Kim Huynh

Lessons in being a feminist ally from Jessica Jones

Jessica Jones has truly entered the zeitgeist, and while she’s an important female figure, men can learn from her too. 

 

 

Jessica Jones is the superhero of the #MeToo era.

The female leads in the show have remarkable powers and confront terrifying ordeals, beyond anything that Thelma and Louise encountered last century. And yet their struggles with abuse, patriarchy and self-worth point to the resilience and companionship that women draw upon every day everywhere.

Some of Jessica Jones’ most important messages are directed at men.

Specifically, the show – now into its second season – highlights how we can ally ourselves with women in the #TimesUp fight against harassment and discrimination.

Being an ally is not clear-cut easy. It is not about being a saviour, a comrade, an exact equal or a sidekick.

It is about having a good hard look at yourself – your history, privilege, limitations, desires, habits and assumptions – self-awareness being a prerequisite for supporting others.

Allying is also a dynamic process that must match the changing faces and fluidity of oppression and identity.

Moreover, you should never seek thanks or praise for your efforts; it should be enough to realise that you did not make matters worse.

The most important message for us fellas is to let go. Let go of that compulsion to control. Let go of that incessant drive to shape our surrounds, command the conversation, set the agenda, and rescue others – especially women.

 

No-one would want to be Jessica Jones or indeed anyone in this series. All of them are screwed up and immune to happy endings. Perhaps that is what makes them so relatable.

 

If there is a villain in the second season, then it is Karl Malus: a ponytailed white knight in a lab coat. Malus has an affection for marine life, marijuana and The Doors. He drags people back from death’s door, genetically enhancing them to become “supers”.

Malus’ Frankenstein is also his love interest: the incurably angry murderess, Alisa.

The doctor has both gifted and cursed Alisa with special abilities, which she unleashes as payback against anyone who she associates with her late husband. He was a feeble man who, because “he needed to be in charge”, discouraged her from doing a PhD and acted as if “his dick would fall off” if she ever drove the car. “In my own life, I was always told to be quiet and to behave,” Alisa laments. “No longer!”

Karl fawns over Alisa and calls her, “The most powerful woman on the planet.” But he adores her largely because he saved and made her. She is his achievement, and his responsibility. For her own sake, Malus shackles Alisa at night and sedates her whenever he deems it necessary.

Jessica Jones sees through Dr Malus, asserting that he does not save lives but destroy them and that “he is a pervert with a God complex who made himself a powered girlfriend for kicks.”

Jones captures and releases Malus with a warning that rattles the patriarchal foundations of technological progress:

“If you ever go near any kind of science again… I’ll hunt you down and tear your arms off!”

Griffin Sinclair is the dashing love interest of Jessica Jones’ sister, Trish Walker. Like Malus, Griffin illustrates why being a progressive leftie does not make you a #MeToo ally.

Griffin does almost nothing wrong. As a war reporter, he champions children, the dispossessed and downtrodden. He never mansplains, and backs Trish as she struggles to find meaning in her work and life.

The problem is what Griffin embodies: male privilege. He has confidently stepped through door after door that has been slammed shut on Trish by sexual predators, an overbearing mother, the legacy of child stardom and the ever-leering male gaze.

When Trish cannot fully understand why she rejected Griffin’s marriage proposal, Jessica explains that, “Whenever he’s in the room, he sucks up all the oxygen.”

Trish then realises that, “I don’t want to be with Griffin, I want to be Griffin.”

Jessica Jones’ neighbours, Malcolm and Oscar, are more effective when it comes to supporting sisters who are doin’ for themselves.

They are not self-absorbed Sensitive New Age Guys (SNAGs) who are more interested in placating women than inciting them.

Both respect Jessica Jones as a “powered” woman. They do not hesitate to call out her recklessness and insensitivity, are comfortable deferring to her expertise, and sit with her rage. They ask for help and reveal their vulnerabilities. Malcolm seeks to master his addictions, while Oscar strives to be a role model for his son.

Both “get the girl”, but it’s just as accurate to say that girls get them.

No-one would want to be Jessica Jones or indeed anyone in this television series. All of them are screwed up and immune to happy endings. Perhaps that is what makes them so relatable.

The characters help us to grasp the very real challenges and opportunities that come with this latest push for women’s empowerment and equality.

They underline the clash between being a hero and an ally: the latter requires throttling back rather than leaping up and hurtling forward; refining your listening skills rather than relying on your laser vision; and realising that being caring and responsible does not necessarily mean being in command.

 

Kim Huynh

Dr Kim Huynh has published journal articles and book chapters on political theory, Vietnamese politics, women’s studies and refugee politics, and has written essays and opinion editorials for a range of Australian newspapers along with the BBC Vietnamese and the RiotACT. He received the ANU Vice Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Teaching and lectures courses on international relations and political philosophy in addition to supervising honours and PhD students in these areas.

Related posts

Top