by Amelia Herman
This post comes from 500 different places. The bike in the next room; the yoga mat beside it. The kitchen sink at Ms. D’s place two years ago. The bathtub. The sofa. The passenger’s seat. Under the covers night and night and night again, and some mornings as I recover from what is “all in my head”.
Those are just a few immediate examples.
Today, I find myself missing a fairly new friend. We hung out over the course of a week and I quickly got to know her very well, into the grungiest corners of her mind. And that was two weeks ago. Today I miss hanging out with my fictional friend…
If you’ve ever had the pleasure of working with a excellent feminist sexual assault centre like SACHA, you’re probably fairly knowledgeable on how manipulative abuse works.
You’ve maybe seen the Wheel of Power & Control . Perhaps you’ve learned about how to Listen to, Validate, provide some options, and express Appreciation for survivors’ stories. There’s a good chance you’ve even read from a wide variety of sources citing the dangers of a culture of sexism while unshakably coming up with myriads of suggestions for un-weaving the patriarchy’s webs.
So, when you finally decided to watch Netflix’s Jessica Jones, you just got it.
Here are 9 ways (*spoiler alert*) Jessica Jones is doing work that complements the work rad feminists and feminist organizations like SACHA have been doing for decades:
1. Jessica Jones listens
Creations like the Jessica Jones series (though really, there are truly few creations quite like this one) are not the product of a lucky guess. The original comic on which the series is based, “Alias” was not pulled from thin air with a random idea its creators had. The scripts and production and actors behinds the characters of Jessica Jones didn’t merely take a guess at what these experiences might be like for those who go through them.
The collection the ideas and concepts and information that make Jessica Jones powerful and awesome in the truest sense of the term is the product of people who listened.
They listened to women; they engaged with material about survivor’s experiences; they kept current with applicable modern feminist values. They heard those stores because they took the time to listen to them.
Throughout the series, we see Jessica’s best friend, Trish, hear Jessica out and listen to her needs. We see what happens for Hope, one of Jessica’s abuser’s other victims, when Jessica offers to listen. Jessica later listens to Trish. Malcom listens to Jessica. There are lots of moments of real people given other real people opportunities to share their experiences.
Which is what makes the next point possible:
2. Jessica Jones validates
How do we know that Jessica Jones isn’t what some might dismiss as a “crazy b*tch”? I mean, it might seem a bit foggy for some. Flashbacks, isolation, erratic behaviours.
Crazy? Nope. Traumatized? Yes.
We know Jessica Jones isn’t “crazy” because, unlike in real life, we live through her realities with her, to experience the manipulations she experienced, to see the violence she has seen, and to empathize through her with innumerable others who have gone through and continue to go through the same things, over and over and over.
Jessica Jones reminds survivors it is not Just Them. Much like how SACHA reminds us we are not alone.
3. Jessica Jones considers a variety of options
4. Jessica Jones knows the difference between support and “justice”
Teaching a workshop a while back on the topic of Intimate Violence, one of the attendees made a great leap of faith in me. He asked a question about supporting survivors:
“But what’s wrong with just, yknow, going up to these guys and taking them out? I want to help my cousin, and this guy is horrible. What’s wrong with just drawing that line and say like, me and some buddies confronting him?”
While Jessica Jones struggles to address her own abuser, she is plagued with getting another pesky aspect of the patriarchy offer her back: Captain Entitlement
Jessica has her own plan, her own methods, and her own strength. She asks for help (demands it, really) when she knows her limits have been met. And we she knows she can handle something, she claims it and does everything she can do handle it.
But Simpson, a previously “Kilgraved” cop whose become obsessed with killing Killgrave, views Jessica as misguided, careless, and wrong. Jessica, whose intentions are to keep Kilgrave alive long enough to validate the experiences of Hope and others, are meaningless to Simpson. He views himself as entitled to his personal version of justice, regardless of anybody else.
Like SACHA, Jessica Jones knows that violence begets more violence. Jessica Jones knows that invalidating survivors creates greater problems; that manipulating others, disingenuously befriending their friends, using people, lying, cheating, ignoring others’ needs, and giving no shits for anyone’s perspective except one’s own are each their own kinds of manipulative behaviours that can be just as damaging as the abusers themselves.
5. Jessica Jones has praxis
You know how sometimes you become exposed to a new idea? A friend uses terminology you hadn’t heard of before; You scroll past an interesting article on your News Feed you hadn’t thought to learn about before; You read an informative pamphlet on a subject that you might not have previously considered?
We’ve each done one of these things. And it is so, so simple to stop there and think “Great, I know a new thing.”
Of course this is great! Learning is awesome. But to learn a thing in theory, and to actively engage with that new idea on a lived, daily level are two pretty different things.
Jessica Jones doesn’t merely entertain the idea of survivor support, it embraces it in every episode, every scene, every line, and every subtle action.
6. Jessica Jones validates
Remember that time someone in Grade 7 you did a back flip on the trampoline while no one was watching? Or that time you skipped a stone and it hit the water’s surface 8 whole times in a row? Or that time Voldemort killed Cedric and then made life hell for you and your friends all year?
And it seemed like somehow everyone’s fingers were in their ears cuz NO ONE BELIEVED YOU??
As someone who has experienced some horrible psychological and emotional abuse, and as unbelievable or uncommon as you might think some your experiences are, I believe you; and SACHA believes you; and Jessica Jones believes you.
You are not going crazy. You are not alone.
7. Jessica Jones goes beyond Feminism 101
Calling women “crazy”, “bitches”, and/or “crazy bitches” is messed up. Calling women “sluts” and suggesting “dressing slutty” is the cause of their problems within a sexist culture is pretty ignorant. Denying women jobs because “they don’t seem up for it” (unlike the countless dudes who are somehow seem defacto ‘up for it’ after a 3 minute interview) is horrible. Renting or selling houses to a white couple instead of a racialized couple is appalling behaviour that happens everyday.
All of these things happen on the regular and Feminism in general must take the responsibility to challenge intersecting oppressions without faltering.
Knowing this might make you a feminist. Seeing these things happening and saying “That’s wrong”, might make you a feminist.
Jessica Jones goes so far beyond knowing. It goes waaay past saying “That’s wrong”. Jessica Jones shows us a multitude of ways that feminism addresses power imbalances.
It shows us how survivors are socially taxed for living to meet their needs and what the consequences are.
It shows us how a supportive friend and ally behaves.
It shows us how difficult overcoming apprehensions and standing becoming a supportive friend and ally can be.
It shows us how common dismissal and disbelieve is, even among the “good guys” who want to see change.
It shows us that some people are going to feel very intimidated and vengeful toward feminists who work and work and work to make it better for whoever they can.
Like SACHA, Jessica Jones knows that the work isn’t easy, it doesn’t usually pay well, it doesn’t come with a huge corner office window, and it takes a lot of energy and love and dedication – every day and every night– to become successful.
8. Jessica Jones applies to you (and everyone)
The show takes place in New York City. New York is a big place. It’s physically diverse. It’s home to almost 8.5 million humans (that’s about 141 667 city bus-fulls of humans). It is a representation humanity as we know it in North America.
And there is a good chance that without the power to stop him, Jessica Jones’ abuser, the villainous Kilgrave with his ability to exercise mind-control over anyone, will control the entire population of New York.
And there is a good chance that without the power to stop it, abusers and those who are entitled to the power to control everyone, will control the entire population of everywhere. As they currently are every minute of every day.
Jessica Jones is an analogy for the intense, all-consuming grip that the patriarchy, and people who are manipulative and abusive, psychologically and emotionally exert upon anyone they consider less powerful. It is an analogy for the intense, all-consuming grip that the patriarchy, sexism, and rape culture has upon us each.
The work Jessica Jones is doing, like the work SACHA does, applies to all of us in our myriad and intersecting powers, privileges, and oppressions.
9. Jessica Jones VALIDATES
At first, we knew that Jessica Jones’ best friend believed her. It took her a few moments, but she quickly believed, supported and validated Jessica.
Jessica charges herself with liberating another of Kilgrave’s victims, Hope. Jessica believes Hope’s story, and eventually, Hope believes in Jessica.
Trying to convince Hope’s lawyer of the power Kilgrave has, Jessica Jones invites all of New York to share their experiences on record, and to form a support group. A whole room full of people admit to sharing the same experiences, validating Jessica’s and Hope’s experiences.
Malcom is a heroin user who lives on the same floor as Jessica. She helps him into his apartment and fends off world-saving-super-cyclists trying to talk him down. Jessica learns Malcom has been completely under Kilgrave’s control. Malcom peels himself away from the drugs and supports Jessica with the knowledge of what it is like to be “Kilgraved”.
And as Jessica Jones gets closer and closer in her pursuit of Kilgrave, and validation for Hope, proof that she and Hope are not alone, we watch as almost every character we meet becomes another person under Kilgrave’s control. Even Hope’s doubtful, conniving, hard-evidence-only lawyer is forced to experience Kilgrave’s power first hand.
In real life, we might not each get the chance to show others how dedicated our abusers have been in their manipulation. We might not be able to tell our friends “Told ya so”. We might never get to hear our families say “We understand”.
After I left my abuser, I spoke with his other exes. I was lucky to learn directly from them all the countless parallels, the exact phrasing, the mirrors between their experiences and mine. I learned that I was not alone.
Jessica Jones was not alone.
Amelia is a post-Hamilton dreamer who has an expired subscription to Bitch mag, a lot of pain to work with, and the energy to continue efforts as a sweet-as-pie/mouthy feminist killjoy. She reads blogs about design, feminism, and plants. She likes pattern clashing, star-gazing, and two-hour long baths.