I mostly stick to posts about written narratives on this blog, but during the past couple of months I’ve been spending a fair amount of time watching movies and series and there was one that really stuck out for me. I recently finished watching the first season of Jessica Jones, and I need to share my happiness about this series having been created.
It’s a solid story, gritty, noir, with a couple of nice plot twists. It’s an interesting take on super heroes, and the dark sides the concept can bring along. It properly tackles a couple of big issues, like PTSD, consent and sexual violence, in its storylines. They even tackle, which I especially like, a sense of entitlement that people feel towards women smiling. And this is all really, really, cool, and combined with the solid acting makes it a good show, but it’s not why I am this excited about the show’s existence.
The reason I am thrilled about this show, is because it is female driven. It doesn’t just have a female lead, and themes relevant to women’s issues. Most of the main characters are female. The story itself also is about Jessica, who is effectively a female antihero with superpowers. She’s dark, traumatized, drinks a lot and is unapologetically herself. She, and the other female members of the cast, are the driving factors in the story.
There is a ‘test’ applied to movies which assesses the place of women in the movie, the Bechdel-Wallace test. Introduced jokingly in a comic in the 1980’s, it exposed a fairly important issue with a lot of movies. The test is met if there are 1) at least two women in the movie, 2) that talk to each other, 3) about something other than men. This should be easy, right? Realistic female characters talk to each other about all sorts of things all the time. So with an exception for a couple of romcoms where all conversations in the entire movie are about dating, this should not be an issue? Wrong! A shockingly large amount of movies fail this test. If you want to read more on this, you can find more information on https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bechdel_test and http://bechdeltest.com/
Jessica Jones doesn’t just meet the tests criteria. The show flips them. There are very few conversations between men, and most are about women. Men are almost entirely relegated to the parts of eye-candy, sidekick and villain. They’re not empty characters, that have nothing to say, but it’s the women that dominate the show.
Now, I don’t believe that men do not deserve an important and significant role within fiction. I believe both genders deserve this, and that it’s important to show genuine and believable characters on both sides. However, the current discourse, the sum of all movies out there that are being watched and spoken about, is still mostly male dominated. There are A LOT of shows where women can pretty much be replaced by ‘a sexy lamp’. That’s why having a show like this matters. A show that flips expectations. A show that shows the other side of the coin, and that adds a couple of powerful, complicated, jaded female characters that aren’t there to ingratiate themselves to the body of work out there, and to the societal dialogue we have.