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feminism

On Being Mary Jane and Flawed Female Characters

BMJ

There are many reasons I shouldn’t like BET’s Being Mary Jane, the hourlong scripted drama that follows trials and triumphs of cable news anchor Mary Jane Paul.

In the first season of the show Mary Jane (played by actress Gabrielle Union) has an affair with a married man, and this is just one of the MANY bad relationship choices Mary Jane makes again and again. One could argue that the show’s focus on Mary Jane’s struggle to find true love perpetuates the idea that successful black women can’t find a man or simply argue that I can’t relate to Mary Jane’s relationship woes because I’m married and got hitched when I was only 25.

But Being Mary Jane is one of my absolute favorite shows on television.

I love the thought-provoking quotes that open each episode (and even take pictures of my TV to save them). I love seeing Mary Jane’s battle to cover issues and current events relevant to women and people of color. I love that Being Mary Jane deals with race, family drama, friendships, sex and sexuality in a way that is raw, real (or as real as a TV show can be) and in-your-face. The show has even tackled tough topics like suicide, drug abuse, and abortion.

Yes, we see Mary Jane’s glamorous life as a well-paid TV personality, but we also see her sitting on the toilet and scratching her boobs when she gets home and takes off her bra (something I am convinced every woman in America does).

And I even love that Mary Jane makes really, really stupid mistakes because I, too, make really, really stupid mistakes — and so do you.

As a writer and as a feminist, I appreciate flawed female characters. We need flawed female characters. We need them in books, we need them in movies, and we certainly need them on TV. This is why I love Mary Jane Paul. This is why I love Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games franchise and this is why even as an adult I am still a huge fan of the cult TV classic My So-Called Life.

We need flawed female characters because we need complex female characters that don’t neatly fit into the box of the good girl or the vixen, the girl next door or the whimsical pixie, the angry black woman or the basic white girl.

We need female characters that are complex because real women are complex. Real women are generous and selfish, loving and hateful, kind and malicious, smart and foolish, confident and insecure. I have been all of these things just in the last week and, chances are, you have, too.

Being Mary Jane creator Mara Brock Akil was recently interviewed by the Lenny, Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner’s website and newsletter on feminism, style, health, politics, and more. When asked to spill about any bad choices she may have made when she was younger, Akil gave an answer that resonated with me as much as her show does. She said: “I no longer think of my life in bad or good choices. I think they’re just my choices. As a writer, they’re all blessings in my life.”

5 Things That Made Me a Happy Feminist This Week

  1. Barbie finally gets it right.


I actually saw this for the first time last week, but it’s still making me a happy feminist. The new barbie ad is a refreshing change considering the Teen Talk Barbie once said, “Math class is tough,” and computer engineer Barbie asked her male friends for help in coding. I’m well aware that this is Mattel’s attempt to improve sagging sales (Mattel reported its third-quarter earnings dropped 33 percent to $223.8 million) but I’ll take girl power wherever I can get it.

2. The women of the Supreme Court now have the badass portrait they deserve.

A detail of Artist Nelson Shanks’ painting, “The Four Justices”, a 9-foot 6-inch by 7-foot 9-inch oil on canvas portrait of the first four female justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, top row, from left, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, bottom row, from left, Sandra Day O’Connor, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, is seen during a press preview at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, Monday, Oct. 28, 2013. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
A detail of Artist Nelson Shanks’ painting, “The Four Justices”, a 9-foot 6-inch by 7-foot 9-inch oil on canvas portrait of the first four female justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, top row, from left, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, bottom row, from left, Sandra Day O’Connor, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, is seen during a press preview at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, Monday, Oct. 28, 2013. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

The Huffington Post recently reported that the women of the Supreme Court are the subjects of a new painting unveiled at Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. last week.

The portrait features the SCOTUS’s current female justices, Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan, as well as Sandra Day O’Connor, who retired in 2005. (O’Connor made history in 1981 by becoming the first woman ever named to the Supreme Court.)

3. This photo series imagines four black women as a badass group of superheroes.

black girl superheroes

Lifestyle blogger Paola Mathé recently imagined a new group of strong and fashionable superheroes — a squad of powerful black women fighting injustice and crime against their sisters. Mathé describes the squad as “inspiring bad ass dream catchers.” Read the For Harriet piece on the series to learn more about the project and to see more photos.

4. We curly girls get our own emojis! 

 

DOVE_Stickers

Be Blogalicious, a network for multicultural bloggers, influencers and media mavens, has partnered with Dove to launch the first-ever curly girl emojis!

The launch of Dove Love Your Curls Emojis is an extension of Dove Hair’s Love Your Curls mission, which seeks to help women and girls embrace and love their curls by ensuring they see accurate reflections of their hair in their everyday lives.

The Dove Love Your Curls emojis can be downloaded from the Google Play and App Store for FREE! Learn more at Advertising Age

5. Birmingham’s T. Marie King has been recognized by Glamour magazine as a “Hometown Hero”

TMarieKing-w724

I am so proud to know T. Marie King, who cofounded Precious Pearls of Promise, a grassroots mentorship program in Birmingham that helps young women ages 14 to 25 become strong and successful. The group meets twice a month for classes that teach communication skills, how to deal with peer pressure, and more. They also take on community service projects together. And to prove I actually know her — since she’s about to be a celebrity and all — here’s a selfie we took last week at a party!

t marie selfie

What made you a happy feminist this week? 

UPDATED: Why do you call yourself a feminist?

Beyonce Femininst VMAs

I am a feminist.

But apparently TIME magazine has a problem with that, or at least a problem with the fact that Beyonce and other celebrities are boldly claiming this title, too.

Earlier today TIME announced its picks for the magazine’s annual worst words poll, which gives readers the chance to vote on what overused word should be banned in the coming year. Previous picks include “OMG,” “YOLO,” and “twerk.”

This year’s candidates include words like “bae,” “basic,” “sorry not sorry,” “I can’t even,” and “yaaasss.”

Also on the list is the word “feminist.”

Wait. What?

Why exactly would you want to ban a word that’s about promoting equality of the sexes?

Well, here’s why, according to TIME:

You have nothing against feminism itself, but when did it become a thing that every celebrity had to state their position on whether this word applies to them, like some politician declaring a party? Let’s stick to the issues and quit throwing this label around like ticker tape at a Susan B. Anthony parade.

Look, I get it. Plenty of folks are worried that feminism is becoming trendy and that celebrities, and as a result their fans, are taking on the title of “feminist” simply because they think it’s the fashionable thing to do right now and not because they’re actually concerned about gender inequality. But to write off the word as tired slang? Girl, bye! (Sorry. Has that been banned yet?)

I am a feminist and I called myself one long before Beyonce had the word emblazoned on a huge screen at her shows, but I can’t deny that seeing the word in lights on stage gave me chills.

I am a feminist because I believe in gender equality. I am a feminist because I believe in the power of sisterhood. And I think it’s important that I boast that label because it can spark conversations about important issues and because I can help dispel ridiculous stereotypes about feminists being man-hating monsters.

I think feminist writer Jill Filipovic best described why including “feminist” in this list is so problematic. First of all, “feminist” is hardly a label that everybody is “throwing around like ticker tape.” As Filipovic writes:

According to one recent poll, only 1 in 5 Americans identifies as a feminist. Perhaps if more women and men heard their favorite male and female celebrities owning the word “feminist,” they’d find the term less threatening and, by extension, think through some of the tougher social, cultural, political, and economic changes necessary to achieve gender equality. Because while TIME is suggesting we ban the word, American women still make just 78 cents to a man’s dollar, only 1 in 5 U.S. senators is female, 1 in 4 women experiences intimate partner violence in her life, and women still see their most basic rights to make their own decisions about their own bodies used as political wedge issues and litigated in court.

But never mind all that, because TIME finds it very annoying when celebrities are asked about feminism.

So if you’re wondering why I call myself a feminist, all that is exactly why. And if you’re tired of hearing me talk about it — sorry (not sorry).

UPDATE: Time managing editor Nancy Gibbs has added the following editor’s note to the poll: “TIME apologizes for the execution of this poll; the word ‘feminist’ should not have been included in a list of words to ban. While we meant to invite debate about some ways the word was used this year, that nuance was lost, and we regret that its inclusion has become a distraction from the important debate over equality and justice.”

Each day in November for #bloglikecrazy I’ll be publishing a blog post that answers your questions about blogging, social media, writing, wellness or women’s empowerment. Send your questions to javacia@seejanewritebham.com.

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