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Why the Representation of Abusive Relationships in Marvel’s 'Jessica Jones' Is So Important


Editor's Note

If you have experienced emotional abuse or domestic violence, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741, or The National Domestic Violence Hotline online by selecting “chat now” or calling 1-800-799-7233.

I tried really hard not to write any blatant spoilers but if you have never watched “Marvel’s Jessica Jones” season one or two, this post may contain small spoilers.

I’ve been obsessed with Marvel’s Jessica Jones since it came out in 2015. It was recommended to me by my fiancé as he found many similarities between me and Jessica. So I gave it a chance, and I realized Jessica Jones is probably one of the most important TV shows of our time as it so flawlessly and beautifully depicts important themes and issues that typically aren’t properly depicted in movies or TV shows.

Jessica Jones explores themes that aren’t typical of a superhero show or movie. It explores concepts including drug and alcohol addiction, sexual assault, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and abusive relationships — all incredibly relevant themes in today’s world. All themes we don’t see portrayed in good ways or portrayed at all in TV shows or movies.

A couple of episodes into it, I had a moment where I didn’t know if I was going to be able to finish the show — not because I disliked it but because I related so closely with what Jessica was going through. Yes, Jessica is a superhero and I am not, but her life and mine weirdly overlapped in regards to her relationship.

No, I was not in a relationship with mind-controlling supervillain Kilgrave, but it seemed just that way when I was in the thick of it all.

I was 19 and had been in an on-again, off-again relationship with a boy with whom I was head-over-heels in love since I was 16. I was being strung along, lied to, cheated on and severely emotionally and physically abused. And I couldn’t leave him. I could feel something was wrong but he was my first relationship, first love. I didn’t know anything but this love, and I couldn’t leave.

I was strung along and manipulated to stay much of the time. He had me wrapped around his finger, not too different from Kilgrave and Jessica’s relationship of mind-control.

I woke up with black eyes, bruises and broken ribs, but I didn’t leave. It felt like I couldn’t. Every apology felt real, and every time he blamed me for the bruise on my arm, I would breathe in the pain and keep it there. I kept it there for years. The years I kept this inside led to intense anxiety and panic. It led to night terrors every night and flashbacks — all things Jessica also experienced.

Before Jessica Jones, I knew I was in an abusive relationship. I knew I was lucky to get out. I was lucky to be a survivor. I processed things in therapy. I tried going to support groups, but even with all those things I still didn’t have anything or anyone to whom I could relate. I have never met a young person in an abusive relationship willing to speak up about their experience, much less know to get out of it. No movies or TV shows I saw before JJ ever depicted a strong female survivor, much less a survivor of domestic violence.

I never realized how important this representation was to me until I was lying on my couch, crying about a superhero show. I wasn’t crying because I was sad; I was crying because I felt empowered. I see Jessica as a freaking badass who, while still struggling with her past, is able to use her story in powerful ways.

I’ve always been ashamed of my past. In my eyes, it has defined me as weak… until I watched Jessica Jones. I am not weak because I couldn’t leave an abusive situation; I am strong because I lived through it and came out the other side. Knowing I could still be a strong, powerful woman while still dealing with anxiety, panic and flashbacks brought me solace. It felt like a weight was being lifted off my back, and I wouldn’t have known this without this representation in a TV show.

Many talk about representation in TV shows and just how important it is to depict strong females, people of color and LGBTQIA+ characters. I find that, sometimes, certain themes are blown over or depicted in an incorrect manner, or just a bit too graphically (I’m looking at you, 13 Reasons Why). For Jessica Jones to importantly depict relationship abuse, drug abuse, sexual assault and mental health with minimal flaws is something that has allowed others to speak out about their own personal struggles with these topics, including me.

As much as we maybe don’t want to admit it, TV and the internet rule our everyday lives, which in turn means that without these positive representations in media, stigma continues and we continue to live in the dark, thinking we are alone. In reality, there is a whole world of people struggling and who have struggled.

As cliché as it sounds, Jessica Jones gave me the courage to say I went through this. It gave me the courage to stand up and tell others they are not alone. It also gave me the courage to admit these things still affect me to this day, and guess what? That’s OK.

If I could go back and tell myself, the person going through the deepest depths of the dark, where I would be now — that I would get out of that terrible relationship to graduate college, meet a wonderful man and start her dream career — I would have laughed in your face. And if you’re going through the same thing or something similar, you will probably also laugh when I say it gets better. It’s hard to hear that when you can’t see the other side. I know — I’ve been there — but I’m here to say I went through it. I saw the deepest dark and I made it out. Not every day is perfect. Sometimes, I still wake up crying, I still struggle with PTSD and anxiety about everything I went through, but it gets better. JJ has made me realize just how strong I am and just how strong you are, no matter what you are going through.

Of course, I didn’t come to all these conclusions just because I watched a TV show. It has taken me years of therapy, support from others and medication to help with depression and anxiety. And you shouldn’t have to do it all alone. We all have stories; we’re not alone. There are tons of resources online nowadays, about every topic under the sun. Here are some of my favorites:

To Write Love On Her Arms: USA-based. They have a great comprehensive, worldwide resources list to find help depression, suicide, addiction, self-harm, and more. They also have a wonderful blog with great posts on tons of topics.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline: USA-based. Online help, phone help, great resources.

Crisis Text Line: USA-based. Crisis intervention messaging service.

White Ribbon Australia: Australia-based. A global movement of men and boys working to end male violence against women and girls.

Lifeline Australia: Australia-based. Crisis intervention and suicide prevention.

Follow this journey on the author’s blog.

Image via Marvel’s “Jessica Jones” Facebook page.