Uncovered: Victim-Blaming and Guilt in Jessica Jones

March 27, 2016
After watching the first episode of Jessica Jones “AKA Ladies Night”, I concluded that Marvel’s efforts in creating a series with a central female character was a success in breaking  gender stereotypes often portrayed in media. The main character, Jessica Jones, is a keen, hard-drinking private eye with super strength powers. Among her, are other female characters who establish strong roles in the first episode, foreseeing their future importance in the series. The first, Hogarth, is a lawyer who independently hires Jessica to take on cases her firm cannot handle and the second, Trish, is Jessica’s best friend who is New York’s number one talk show host. The last female character introduced though, Hope, is passive, and portrays the saving and punishing binary in the first episode. With this, although Jessica Jones does disrupt many gender stereotypes, an oppositional reading of this show is that the villain, Kilgrave, who wreaks havoc in order to reach his goal of attaining Jessica’s love, forcefully exploits people and in doing so, continually punishes Jessica through her attempts to save herself and others, starting with Hope.
In AKA Girls Night Out, two parents hire Jessica to find their daughter, whom she discovers is in the hands of her past mental captor, Kilgrave. When Jessica decides to save Hope, she finds her wearing lingerie, trapped in a bed under Kilgrave’s mind-control powers. Upon dragging Hope out and returning home to meet with her parents, she encourages them to leave immediately. Happy to be reunited, they get in the elevator and just as the door closes Jessica sees Hope pull a gun from her bag, hearing shots over and over as the elevator descends. Hope kills her parents under the mind-control of Kilgrave. This example of saving and punishing is open on both Jessica’s and Hope’s end. In leaving Kilgrave, he makes Hope kill her parents to punish her and in saving Hope, he punishes Jessica through making her witness Hope murder her parents. The last scene is Jessica running away to catch a taxi to the airport so she can escape her past, but instead, she runs back inside to face what has happened.
This here is what provides the oppositional reading of Jessica Jones. What most villain’s desire is money, power, and control of a city or the world, but what Kilgrave wants is Jessica. He wants her love and she wants him dead so he can no longer harm the world. The show, being based in New York City, shows how real life in the city can be dangerous for a woman, despite the fact all we may want is a “normal” life. Jessica’s number one threat, although a more complex situation, is the same threat many women face. This oppositional reading leans strongly towards how Jessica Jones, instead of fighting a villain who wants to take over a whole city, is fighting a villain who wants her and makes her suffer heavily for not being with him. We see Kilgrave’s obsession for her develop in later episodes when Kilgrave buys her childhood home, recreates it to be just like it was when she grew up, and welcomes her back. As she lives with him, although he no longer has mind control powers over her, he uses other people as pawns, threatening to make them kill themselves if she were to escape. This reiterates that when women defy men, they should be punished for doing so. Another way of viewing this is that had she just stayed with Kilgrave from the beginning, none of this would be the problem; had she not saved herself, no one else would have to be punished over her independence. People would be safe if she just stayed in line. To relate this to a real life complication, as I learned in Underworld Inc: Sex for Sale, many prostitutes cannot leave because they are under the threat of their pimp. Not only can they be physically harmed but leaving can mean grounds for killing the girl’s family. This supports a real life connection to Jessica Jones because when women leave men in control of them, they may be punished either directly or indirectly.
Now let’s observe Hope, who escapes Kilgrave in this episode. She is the damsel in distress who although is saved, is not allowed a happy ending. Because Hope kills her parents we can assume she will be blamed for the murder as mind-control is an unbelievable excuse for murdering one’s parents. This reflects our society’s ignorance of cases in which women are captive, raped or abused. Often, we blame the victim for what has happened to them and this is reflected on when Kilgrave makes her kill her parents, placing her at fault and landing her in a mental hospital in the next episode. Before she leaves with her parents, Jessica makes her say, “It is not my fault,” although after all the trauma, we know Hope has trouble believing that it isn’t her fault. An article from btchflcks.com demostrates this connection to the struggle of rape, victim-blaming and guilt by stating  that “One of the things that made Kilgrave so scary in the initial episodes was the way the memory of him haunted Jessica, always lingering at the edge of her thoughts, out of sight, but never out of mind. It masterfully depicted the way that rape trauma is a burden that doesn’t go away once the act itself is over.” This statement supports how Jessica Jones sheds light on a culture where women carry guilt over their own exploitation, once again supporting the binary of saving and punishing. Even before Hope came along, we see Jessica has still always been blaming and punishing herself despite being “saved” from Kilgrave’s power though her alcoholism, past therapy and disclosed PTSD.
In Jessica Jones, despite the strong presence of active female characters, we nonetheless still see saving and punishing playing a role in the victimization of women at the hands of a man. Not only is Jessica continually punished for refusing to be with Kilgrave throughout the series, we receive a preview of it through the victimization of the passive female, Hope. This oppositional reading of Jessica Jones reflects how women in modern times have to fear becoming victims of men and fear becoming punished or ignored when we do gain independence or freedom from any form of forced exploitation. In addition, it implies that in relation to our own world, we as women must always be saving ourselves from becoming victims before we can save others.
Jessica Jones. Netflix. N.p., n.d. Web.
«Rape, Consent, and Race in Marvel’s ‘Jessica Jones'» Btchflcks.com. Bitch Flicks, n.d. Web. 29 Mar. 2016.
Underworld Inc. Netflix. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Mar. 2016.
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