Jessica Jones, Or When Watching Hurts

jessica-jones-article-main-photo-640x360Jessica Jones came to Netflix on November 20, 2015 – all thirteen episodes, barely a day of television if you’re really committed to binging, a few weeks at most if you aren’t.

I just finished it yesterday. For those of you playing along at home, that means it took me ten months to watch thirteen episodes of television. That’s less time than the average American television show with its 21 to 24 episode seasons. What took me so long you might ask? Did I not like it? Did I even want to finish?

Of course not! It’s a super hero television show featuring a strong, badass female lead who drinks a lot of whiskey and takes no bullshit and runs around solving crime. It is everything that I’ve ever wanted out of the world. (Aside from a heist movie with an all female cast, but look – I’m getting that too!) And yet, even when Hannah and I were bored with endless How I Met Your Mother and got stuck during the Fauxlivia parts of Fringe, we still didn’t go back to it. Instead of buckling down, I’ve spent the past five and a half months watching episodes of America’s Test Kitchen and Parts Unknown over and over and over again.

Even still, once I sat down to finish it, I split my attention between the action on television and the action in my Two Dots game.

There is something unbearably real about watching a woman who has suffered the kind of sexual, mental and physical abuse that Jessica Jones suffers walk through a world that doesn’t believe her, that doesn’t believe in the power a man held over her. The metaphor is too shallow – abusers don’t need mind control to make victims, to hide themselves in plain sight, to avoid justice and persecution. Abusers and rapists, particularly when they are white men like Kilgrave, often get away with their crimes, leaving the women they abuse trying to put back together a shattered life with little to no support from the systems that are meant to protect them.

Just look at Brock Turner, who was released after serving only three months of his six-month sentence, a sentence meant to protect his fragile soul from the damage that might have been incurred in prison. Brock Turner is about to embark on a speaking tour to warn college students about the dangers of alcohol and promiscuity. If we can’t blame the woman, we have to blame alcohol and hook up culture, because god forbid the guy who committed the action carry the weight of it. Can’t you just hear the echoes of Kilgrave blaming his parents? Blaming Jessica?

For every 1,000 rape cases, 344 are reported. 63 of those reports lead to arrest. 13 of those cases actually get referred to prosecutors. 7 of those rapists will be convicted, but only 6 will go to jail.

When you hear stories of women who were abused, can’t you hear Kilgrave saying, “Oh, my god. Jessica, I knew you were insecure, but that’s just sad. I’m not torturing you. Why would I? I love you.”

When you hear stories about men who kill women who rejected them, can’t you hear Kilgrave saying about Jessica, “Dear God, I would do anything to see the look on her face when she realizes she’s helpless. I’d make her want me. Then reject her […] Or maybe I’ll just kill her.” Is that not the exact thing we fear when we invent boyfriends to get guys in bars to leave us alone?

This is the problem with good art – it can be incredibly difficult to stomach. Sometimes, it forces you to image horrible possibilities and sometimes you don’t have to imagine them. 1 in 5 women on college campuses will be sexually assaulted. It’s not imagination, but a very real, very pervasive fear that governs what women do, where we go, who we talk to, and what we say. Its much too easy to put yourself in Jessica’s place, trying to reconstruct safety in an impossible world where your abuser not only walks free, but you have to watch his power grow.

This could happen to me. This could happen to someone I love.

But finish I did. I didn’t fall asleep easily last night.

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