Badass Women in Combat Gear, #5 ¾: Jessica Jones

November 20 marked an interesting moment in our popular culture: Marvel Comics released Jessica Jones, its first film/movie property with a female superhero. For the past two months I have been trying to write about it, to add Jessica to our list of Badass Women in Combat Gear, and it has been very hard. At first, I tried to blame my writer’s block on the fact that I had not finished watching all 13 episodes on Netflix. But on Groundhog Day, I had an epiphany that, like so many of my epiphanies, in retrospect seems outrageously obvious.

As one critic describes Jessica Jones, “A woman with superhuman strength, she eschews a costume or cape for a pair of jeans and a leather jacket. She lives in a busted apartment in Hell’s Kitchen where she conducts her business as a private investigator. It’s not necessarily part of the job that requires her special abilities, but they do come in handy” (Bendix). In the past, Jessica tried to use her super abilities as an “official” superhero, until she got mind-controlled into doing horrific things (including murder) by another “gifted” person, a man named Killgrave.

As another critic comments, “Jessica Jones pulls no punches when it comes to him or to other men on the show who try to rob women of their agency. The word ‘rape’ makes its way onto the screen in episode eight, but showrunner Melissa Rosenberg has no interest in showing sexual assault for shock value or as a way to make female characters more sympathetic. Rosenberg takes a swipe at politicians who would force women to give birth to their rapists’ babies. And she nods more than once at the idea that Killgrave is obsessed with making women smile at him. She doesn’t draw a direct line from allusions of street harassment to rape, but she doesn’t sidestep that conclusion either” (Hogan).

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MARVEL’S JESSICA JONES

And this is where Groundhog Day comes in, or should I say Groundhog Day, the movie. I went to see the film for the first time Tuesday evening, and about halfway through, as Phil the weatherman (Bill Murray) is spending several weeks of repeated days learning personal information about his colleague Rita (Andie McDowell), in order to get her to spend time with him, like him, love him and eventually sleep with him.

Had I watched this for the first time in the 1990s before conversations about the difference between rape culture (you must opt out) and the culture of consent (you must opt in) became common, I might have thought this behavior simply romantic pursuit as opposed to temporal stalking. But as I started to see where it was leading, I became increasingly uncomfortable as it became clear to me that such a dishonest and misleading “change” in her attitude toward him would not equal true consent, and I thought, “If she sleeps with him, I am walking out of the movie theater.”

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Reader, she slapped him. Probably seven days in a row. Hooray. Then the movie improved as he started to change himself rather than her.

And this is what was so difficult about writing about Jessica Jones. Reviews have called the show “dark” and “gritty” and “grim,” which it is, but a lot of films and TV shows have been dark, especially ones on the topics of war, poverty, and injustice. But those topics are things we can discuss around the dinner table at home or in the lunchroom at work. Rape? Not so much. And the institutional sexism and violence that are the social matrix now being called rape culture? Good luck with that.

And this is one of the things I have learned about writing. The Rhetorical Situation of a piece of writing is Writer, Audience, Topic. If I think I am a bad writer or if I know I have a difficult audience, it is very obvious why I am having trouble with my writing. But I often forget that if a topic is simply difficult to talk about, it is also going to be difficult to write about.

But these difficult topics need to be written about, and so Jessica Jones not only serves as a show that empowers its women characters but also as a springboard for more of these conversations. As Lili Loofbourow wrote in a critical essay for the Guardian: “Jessica Jones is one of the most complex treatments of agency in the wake of victimhood that the small screen has seen yet seen.” And Loofbourow’s essay itself is an interesting critique of the very same issues.

So here is me putting in my 2 cents. We need to talk about these issues. We need to build a culture of consent. We need to tell stories that show people being strong for themselves and others—men and women—and we need to show victims helping each other be heroes. So, thank you, Krysten Ritter (and the other women on the show, who are all very strong, although, for example Carrie Ann Moss’s lawyer, Jeri Hogarth wears power suits as her combat gear), for giving us something meaty to watch, however much discomfort comes with it.

“Jessica Jones is a superhero show for those who don’t necessarily care for the heroics. It’s smart and sexy and dark and creepy; it’s queer-inclusive and focused on women who refuse to be victimized, even by someone who has the power to make them say or do anything he wants. Jessica Jones is about the struggle for power and control, and its lead is the kind of superhero that modern women will idolize. So much of her strength isn’t in her physical prowess, but in her will to survive and never relent to the man with the perceived upper hand.” (Bendix)

 

Bendix, Trish. “’Jessica Jones’ Is a Queer-Inclusive, Feminist Superhero Series.” Afterellen.com. 20 Nov. 2015. Web. 4 Feb. 2016.

Hogan, Heather. “’Jessica Jones’ Is an Awesomely, Agressively Feminist Superhero Series.” Autostraddle.com. 23 Nov. 2015. Web. 4 Feb. 2016.

Loofbourow, Lili. “Jessica Jones: Shattering Exploration of Rape, Addiction and Control.” The Guardian. 27 Nov. 2015. Web. 4 Feb. 2016.

The Problems of the Epic Fantasy Fan Poet: Subtext that Has Been Seen Cannot Be Unseen

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A poet, among other things, is a problem solver. (Ha! Bet you didn’t see that coming.) It’s true. We try to find a thing to say and then say it in the clearest and/or most beautiful way we can. A fan poet, like a fan fiction writer, is also trying to resolve the problems in an original piece of fiction/television caused by the original creators and writers. Sometimes this is about bringing Characters Who Shouldn’t Have Died back to life; more frequently, it is about fulfilling the subtext romantic possibilities of a pair of characters, whether or not that relationship ever happened in the official canon or not.

Back in the 1990s, I never saw the romantic subtext between Xena and Gabrielle. I just thought they were really great friends who had each other’s back no matter what. I thought this up until Season 6, episodes 19 and 20, two episodes right before the series finale, by which time, to quote Rupert Giles, “the subtext [was] rapidly becoming text.” Including a poem by Sappho, fer cryin’ out loud. Even I with my firmly established Straight Brain couldn’t ignore that.

Part of the difference in how I see the show now is the difference in the time it takes to view it. In the nineties, when I was watching a 45-minute episode once a week, it was easy to not see the way the relationship was changing. Now, when I can watch five episodes in four hours, the minor touches, the number of times Xena kisses Gabrielle on the head or touches her arm–it all stands out so much more.

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Part of the difference is simply how the world has changed in the last twenty years. In 1995, I thought I only knew half a dozen gay people. In 2008, my state, Massachusetts legalized gay marriage here, and I saw a lot of friends take advantage of this. In 2015 the US Supreme Court legalized gay marriage as the law of the land, and increasingly in film and on television we have been seeing LGBTQ romantic storylines as, gasp!, text. Maintext: sometimes as side plots, as in Marvel’s Jessica Jones, and sometimes as main plots as in the film Carol.

So this led me to the motivating questions behind so much fan fiction: when did the two characters finally get together and how?

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It was clear to me from the beginning that Xena would have a hard time initiating anything. The six seasons show how most of the physical relationships Xena had in her past were manipulative and destructive, so she would be extremely cautious about expressing her desire, since passion had so often been entwined with power issues, perhaps in part to mask the vulnerability she had no interest in feeling or showing. Also, because Gabrielle is a virgin and has only ever shown an interest in men, Xena might feel hesitant to express her feelings, because if the answer is no, their journeying together will be awkward, or possibly even over. So I wrote this, which conveniently also explained the episodes when Lucy Lawless was attending conventions or doing publicity like the Jay Leno show where she broke her pelvis.

 

On the Road Alone, X. Explains Herself

 

Sometimes the heat builds up to such a pitch,

I have to leave you, make up a mission,

Far away–urgent–must rush–I will

Be back soon. You say, “Don’t forget me!”

As if I ever could. That’s why I go.

 

Only by riding away can I feel the heat

And weight of you, the one person in the world

I can’t have. I lie awake by the fire

Sweating for what I want, the one day

You turn and catch me looking, and understand.

 

Far away from you, I have space to imagine

What it could be like. Maybe your eyes close,

As you shudder when I run my hand

Down your arm, your leg. Maybe you breathe

Against my neck, wordless for a change.

 

Maybe you press yourself against me,

Urgent, your cool fingers finding, sharing

My warmth. Maybe you ask for more, and again,

And eventually lay your head against my shoulder.

Far away from you, I allow myself to imagine.

 

Far away, I can get you out of my system

For a little while, relieve the pressure of

My wanting deep in the belly, the knot

That ties me to you, that no one else can see,

Not even, or especially, not you.