How ‘Jessica Jones’ Uses Words as Weapons

Bitches and Dickheads

Season two doesn’t have an exact “smile” equivalent, but Jessica does continue stripping words of their sexist power. Spoilers for the new season lie ahead.

The flashback episode, “AKA I Want Your Cray Cray,” showcases this skill repeatedly. It all starts when a thug named Wyatt busts into the apartment Jessica shares with her boyfriend Stirling. Wyatt and Jessica immediately get off on the wrong foot, as he congratulates Stirling for “finally getting that nice trim.” (For, sigh, reference.) “Not trim, and definitely not nice,” Jessica shoots back. She stays pretty calm, even as Wyatt threatens Stirling and punches him in the gut. But then Wyatt calls her a bitch. She picks up the Chinese takeout on her counter and shoves it so hard into Wyatt’s face, he nearly chokes to death. When she releases him, he sputters, “Oh shit. She’s….” “A bitch,” Jessica finishes. The word is hers now, and it’s not the only time she physically wrests it from a shitty dude.

The second time happens at a nightclub, where Jessica goes to find Trish. Her sister is hopped up on drugs, about to perform oral sex on the club owner, Gus, in the bathroom. Jessica breaks it up and even though she’s fuming mad at Gus, she doesn’t move a muscle. Until he mutters, “Bitch.” Jessica slams his face into the mirror. “Call me a bitch again,” she says, as he squirms, “Compare me to a dog. An animal that you can kick and collar. Say it.” He timidly repeats the word, and she pushes him onto the ground. “Redefine the word, dickhead.”

Dickhead is a funny insult, but it has none of the weighty and uniquely gendered implications of a word like “bitch,” and Jessica knows it. When she has no equivalent comeback in the dictionary, she recognizes that the only hand she can play is her supernatural strength. It may be an unfair advantage, but Gus has one, too: centuries of culturally ingrained sexism. And he already used his.

jessica jones season 2 krysten ritter

Supporting Subplots

Jessica isn’t the only one with a drive to reclaim or warp words designed to put specific people down. In fact, her reaction to gendered insults runs in the family. Her long-lost mother Alisa has a fiery rant of her own with a cabbie who won’t stop texting while driving. Alisa knows she is in the right, but when she asks the driver to stop, he dismisses her complaints outright, telling her to “calm down, lady.” Alisa, whose rage is even more dangerous than Jessica’s, arches her eyebrows and replies, “Excuse me?” There’s enough venom in her voice to make her daughter nervous, but this cabbie isn’t scared. Female rage is easily dismissed as hysteria, which is why he makes the grave mistake of telling her not to get her “panties in a bunch.” Cue Alisa: “Our panties? Grown goddamn women don’t wear panties. We wear underwear!”

Jessica pushes Alisa out of the cab, cutting the conflict short. But based on Alisa’s anger management issues, that driver was in for a hefty hospital bill.

Jesscia’s associate investigator Malcolm also grapples with an awful word, a slur that targets queer people. It’s yelled at him while he’s negotiating with a closeted lawyer outside a gay bar. Malcolm shouts back, “Assholes!” But just as “dickhead” is weightless compared to “bitch,” “asshole” does not carry the same pain as “faggot,” a word seeped in violent homophobia. That doesn’t matter to the three men who shouted the slur. Angry that their insult didn’t silence Malcolm or make him shrink into the wall, they confront him. They call him a “homo thug,” a “pussy,” and push him repeatedly, until Malcolm takes a swing. He’s outmatched, but Trish runs to the rescue, sending the three bullies running scared. The personal stakes in this fight aren’t the same as the others, since neither Malcolm nor Trish are, as far as we know, queer. The slur didn’t hurt Malcolm the way those men intended, but it wasn’t victimless — Steve Benowitz, the closeted lawyer, heard it loud and clear.

jessica jones season 2 trailer

Verbal Violence

Jessica Jones is a bloody, bruising show with its share of grotesque tableaus. (See: Alisa’s hospital breakout, all of Kilgrave’s torture scenes.) But some of the most damaging violence is verbal, not physical. Jessica understands what words can do. She spent her teenage years on the receiving end of some brutal ones, then fell under the spell of a man who manipulated them to make her a murderer. She senses the unique hatred in particular words, words designed to belittle and shame people who don’t have her powers, and twists them around to attack bigots. It’s one of her many gifts, and it’s why she’s so damn good at her job.

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