A Superhuman Disaster, A.K.A. Jessica Jones: Exploring Gender in Superhero Media

We don’t need to idealize Jessica Jones, and, frankly, we really shouldn’t.

Jessica Jones Netflix Poster | © Marvel

Marvel fans, particularly fans of Netflix’s Daredevil, are getting excited about Netflix’s next contribution to the MCU: Jessica Jones, the first season of which will be released in its entirety on November 20. Something of a companion show to Daredevil (The comics see Matt Murdock sweeping in as Jessica’s lawyer when she’s in a pinch—maybe there will be something similar in the show?), Jessica Jones follows the adventures of its eponymous protagonist, a former superhero turned private detective. Jessica made her first appearance in the Alias comics where we are introduced to her as she deals with a particularly rowdy client by throwing him through a pane of glass. Then she goes and gets immensely drunk. Needless to say, I am really looking forward to the TV series. The set photos are also really promising, particularly the one of Krysten Ritter reclining on a pile of garbage.

Krysten Ritter on Marvel’s Jessica Jones

“I’m glad Jessica Jones is continuing the tradition of the Netflix MCU baes getting found in the trash,” says Tumblr-user ronchronchronch, referring, of course, to episode two of Daredevil which opens on Matt Murdock beaten and unconscious in a dumpster. Fans really enjoyed Matt’s propensity to end up in the garbage and produced a fair amount of fic and art where he hangs out with fellow dumpster-bro Clint Barton (specifically Comics Clint, who is way more fun than Dad Clint of the MCU). Clint apparently ends up in dumpsters so often that Steve Rogers is now completely unfazed by it.

Avengers: Endless Wartime | © Warren Ellis & Mike McKone

I honestly can’t wait for fic and art featuring Jessica, Matt, and Clint as Trash Buddies. The Trash Trio? I like that as a platonic ship name. Get to it, fandom, and make me proud.

On a less whimsical note, The Trash Trio actually highlights some interesting ideas about gender in superhero media. Sadly, there are still so few prominent female protagonists in the genre that any show starring a woman inevitably invites a feminist critique. I wonder, does Jessica pair so well with Matt and Clint because she embodies a lot of the angsty, self-destructive loner characteristics we normally see in male protagonists? I would argue that Jessica is, in fact, akin to that film noir stereotype of a private detective, a hardened dick ([Archer voice] “phrasing”) who drinks too much, smokes too much, and fights too much. She’s a superhuman disaster.

Alias #1 | © Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Gaydos

Marvel’s only other female-led show at the moment, Agent Carter, has a much more put-together protagonist—I can’t really see Peggy Carter waking up hungover in the garbage. Meanwhile that is an absolutely believable scenario for Clint Barton, Tony Stark, and, yes, Jessica Jones. Then along would come Natasha, dragging them out of the trash, muttering “I’m always picking up after you boys.”

I’m not a huge fan of that line from Age of Ultron (I’m not a huge fan of any part of Natasha’s characterization in that film) because it plays into an over-used trope where the messy man is looked after by the competent but generally two-dimensional woman. It’s a Tony Stark/Pepper Potts kind of dynamic. Meanwhile I’m over here banging my fists against the table, demanding more women who are as wonderfully damaged as their male counterparts, and more importantly, exist outside their relationships with male characters. I don’t think Jessica Jones is one of the boys just because she ends up in the trash with them; rather, she demonstrates that the Human Disaster Club does not discriminate based on gender. And members of this club tend to appeal greatly to fans.

If the number of same and me tags on this post is anything to go by, Jessica Jones is pretty damn relatable. We need some superheroes, perhaps especially female superheroes, who are maybe more relatable than admirable. You really can’t put Jessica Jones on a pedestal. She’d just clamber down so she could get back to her whiskey.

With the comics genre finally starting to produce more female-led shows (DC also has Supergirl coming out soon, which I expect to have a radically different tone than either Agent Carter or Jessica Jones), hopefully, there will be less stress placed on any one female character to be some bastion of feminism.

We don’t need to idealize Jessica Jones, and, frankly, we really shouldn’t. The problem with having so few female characters is that it becomes that much more crucial for said characters to be good enough, interesting enough, feminist enough. Sure, Natasha’s character in the MCU is not without problems, but would I be so anxious about her characterization if there were at least a couple more women in the Avengers? Probably not.

At the same time, expecting that Natasha could be some ideal representative of her gender is erroneous. A single female character is categorically incapable of providing adequate representation for women as a whole, because women are not some monolith. It’s not like Marvel can just produce one movie or show with a well-rounded female protagonist and then pat themselves on the back and call it a day on the feminist front (though if anyone was going to be that clueless and self-congratulatory, it would be Marvel). We’re at least heading in the right direction with shows like Agent Carter and Jessica Jones. And, hey, maybe next we can get a female superhero who is not a conventionally attractive white woman?

Now if only the superhero films would follow suit. Marvel is much more conservative when it comes to the big screen, as evidenced by the still non-existent Black Widow movie (despite the fact that fans have been clamoring for a Black Widow movie for years now). Then there is the ever-receding release date for Captain Marvel; I think we can expect to see that one sometime shortly before the sun engulfs the earth.

For now, though, I think I will try to focus on the step-in-the-right-direction that is Little Queen Trash Mouth Jessica Jones. The show has the potential to be amazing, given the source material and how fantastic Daredevil was. Don’t let me down, Netflix.

About Rowan Morris (2 Articles)
Rowan Morris is an Ontario-based freelancer. When he is not thinking about how dreamy Steve Rogers is, Morris enjoys writing strange fiction, creating cocktails, and collecting Catholic paraphernalia. You can find him in your back garden petting your plants.

2 Comments on A Superhuman Disaster, A.K.A. Jessica Jones: Exploring Gender in Superhero Media

  1. Jadejabberwock // November 3, 2015 at 4:52 pm // Reply

    I love the tone of this article. It’s true – a good percentage of my excitement for this show stems from the possibility of having a damaged female protagonist. Daredevil wasn’t scared to delve into more violence and dark topics than the Marvel movies, so I’m excited to see what they do with Jessica Jones.

  2. I am glad that at least the TV side of the Marvel universe has things covered fairly well, with two female lead shows and one ensemble shows with a number of compelling female characters out of four. It’s certainly a step in the right direction.

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