Many forces can blind people – love, hate, fear, to name a few. But there’s another concept, particularly in fandom, that can influence memories & perspective even more.

Nostalgia. 

That’s the case with the original Spidey franchise. Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 were global juggernauts billed as the first truly modern comic book films. Many people who’d never read a comic saw them as a gateway into the world of superhero movies. 

But twenty years later, nostalgia is blinding people to what they would rather not see: the egregious misogyny of the Raimi Trilogy.

The entire Raimi Spider-Man franchise is full of egregious sexism

The Misogyny of the Raimi Trilogy

In 2022, we now have quite a collection of live-action comic book films. None represent women as poorly as Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy. The fact that these movies (at least the first two) are still revered is proof that society hasn’t come as far as we’d like to think. 

The women in the Maguire Spidey franchise are not characters. They are sexist caricatures created by men who couldn’t be bothered with female stories. The women fall into four categories:

Women fall into 4 categories: objects of desire, damsels in distress, plot devices, and bitches.

My analysis will focus primarily on three women.

MJ Watson, Gwen Stacey, and May Parker
Mary Jane Watson, Gwen Stacey, and May Parker

But I’ll mention some other important ladies as well. 

Now take off your nostalgia goggles & let’s dive in.

The Object of Desire

It’s telling that Sam Raimi introduced Mary Jane Watson through Peter Parker’s eyes because she is never a person in her own right. Though the script is very inconsistent regarding Peter & MJ’s history, it’s clear that Peter is not in love with the girl next door. 

Rather, he’s obsessed with a fantasy built upon a person he barely knows.

MJ somehow lands a modeling campaign in Spider-Man 2. While the billboards peddle perfume on every corner, her face takes center stage as a gratuitous reminder of her status: 

“LOVE INTEREST”

Treatment of MJ is the most egregious example of the misogyny of the Raimi trilogy

As if this isn’t demeaning enough, MJ’s relegation is juxtaposed with Harry Osborn’s elevation to head of Special Projects at OSCORP, a position for which he has no skills, experience, or qualifications of any kind. 

But wait, there’s more.

Gwen Stacey gets treated much like her red-headed counterpart. She is Peter’s classmate & lab partner. The powers that be could have kept her role at that, but they doubled down on objectification. So Gwen is a model for no apparent reason. 

She’s also the love interest of not one, but two men – though I use “men” loosely in describing Eddie Brock & Peter Parker. When we meet Brock, it’s obvious he’s a sociopath akin to Louis Bloom in Nightcrawler. Brock views Gwen not as a person, but as a trophy to be won. 

And the misogyny of the Raimi Trilogy only gets worse from there.

The Damsel in Distress

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MJ WATSON334
MAY PARKER112
GWEN STACEY.501
Mary Jane

MJ won the Raimi Trilogy’s Victim Olympics, but I’m not giving her a gold medal. A man would just come along & strangle her with it.  You might notice something interesting though: MJ’s rescues don’t balance with her assaults & abductions. 

That’s because MJ is attacked by not one, but both of the franchise’s ultimate good guys. Harry Osborn (a character worsened by the deplorable James Franco) nearly chokes MJ in her apartment. And in a scene I still can’t fathom, Peter Parker humiliates MJ at work & backhands her to the ground. 

Our heroes, folks.

Female agency in these movies is like Venom goo. The writers had to make sure it wouldn’t creep in & accidentally empower MJ. So on top of her misadventures, those clever scribes gave MJ one line to nip disaster in the bud:

“I can’t survive without you.”

And remember. “You” is a manchild who cannot hold a job, pay his rent, or eat a hot dog properly. 

May Parker

Aunt May takes silver in the Victim Olympics, which fits her status as the hapless old widow. Sam Raimi was kind enough to give us a visual aid here.

The misogyny of the Raimi trilogy definitely includes the treatment of May Parker
May Parker

We won’t hold our breath for babushkas to make a comeback.

Even if we take out the Goblin’s attack and Doc Ock’s brief abduction, May Parker would still look helpless. After Ben’s death, the writers systematically strip May’s power. 

1. Her home goes into foreclosure.

2. She ignores the notices because she can’t cope with reality.

3. She needs her grandson to help her fix the mess.

4. She loses her home. 

Unfortunately, the indignities don’t stop there. More on Aunt May in a bit.

Gwen Stacey

Finally, we have bronze medalist Gwen Stacey, who only suffers half an assault & one runaway crane debacle.

By the way, where’s that movie, Netflix? Runaway Crane starring Nicholas Cage would be preferable to any of the Maguire Spideys.

Ms. Stacey’s math may also seem hinky, but hear me out. A half-assault occurs when a creep creepily projects an intimate relationship upon a woman he hardly knows.

Gwen Stacey's treatment as a pawn shows the misogyny of the Raimi trilogy
Gwen Stacey & Eddie Brock

‘Nough said.

The Plot Device

The Raimi Trilogy is the patriarchy at its worst. Every female in these movies exists solely to serve the needs of men, making the women pawns in a chess match between heroes & villains. 

As usual, MJ takes the brunt of this insult. She’s viciously accosted in a dark alley so Peter can play the hero. She is villain bait to raise the emotional stakes for him. And she’s a chew toy over which Harry & Peter can fight.

MJ is emotionally & physically abused to show just how much the symbiote is influencing Peter (or so the movie wants us to believe). And worst of all, she wordlessly resumes a relationship with Peter so our “hero” can have a happy ending. 

May Parker’s only value is in supporting Peter. As long as she could provide him with cookies, guidance, and engagement rings Peter couldn’t afford, the writers kept her around. At no point in the three movies is May shown to have a life or interests outside of her nephew.

The misogyny of the Raimi Trilogy makes Aunt May a plot device
May Parker & Peter Parker

Gwen Stacey is less of a chew toy & more of a tool. She exists mainly to create conflict between MJ and Peter. But she also weirdly serves to give Eddie Brock more motivation to kill Spider-Man.

I’ll have plenty more to say about Mr. Brock shortly.

Then we have a few more ladies who don’t escape unscathed. There’s death by shrapnel for Rosalie Octavius. Her loss gives Doc Ock a modicum of motivation for his villaining. 

We also have Ursula, the landlord’s daughter. She’s arguably the most bizarre character in this franchise. Ursula is Ego Boost Barbie, existing only to fawn over Peter, bring him dessert, & take his messages. 

Then there’s poor Miss Brant, who suffers the tirades of J. Jonah Jameson every day. 

Elizabeth Banks, it’s not your fault.

The misogyny of the Raimi Trilogy extends even to Betty Brant and Ursula.
Betty Brant & Ursula

The Bitch

I don’t think Sam Raimi or the franchise’s other writers hate women. The misogyny of the Raimi Trilogy is careless rather than malicious. That doesn’t make it less insidious though, especially regarding this category.

In making MJ the main sacrificial lamb for Peter’s arc, they also made her a terrible human being. This validates the sexist attitudes of a certain type of male. 

Spider-Man 2 finds MJ engaged to John Jameson. But she doesn’t really want the decent guy who seems to truly love her & treat her well. MJ is just using John to stir up Peter, the immature jerk who constantly disappoints her. With no regard for John’s feelings or the expense of the wedding, MJ gleefully leaves him at the altar. 

MJ gets the worst of the misogyny of the Raimi Trilogy
MJ Watson

That is ice cold.

The degradation continues in Spider-Man 3 when MJ cheats on Peter with Harry (for no apparent reason). But the capper comes at the very end. Even though Peter has kissed another woman, humiliated MJ at her workplace, and hit her, she returns to him without a word of discussion. 

So what’s the message here?

The incels and nice guys are right. Women are fickle bitches who want men to treat them poorly. Thus, they deserve it.

And the macro-reinforcement comes when every woman on the screen salivates over black-suited, malevolent Peter Parker. Ladies, let me know if your skin crawls watching that montage

Mine sure does. 

Misogyny Matters

I’ve pummelled the Raimi Trilogy pretty hard, and rightly so. But to be fair, these films are hardly the only ones still beloved despite their glaring misogyny. 

Plenty of other beloved & classic films portray very sexist attitudes.

And sexism is by no means the only problem nostalgia can cloud. Just looking at Raimi’s Spider-Man franchise, the near-total lack of & treatment of people of color could be its own post.

Most decent people have a line when it comes to their content. You won’t find many folks these days watching The Cosby Show or praising an Armie Hammer performance. Nor do you see a lot of Keyser Soze t-shirts anymore. 

Those types of lines are pretty clear, but it’s the blurry ones that demand more attention. Society is experiencing a great cultural shift in terms of representation in film. We’re headed in the right direction, but we’ll never reach our destination unless we acknowledge the sins of the past & take overtly sexist, racist, or otherwise reprehensible films off their pedestals.

And while you’re up there, help MJ Watson down off of hers, too. 

For much more on the misogyny of the Raimi Trilogy from male & female perspectives, check out our full episodes on Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2, and Spider-Man 3.

What are your thoughts on the original Spider-Man franchise? Let us know.

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