Redefining the Angry Black Woman: Being Mary Jane and Black Feminist Rage
Mary Jane, the main character of BET’s Being Mary, is the picture of perfection but throughout the two seasons thus far it’s clear the picture is a little more complicated than that. Mary Jane Paul is successful, beautiful, smart, and angry. Though a stereotype most black women shy away from, Being Mary Jane seems to position Mary Jane in relation to her anger, leaving us to ask: Is there potential in “the angry black woman”?
So why is Mary Jane so angry? Let’s talk three things: motherhood, the black superwoman, and intersectionality.
Being A Mother
Though Mary Jane isn’t a mother, motherhood comes up in almost every episode of Being Mary Jane. In season two, Mary Jane agrees to go through the process of freezing her eggs as a segment for her show. In just this moment, we can see the historical issue of the separation of black motherhood from black women. Be it slavery, in which black women were used to breed to sustain the institution of slavery after the Trans-Atlantic slave trade was outlawed, or our current capitalist society perpetuating the notion of a welfare queen, there is an idea that everyone is allowed to access to black women’s wombs. In Being Mary Jane we see this with the depersonalization of Mary Jane’s literal womb since it is used to draw ratings for her show. But when her white male boss tells her that the company hasn’t garnered high enough ratings to consider the investment in her fertility treatments worthwhile, we see that black motherhood is only good for as long as it can be used. Having one of the most personal things about you made a spectacle for the nation? That’s worth getting angry about.
Upon first seeing Mary Jane, she is the epitome of the perfect black woman. Mary Jane has professional success, lots of family and friends, money, and at least one man in her life at any moment. And she manages all of this wither edges laid, five-inch heels, a beat face and a killer wardrobe. However, Being Mary Jane peels back this facade of a black superwoman.
Mary Jane’s constant troubling altercations with her family and friends make her the unraveling black superwoman. These altercations typically arise from the assumption that Mary Jane has it all together and Mary Jane’s weakly communicated need for support. This is the myth of the black superwoman, which perpetuates that black women are infallible and can handle everything without the support they so often provide. Mary Jane wants to be this black superwoman but her desire for reciprocal support and attention make her incapable of effectively communicating her needs. This results in anger that alienates her closest personal relationships.
In an episode of Talkback, Mary Jane calls out black men for not supporting black women, in relation to an article published saying black women are inherently ugly. Mary Jane and a panel of activists suggest black men always find ways to use black women and their strength in service of their own issues without necessarily caring for black women’s issues.In this moment, Mary Jane provides a black feminist intervention by publicly explaining the need for black men to be as intimately involved in black women’s liberation as black women are in theirs.
Similarly, while guest hosting an episode of her network’s primetime news show, Mary Jane engages the concept of intertwined oppressions but with white women. Mary Jane tells her white female guest, Elizabeth Foy, that by way of still being marginalized as a woman, she’s “an ugly black woman too”. By calling Foy an ugly black woman, Mary Jane is preventing the marginalization of black women from contributing to increased privilege for white women. Mary Jane is reminding the white woman that some privilege does not negate the interlocked nature of all oppression. Similar to the concept of the black superwoman, having other marginalized groups ignore your issues might be worth some anger.
These three themes ground Mary Jane’s anger in context, giving us the opportunity to see her truth in her anger. Being Mary Jane allows for a radical reimagining of “the angry black woman” by giving Mary Jane’s anger meaning. If we look at Being Mary Jane as a black feminist text we can see Mary Jane as a lens to modernize and humanize historical but relevant issues of black women that reminds us there is value in black women, even “the angry black woman”.