Last week on the way to a movie, my friend and I were approached at a bus stop. Two drunk men ambled up to us and tried to chat us up. Eight o'clock at night on a main street of a major city but (of course) no one else was around. It was just two twenty something women and these two big drunk guys, who wouldn't take no for an answer.
That is the moment that I kept referring back to in my head this week as I binge-watched the new Netflix series Jessica Jones. That moment of panic that every woman has experienced at least once around a strange man (or men) where you don't know what is going to happen next.
For those of you who aren't already hopelessly addicted to it, let me fill you in on the backstory of Miss Jessica Jones (played by Krysten Ritter). Previously a superhero named Jewel, the Netflix series picks up when she has given up on the hero life. Haunted by her demons (PTSD, guilt, alcoholism and rape) for most of the season she is locked in an escalating war with Killgrave (David Tennant) a megavillain who's superpower is mind control.
This show is by no means the perfect television show, but goddamn is it refreshing. It's not so much that it shows complex gay and lesbian relationships (check) or that it shows a woman with a sexual libido (check) or even that it prizes female friendship above all else (triple check). While the show has no real representations of women of color to speak of, the complexity of the white female characters (Jessica, her best friend Trish and her lawyer slash employer Hogarth) is groundbreaking. What I, and so many others out there love about this show, is how it portrays violence against women.
Because let's face it, TV does not like to delve into battery. Most shows handle domestic abuse the same way they handle sex; you might get a hint of it, but then it's a tasteful pan to the curtains so you have to imagine what happens next. Some big strong man always comes into save the woman at the end. Which is maybe why, in situations like at the bus stop, my friend and I defaulted to smiling prettily and saying very loudly that we had boyfriends (we don't). It has been ingrained for us to wait for someone else to intervene. We wince when a man hits a woman but not another man.
Jessica Jones spends half the show getting her ass handed to her. We see her bleed and electrocuted and bruised and broken. Even the man she trusts most eventually turns on her and beats the ever living shit out of her while she begs him to stop. No one intervenes. No one helps her. We watch in the rafters as our hero crumbles below us.
But she also triumphs. She makes her male attackers feel pain. And in this way she becomes an outlet of rage for all assaulted women. Each of us who has been taught to smile through gritted teeth. Somehow, Netflix has made it feel like a revolutionary idea for a woman to hit back.
And the assault isn't confined to physical aggression- There's an ongoing argument between Jones and Killgrave as to whether or not he raped her while he had her under mind control- Consent is an actual issue that this show takes up. Jessica is forced not once but multiple times over more than one episode to call Killgrave out for raping her. This is not Law and Order where once a sad pitiful victim points her finger at someone, everyone believes her. Jessica has to fight for her story to be heard and believed. Which is a refreshing change when half of the women in our country have been sexually assaulted since the age of sixteen and only one in three know what consent means.
Despite all this, Jessica is sassy and bitter and sexual. She is funny and loving and powerful. She's damaged, violent and broken, sure, but she's a fleshed out human being. She is not reduced to being a victim because of her experiences, nor does she deny them. She is a strong, flawed, person who is continually attacked and survives. She is proof that violence (sexual or otherwise) can happen to any kind of woman.
Unfortunately, last week was not the first time that I have been approached at a bus stop, and unless rape culture immediately vanishes, I'm pretty sure it will happen again. I have been followed into bathrooms. I have been followed home. I have chased men out of bedrooms where they were trying to take advantage of drunk, sleeping friends. And as fucked up as this is, I am lucky. Because so many others have it so much worse. So many women have been raped and assaulted and battered by people they trusted, only to wake up in the morning and live it all over again. I have friends suffering from PTSD and I have friends who can't be alone in a room without other women there. I see echoes all of them in this character of Jessica Jones. I also see the woman we all secretly really want to be.
As a kid I was always a superhero fan. Even as a little girl, I loved the idea of them. But I never wanted to be one. Embarrassing as it is to admit, it is only now, at twenty four years old that I am longing to be a superhero. Because Jessica Jones doesn't have to smile. Jessica Jones can be angry. Jessica Jones can say no.
Images via Netflix
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