I’m just going to come out and say it: Being Mary Jane is not as good as it used to be. Mary Jane Paul (Gabrielle Union) is frustratingly basic in her outlook on life. This has always been true, but I assumed that viewers were being set up for some life-changing revelations that would show Mary Jane evolving. No such personal glow-up has happened, and I’ve resigned myself to the fact that it may never come. Last night’s midseason premiere saw Mary Jane having a career crisis and ending another one of her romantic relationships because she cheated with a man who used to be her enemy. It was a classic Being Mary Jane episode that made me prematurely ready for the season to be over. This was especially true after a particularly disturbing scene that was supposed to be endearing.
Mary Jane is moving on from her relationship with Lee (Chiké Okonkwo) fairly quickly, although it’s not entirely her choice. Justin (Michael Ealy) — the coworker/frenemy that once had Mary Jane fired from another job — effectively tells Mary Jane that their one-time fling was just sex, even if it was the cause of her breakup. He says he has a girlfriend and is not prepared to ruin his relationship for her. In an attempt to make him jealous (and make her more relatable to viewers as part of a strategic branding move), Mary Jane agrees to date a movie producer. She loudly discusses her plans to cook dinner for two that evening so that Justin will overhear. Despite the obvious nature of her scheme, it works. And that’s where, for me, things took a pretty dark turn.
While Mary Jane is making dinner for her new date, Justin shows up to her home unannounced. This is the first red flag. She is obviously annoyed and demands that he leaves. He invites himself in and insists that he made a mistake by dismissing their attraction to each other. She tells him that she doesn’t care and asks him to leave again. He gets up as if to leave, but instead closes the door that Mary Jane has been holding open for him. He says he can’t stand the thought of her being with someone else. She asks him to leave, again. He keeps repeating “I can’t,” and kisses her forehead, then her lips. They have sex.
BET was really trying to make fetch happen with this scene. What was supposed to be sexual tension was actually a classic example of sexual coercion. When someone tells you they are no longer interested in a sexual relationship with you, you are creating an uncomfortable situation when you show up at their door. This is predatory behaviour. When that person asks you to leave their home multiple times, and you make a sexual move, you have decided that their "no" means "yes." This is rape. These kinds of scenes are dishearteningly common on television. Viewers are supposed to swoon when a woman is forcefully pulled into a kiss after trying to walk away from her lover. But I do not.
We live in a rape culture because we normalise displays of force as a love language. If the powers that be behind Being Mary Jane want to string viewers along with Mary Jane’s never-ending personal turmoil, fine. But the conflation of unplanned resistance with romance is both cliché and dangerous.
If you have experienced sexual violence of any kind, please visit Rape Crisis or call 0808 802 9999.