Superheros, Stereotypes, and Women with Agency

maxresdefault.jpgWith the recent resurgence of comic-book culture and the plague of superhero screen adaptions that have taken over both TV and cinema screens, all I can say is thank god for Jessica Jones. It’s not that I don’t like superhero movies, I do, it’s just that I’m sick to death of seeing women typecast into the roles of either the damsel in distress (Gwen Stacy in The Amazing Spider-Man), the love interest (Pepper Potts in Iron Man), or the underrepresented, underdeveloped side character (Black Widow in The Avengers). However, after so many years of male dominated stories, Marvel have finally paired up with Netflix to bring to life the TV series Jessica Jones, starring Krysten Ritter as the titular character, only the second ever solo female-led property in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, after Agent Carter which was released earlier in the same year. It’s about time we get to see a woman take center stage, as a superhero in her own right, and Marvel does a fantastic job – constructing a well-written, beautifully shot series whose main character breaks free from and destroys the previously constructed mould of female representation in the superhero genre.

The series follows Jessica Jones, a private investigator who also possesses superhuman abilities, as she slinks through a dark and grimy New York, exposing cheating spouses and investigating missing persons. As soon as Jessica is introduced she is immediately distinguishable from the limited other female characters to grace the genre. Not only does she have a voice, but it is her voice and perspective that the story is told through, via the use of voice over narration, and the way in which the plot is revolved almost entirely around her and her interactions. She is also presented in dark jeans, boots and a baggy hooded jumper – a far cry from the skin-tight costumes often used to objectify and sexualise women of the superhero genre.

Jessica Jones is instead a strong female character, who is both intelligent, sarcastic, emotional, tough and vulnerable – offering a complex representation of femininity that has been missing from the genre for so many years. She is a rough around the edges, quick witted, sarcastic young woman who says what she likes whenever she likes. In the story she also suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after being psychologically, emotionally and physically abused by a man named Killgrave who possesses the power of mind control. The flashbacks that still haunt her reveal her to be a very vulnerable and damaged individual who often resorts to alcohol to make it through the day. However, they also prove how strong and unbelievably brave she is, as even when she is flooded with these traumatic visions, she casts aside her own fear and distress in order to save another girl who is being held captive by Killgrave’s power. She is flawed and vulnerable yet at the same time incredibly strong and heroic – an expertly written, multidimensional female character.

On top of this, the show is also laden with smart, independent, well-developed secondary female characters. Trish Walker (Rachael Taylor), Jessica’s best friend, is a self-sufficient woman who runs her own talk show. She is vary caring and compassionate, but don’t let that fool you into thinking she’s vulnerable – taking up intense self defense training means she doesn’t need a man or even Jessica to protect her! Jessica’s boss, Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss), is also a powerful female character who works as a lawyer for her company ‘Hogarth, Chao and Benowitz’ in a role that was originally written as male in the comic books. She is also the first queer character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, signifying an important step towards greater diversity in the representation of sexuality and gender within this genre.

Aside from being an entertaining, well-crafted work of television, Jessica Jones also marks a considerable milestone in the representation of women in the superhero genre. The show is filled with progressive representations of femininity which showcases well-rounded, complex female characters with agency and autonomy. I hope that Marvel, and the other comic-book giants such as DC, can continue to deliver these developed female characters that offer more than just a pretty face to the television screen.

 

 

References
Clarkson, S.J. (Director), and Rosenberg, Melissa (Creator). (2015). Jessica Jones: Episode One – AKA Ladies Night [Television Series]. USA: Tall Girls Productions, ABC Studios, Marvel Studios, and Netflix.
Hogan, Heather. (2015). ‘Jessica Jones’ Is An Awesomely, Aggressively Feminist Superhero Series. Retrieved from http://www.autostraddle.com/jessica-jones-is-a-queer-feminist-mindfck-of-superhero-tv-318123/
 Lackey, Emily. (2015). ‘Jessica Jones’ Is the Female Antihero We Need, Because Complicated Characters Are Real Characters. Retrieved from http://www.bustle.com/articles/125354-jessica-jones-is-the-female-antihero-we-need-because-complicated-characters-are-real-characters
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