The Mary Jane Watson of the original Spider-Man films gets a hell of a lot of flak. She’s usually labelled a ‘no-personality damsel in distress’, before then being called some variation of ‘a clingy, whiny, self-centered two-timer’. Quite aside from the fact that her detractors accuse her of having no personality before immediately going on to describe her personality (well, a small part of it), they’ve somehow managed to miss why she’s ‘clingy, whiny and self-centered’:

Because she was abused!

This isn’t a minor detail, either: it’s very clearly shown that MJ’s abusive father affected her self-esteem massively. In a scene between Peter and MJ in Spider-Man 3, she’s upset - really upset - because of a mildly critical review. Like, really mildly critical. Peter can’t understand why. “That’s a critic, that’s just something you’ll have to get used to.” But MJ can’t understand why he can’t understand. “I look at these words and it’s like my father wrote them.” She’s been told her whole life she’s worthless, why should it stop now? It’s an overreaction, but it makes perfect sense.

Know what else makes perfect sense? MJ’s tangled relationships with men, especially Peter and Harry. She dates Harry straight out of high school, and hey, I love Harry, I really do - but he wants a say in how she dresses, for God’s sake. He loves her but (probably due to coming from a loveless household himself) he’s a terrible boyfriend. And MJ’s doesn’t even quite trust him to accept her- she’s sensitive about the social divide between them, between ‘trash’ and people like the Osborns, but she sticks around anyway, because, like I said, Harry loves her, he thinks she’s beautiful, and he’s rich and good-looking and if someone like that (or John Jameson, another rich and successful young man) wants her how worthless can she be? MJ wants a man in her life, she wants to prove her father wrong, prove she is loveable - if one man lets her down, maybe another one won’t. As soon as Harry fails her she turns to Peter; as soon as Peter fails her a movie or two later she turns back to the now more grown-up Harry. And before you ask, yes, I’ve lost count of the amount of times she’s called ‘slut’ or ‘skank’ for this by fandom, whereas the boys get away with virtually every instance of unpleasant behaviour towards her.

I’m not saying MJ is a saint, mind. Actually, that’s pretty much the point: she isn’t. Leaving John Jameson at the altar with a note was really quite cruel; when she lost her job she should have told Peter about it; she should also have had a proper conversation with him about the Gwen situation; and she shouldn’t have prejudged Gwen herself (a totally innocent party throughout all of Spider-Man 3) so harshly. MJ fucks up, you know, she really does - but that’s okay. The movies don’t judge her for her sex life, her rough patches, her frequent need for reassurance, or her ambition. When Norman behaves in a downright misogynist way to her (remember him leering at her chest mere minutes before he calls her a gold-digger? She’s nineteen at most at that point. I think he deserved that stab in the dick) we aren’t meant to think he’s right, we’re meant to think he’s horrible. Yet I’ve seen an unnerving amount of people agree with him. Which is absolutely endemic of a wider problem, but anyway - back to MJ as a person - 

There’s more than one kind of female character, and I am absolutely, absolutely here for the flawed, messed up, not-really-all-that-kickass ones. MJ’s clingy because she wants to be loved, she’s ‘whiny’ (sigh) because people treat or have treated her actually really badly, and she’s self-centered because you know what abusers try to do? Deny their victims a sense of self. Almost every part of MJ’s life is trying to prove her father wrong, trying to fight back against her abuser by succeeding in life and loving others (and herself) the best that she can, and I think that makes her easily as good a role model as Spider-Man. The movies themselves seem to agree with me. How about you?


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