Reexamining How Jessica Jones Handled Assault In The #MeToo Era

Back in November 2015, Jessica Jones was immediately heralded as the feminist superhero show we had been waiting for. Not only was the Netflix-Marvel series led by a complicated, brash woman like Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter), but it also gave a detailed portrait of what a survivor of sexual violence actually looks like. Jessica dealt with PTSD and lasting trauma, but was still enthusiastically sexual. And, the villain of this story and Jessica’s abuser, the ridiculously self-named Kilgrave (David Tennant), is an unflinching look at what the ills of the misogyny can create.
When Jones first arrived on our screens, it was one of the few pop cultural touchstones directly dealing with sexual assault and rape. The #FreeKesha campaign wouldn’t begin for months, and initiatives like Time’s Up were years away. Men like mega-producer Harvey Weinstein, who has been accused of crimes ranging from harassment to rape, to perennial Emmy nominee and alleged child predator Kevin Spacey were still able to wield their power however they saw fit.
That’s why, ahead of Jessica Jones' upcoming season 2 premiere on March 8, it’s worth going back to the drama's inaugural season to see it through the lens of #MeToo and Time's Up. Those two movements were born out of the October 2017 New York Times story that first revealed Weinstein’s decades of alleged predatory behavior and led to many more men being unmasked as monsters. What you’ll see in this moment is a superhero story that chillingly predicts and reflects the reality we’re all now living in.
While Hollywood's manipulation of women occurred in every corner of Tinsel Town and beyond, an alarming number of Weinstein's alleged victims' recollections of abuse stem from hotel room encounters. As was evidenced by the cavalcade of revelations around the producer, it has become clear the disgraced Hollywood heavyweight had a habit of inviting actresses to his hotel room for a supposed meeting, only to turn that “meeting” into reported sexual coercion. Exploitation supposedly varied from massage requests, to demands for various types of sexual favors, to actual chasing, as both Katherine Kendall and Mira Sorvino recalled.
These behind-closed-doors attacks became a microcosm for all the dangers the entertainment industry was allowed to inflict upon women for far too long.
That’s why it’s so disturbing to see where private investigator Jessica finds missing young woman Hope Shlottman (Erin Moriarty), who was kidnapped by literal walking toxic masculinity Kilgrave and repeatedly raped by the villain. Of course, it’s a fancy hotel (New York City’s The Plaza to be specific). When Jessica opens the door to Hope’s room in series premiere “Ladies Night,” the NYU student is splayed on the bed, terrified and staring at the wall, waiting for Kilgrave to return. He told his latest prey “not to move,” so she can’t. Hope is trapped in the bed. She’s been sexually assaulted in and claws at Jessica to stay there.
While Hope is caught in this horrifying situation due to superpowers, it’s impossible to look at that scene and not imagine the legion of actresses who found themselves in similar circumstances due to men with the real-life powers of a Hollywood giant. Young women who were so desperate to please these men in order to gain roles, stay relevant, or simply avoid retaliatory violence for saying “no,” they went against their own well-being. They, too, fought to stay in a bad situation simply to make the villains looking to exploit them happy.

Change public perception, and victims will come forward.

Jessica Jones
Although Jessica eventually drags Hope out of the Plaza, Hope doesn’t get a happy ending. Still under Kilgrave's influence, despite their physical distance, Hope does as her abuser told her and murders her parents in cold blood. The chaos created by various characters’ attempts to exonerate Hope feels eerily familiar.
On one side, we see the abject fear women have about coming out with their stories of abuse. Jessica hires Jeri Hogarth (Carrie Anne Moss), a shark of a lawyer, to defend Hope in her double homicide case. Jeri, looking for a win however she can get one, wants to bully Jessica into testifying in support of Hope’s Kilgrave story; Jessica, however, balks at revealing her own trauma to the world. “My story will put me in the same position as Hope,” she explains. While Jessica is talking about the possibility of incarceration, countless actresses have explained they kept quiet about their own experiences with sexual abuse because they were afraid to be blacklisted or worse. They used actresses like Sorvino and Rose McGowan, who has also accused Harvey Weinstein of rape, as cautionary tales against telling their story.
“Change public perception, and victims will come forward,” Jessica tells Jeri in “It’s Called Whiskey.” In both the Jessica Jones world and ours, as much has proven true. Once Ashley Judd first shared her own upsetting experiences with men like Weinstein in the initial New York Times article — and she was hailed as a hero as opposed to dragged for being a liar — women like Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, Rosanna Arquette, Kate Beckinsale, and countless others followed suit. Now, it’s increasingly clear there’s a future where such predation truly won’t be allowed in Hollywood, or anywhere else.
While Jessica Jones never names herself as a Kilgrave survivor, which is her right, many other New Yorkers do in an effort to help save Hope and eventually form a support group.
But, “Whiskey” also illustrates why speaking out is truly so frightening to survivors and their loved ones. Not only is there a chance they’ll be the one slandered, but the possibility for violent retaliation is also looming above the path towards truth-telling. Jessica’s best friend Trish Walker (Rachael Taylor), a radio host, uses her platform to call out Kilgrave’s systematic predation live on air, calling him a “sick, perverted man … terrified of his own weakness” who likely deals with impotence and Oedipal issues.
The villain calls in to Trish Talks to publicly threaten the journalist and former child star as a way to exert his own power. In an even more upsetting move, Kilgrave then sends a police officer to Trish’s house to kill her. Although Trish tries to fight back, we watch Will Simpson (Wil Traval) choke the life out of his victim. The only reason Trish survives is because she seems so dead, a mind-controlled Simpson believes the so-called “threat” has been neutralized. That is Trish’s punishment for trying to pull Kilgrave’s egregious misdeeds into the light.
Weinstein went to wild, invasive, though violence-free, lengths to keep Rose McGowan and fellow victims quiet about their own alleged sexual assaults.
It might be darkly unsettling to see all of the similarities between Jessica Jones and Hollywood’s current reckoning, but at least it suggests a way forward as well. Jessica is able to kill her abuser, as the sea of women speaking out against Weinstein and men like him have metaphorically managed to do. No, they didn’t actually murder anyone, but, considering how much these fallen power players love the award circuit competition and awards that come with it, we all know exclusion from the race for little golden men is the same as spiritual death.
Trailers for season 2 suggests the next step in moving past this bleak, violent history is having women channel their rage into action. As Jessica growls at a man I can confirm is very, very bad, “I’m angry, and I’m not sure there’s anything I won’t do anymore,” the women of #MeToo and Time’s Up would likely say, “Same.”
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