Superheroes’ on-screen stories could use a lot more women at the center of their worlds
. Wonder Woman survived multiple Superman and Batman reboots to finally get her due. Captain Marvel is coming in 2019, but the Marvel Cinematic Universe has spent the last 10 years treading water to get there. After years of being a fan favorite, only now is Black Widow getting her own vehicle. Black Panther’s most exciting heroes, the women who stand with T’Challa, weren’t top billed. It’s not that women aren’t allowed to be heroes — it’s that cinematic universes have rarely propped them up as the stars they deserve to be.
With so many options in its mythology, Spider-Man is more guilty than many Marvel franchises for sidelining female characters. Women figure into every part of Peter Parker’s life: Aunt May is his sole family member, the one thing keeping him from being totally orphaned; science nerd Gwen Stacy was Peter’s first love; Black Cat, who has yet to make her movie debut, is a sexy superhero that Peter falls for.
But no one has the same name recognition as Mary Jane Watson. The redheaded actress has alternated between Peter’s crush, girlfriend, The One Who Got Away and wife. She has never properly been, however, a hero within the Spider-Man canon proper. If you know her only from the Sam Raimi Spider-Man trilogy, you’d think she’s the total opposite. Mary Jane is more often than not Spidey’s damsel in distress. She’s also the emotionally abused, sexually objectified victim. (Mary Jane’s life in the Raimi movies is really upsetting, when you look back on it.) She’s the fickle girlfriend, and she’s the moping actress with Hollywood dreams, if not talent. At no point is she a friendly neighborhood Spider-Woman, nor does she ever get the agency to defend herself.
Her most important role is what she represents to Peter Parker. She motivates him to put that suit back on and start slinging webs. She makes him, and him alone, a hero.