character development is also unfortunate because the relationships between characters are the most engaging aspect of the show.
Anita, why the fuck didn’t you open with this? Why did you write paragraph after paragraph of what essentially amounted to, “We need more stories that talk about rape victims, but not this kind of story that talks about this kind of rape victim!” There’s an actual review of the show in here, but no one’s going to fucking read it if they have to trudge through that much feminist drivel that no one cares about. I’ve also heard that Jessica Jones goes off the rails and didn’t have enough material for thirteen episodes, so I’m inclined to think that Anita isn’t just talking out of her ass here.
Pop culture reviewing pro-tip: People fucking hate when you review media through an -ist lens, feminist or otherwise. It’s pseudo-intellectual, preachy, and tacky. Would you seriously want to trudge through a review of Kill Bill that was nothing but me “analyzing the violence of the film through a pacifist perspective.” No, you wouldn’t. It would just be me talking at you, and no one likes to be talked at. Stop talking at people, Anita, and do more of this.
Jessica’s relationship with her adoptive sister Trish Walker, for instance, is fascinating because of the contrast between them. Jessica drinks way too much and her apartment (and her life) are a mess; Trish is successful and seemingly has her life together. Jessica is emotionally distant and unreliable as a friend; Trish is loyal and dedicated. This relationship is, in the end, at the heart of Jessica Jones; it’s here that we see Jessica growing as a person, slowly learning to express her feelings for the people she loves.
I’m still just amazed that you’ve gone this long without inserting one huge BUT about how, “But, Trish’s character still lines up with feminine stereotypes and therefore spreads harmful and stereotypical ideas about women,” or something. Once again, where was this reviewer in the rest of Anita’s stuff?
It’s understandable that Jones would have trouble trusting anyone; the way she was treated by Kilgrave is nothing short of horrifying. And in the all too rare moments when Jessica Jones shows Kilgrave using his powers of mind control to peel back people’s psychological defenses and hit them at their most vulnerable, it’s frightening to observe, in part because it’s such a clear reflection of actual psychological manipulation and abuse.
Oh my God, guys. She talked about psychological manipulation and abuse without making it seem like it’s only a women’s issue. Granted, she did that by not going into detail about it at all, but still. You’re almost there, Anita. Almost.
I’m still turned off by Anita not roping in any of Kilgrave’s many male victims into her, “This is exactly like what I go through!” idea. But at least she didn’t leave them out entirely here by just referring to them as vague “people.”
The most chilling display of Kilgrave’s power may be in the scene when Kilgrave and Jessica are visited by her childhood neighbor, and Kilgrave forces the woman to reveal her own desperate need to feel important.
I too was freaked out by that scene. Then again, mind control is one of those things that freaks me out more easily than others.
This is also one of the rare moments in the series that lends some complexity to the character of Kilgrave; as horrifying as his actions are, he’s doing what he’s doing because in his own deeply twisted way, he believes that he genuinely cares for Jessica. Perhaps the most frightening aspect of Kilgrave is that he actually believes his own sick rationalizations; he believes that on some level, Jessica wanted what he did to her.
Can you recognize that the main character, might, just might, be written to be complex as well? Nope? Okay. I’m also starting to be annoyed by how much Anita just characterizes Jessica Jones as “a rape victim” and nothing else. She doesn’t really talk about her being a PI that much, she just started talking briefly about Jessica’s relationships, she doesn’t mention the whole superhero thing at all. Jessica is just apparently defined as a character as being a rape victim as far as Anita is concerned. Is there nothing else to her, really? Is her being a rape victim the only thing to talk about? If Anita wants to complain about the show focusing on Jessica’s status as a rape victim too heavily, Anita would do well to not do the exact same thing.
When Jessica reminds him of the fact that he repeatedly raped her, Kilgrave is shocked and genuinely confused. His delusion that she had consented when in reality she had no ability to do so is frighteningly similar to the tales of rapists who don’t believe that their sexual encounters constitute assault and abuse.
That was probably the point. Those rapists are an outlier, by the way. The overwhelming majority of them acknowledge the nonconsensual nature of their interactions, and it tends to be the date-rapists who get hit with the, “But it wasn’t rape, we were on a date,” bomb.
Unfortunately, Kilgrave’s powers are more often presented as a kind of sadistic carnival trick than as anything approximating real psychological abuse.
Another actual criticism? As a note, this is once again just Anita’s opinion (it’s not like the show had to make Kilgrave’s character a more realistic psychological abuser in order to be acceptable, and it’s not like the show had to go down that “realistic abuse” path to still be good, and that argument can be made), but it actually sounds like her opinion, and not the opinion of someone who beat their head against a gender studies textbook for an hour before writing up a review for her Intro Sexism in Media class. I appreciate that. It actually sounds like you could disagree with her assertion that Kilgrave’s character was disappointingly written and not be called a bad person immediately.
And while the show doesn’t depict the worst aspects of Kilgrave’s abuse of Jessica, the show is self-indulgent in depicting his sadistic manipulation of victim after victim. Initially, some of this serves to establish Kilgrave’s villainy and the extent of his powers, but it quickly becomes too much.
I actually kind of agree. Once again, this is my opinion that makes me personally not like the show as much as I otherwise would have. Mind control freaks me out, as I said previously. After watching a compilation of Kilgrave clips, I too found myself thinking that the show delved into pointless, look-at-me-I’m-dark-and-edgy sadism for the sake of just being dark. So, hey, Anita, we agree on something! Is that the sound of the world imploding . . .
These displays of Kilgrave’s power ultimately lose whatever horrifying impact they may have had at first and become sensationalized as the show keeps trying to raise the stakes and outdo what it has done before. They become something we’re meant to look forward to with grim anticipation. What gruesome and horrifying thing is Kilgrave going to force someone to do next?
This is called torture porn. I’m not a fan of the sub-genre, but plenty of people are. For me personally, it’d get a few points knocked off of the show’s final grade, but I’m not the demographic for that kind of thing. What is the target demographic for Jessica Jones? I’m not really sure. If torture porn is what the target demographic wants, however, there’s not much wrong. There’s nothing inherently or objectively wrong with looking forward to some fictional sadism with grim anticipation, after all.
He makes people do things like toss hot coffee in their own faces or impale themselves on large gardening shears. Yes, this encourages us to hate him, but as a being of pure evil rather than as someone we can understand in human terms. Played expertly by David Tennant, Kilgrave radiates charisma, as do many real-world purveyors of psychological abuse, but while their actions may be monstrous, those people are human, and we need to understand that if we’re ever going to examine the cultural and environmental factors that contribute to their behavior. Being able to write off such people as purely, intrinsically evil doesn’t get us anywhere. I saw a bit of promise when, late in the season, Jessica Jones seemed to introduce an attempt to humanize Kilgrave by giving us a look at his painful past, but the show then drops this, explaining that Kilgrave’s parents were trying to help him, and lets us return to seeing him as ultimately a one-note embodiment of pure evil.
Dude, seriously, Anita Sarkeesian, Anita fucking Sarkeesian is trying to be nuanced. What? Where am I? Once again, the idea that fictional things have to be connected to reality is dumb, but she’s actually making an argument about how we depict evil in fiction, which is actually interesting. What? Where was this level of intrigue and ability to say “Hey, guys, this character is a person too,” in literally all of the Feminist Frequency videos? This kind of makes me even more pissed off at that series since it shows that Anita could have made something interesting and nuanced that wasn’t just a regurgitation of feminist talking points and just didn’t.
However, as I said, I did see glimmers of potential in Jessica Jones. In its final moments, we not only see Jessica express her love for Trish, but also show some interest in the idea of teamwork. Perhaps next season she can still learn that sometimes asking for help is more heroic than going it alone.
Yeah, and perhaps in the next Anita Sarkeesian post, she’ll continue to act like an actual human willing to look at things from someone else’s point of view. Hopefully.
And. . . . there goes all my hope.