Jessica Jones — superhuman, badass, lady warrior — is a hero, whether she likes it or not. But do those qualities automatically make her a feminist? Is Jessica Jones a feminist character, and if she is, does that make Jessica Jones a “feminist show”? What defines a feminist show? Is it the number of pink hats a character wears in a season? Is it about how many times Jessica tweets using feminist as a hashtag? Does a show have to pass a certain test to be feminist — say, the Bechdel test?
The answer to all of these questions is the same: what makes anyone or anything feminist cannot be explained from the outside looking in. It is an internal definition that is backed up by actions. Actions that support women being treated as equals, that helps them to be seen, heard, felt and known.
Jessica Jones, A Feminist Character
Jessica is a strong, brave, complicated woman who repeatedly puts her life on the line to help the women around her. That’s not a label, that’s a calling, one Jessica reluctantly but boldly lives out every day. In Season 1, she put herself back into Kilgrave’s crosshairs to save Hope Shlottman’s life. Jessica refused to let Hope be another one of Kilgrave’s victims, even if it meant putting herself back into his world of gross manipulation.
Jessica also saved Trish Walker’s life numerous times. When the girls were little, Jessica protected Trish from her mother’s abuses. She encouraged Trish to go out on her own, to be successful, to manage herself, since her mother was so abusive and damaged. Jessica has been Trish’s number one supporter for decades.
Jessica even saves women who may be less deserving, like Jeri Hogarth. Jessica could have let Jeri die — especially because Jeri tried to use Kilgrave for her own means — but Jessica rescued her, against her own better judgement because it was the right thing to do. In light of this evidence, and these are just a few examples, Jessica is definitely a feminist character.
Jessica Jones, A Feminist Show
So what about the show itself? The show is the only current Marvel property that is led by a woman. While Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is comprised of an incredible cast of women, it’s an ensemble show. Agent Carter was on for two seasons and was led by the amazing Hayley Atwell, but was cancelled. Daredevil, Luke Cage, Iron Fist and even The Punisher are all led by men, which makes Jessica Jones a uniquely female-led property on air.
Behind the camera, Jessica Jones is spearheaded by Melissa Rosenberg. Netflix’s decision to a hire a female showrunner was a clue that the network did not want to blindly give the show to a man. That would defeat so much of Jessica’s purpose in helping women and marginalized people be seen. With Rosenberg at the helm, the show automatically became more feminist than a lot of others, since female showrunners are appointed much less than male showrunners.
Rosenberg also uses her position, like Jessica, to help other women in her industry. During Season 2, she intentionally hired all women to direct the 13-episode season, including Deborah Chow (Fear the Walking Dead), who is pictured above. According to Jessica Jones Season 2 costume designer Elisabeth Vastola, “In the beginning it felt like, wow, this is really something special, and something not to be taken for granted, an experience to work with 13 different female directors. But as we went through the season it became usual, the gender of the director didn’t come into play. Having that kind of turning point of how I worked on the show was really valuable.”
Skipping the Male Gaze & Passing the Bechdel Test
Another reason the show is feminist is because it puts Jessica on equal footing with her male counterparts. Whether she’s was fighting the bulletproof Luke Cage or the mind-controlling Kilgrave, Jessica was their equal. That is a rare thing to see on television. Not even Agent Carter herself was as physically strong as the men she fought on her show, she had to outsmart them, out think them. Jessica? She can out-punch them. Even in the final showdown against Kilgrave, Jessica was stronger than him.
The show also passes the Bechdel test. The test simply asks, are there multiple women on a show, do they talk to each other and do they talk to each other about something other than men? The answer for Jessica Jones is yes. Jessica talks to Trish, Jeri, and Hope, she even talks to her creepy neighbor. Sometimes Jessica talks to them about Kilgrave, but she also talks to them about marriage, court cases, Hope’s parents, Trish’s mother, work and a variety of other things.
When we caught up with Vastola, she even mentioned that, as a costume designer, she doesn’t dress characters for the male gaze: “One of the most gratifying things about working on Jessica Jones is being able to dress all the lead women as they would dress for themselves. They’re not dressing for a member of the opposite sex. They’re not dressing for a male gaze or any kind of gaze on them. These characters dress for who they are, as a way of expressing the way they feel about themselves.”
So, for all of these reasons and many more, yes Jessica Jones is a feminist show. Jessica is a character who doesn’t just believe in equality, she fights for it. Jessica Jones as a show doesn’t just represent strong women, it hires strong women. Inside and out this show is a feminist show and hopefully will lead the way for other comic book properties that put women and their advancement front and center. Do you agree? Do you disagree? Join the conversation with other fans on the Marvel Community Discussion page.
Jessica Jones Season 2 hits Netflix worldwide on March 8, 2018.