Can we stop sexualizing Mary Jane Watson for, like, five minutes?
Mary Jane Watson is showing up in a surprising corner of the Marvel lore this October as part of the ALL-NEW ALL-DIFFERENT MARVEL shake-up. Heading over to INVINCIBLE IRON MAN to join the world of the Armored Avengers, Mary Jane will become one of Tony Stark’s supporting cast members in an “unexpected new role.”
Pity then that the first reveal shoves MJ right back into her completely expected old role of being objectified for the straight male gaze. It's a position she’s been fighting her way out of like so many invisible spiderwebs since her inception in 1965.
Image Credit: Marvel Entertainment/David Marquez
As Mary Jane is dressed for corporate casual, it took me a good while to figure out what was so off-putting about this art. Until it finally dawned on me: she’s seer-suckered into that shirt as surely as if she’d vacuumed out every last ounce of air via one of those space saver bag infomercials. Unless this shirt is made of Spanx — or it has some sort of tailored boob-shelf — there is no physical way for a button-up shirt to show off every curve of your body without awkwardly gapping. The only reason to draw her like this is that old stand-by: naked..but with clothes. Compare to a fitted shirt on a real-life woman:
That woman on the right? She still looks sexy without looking like she just painted her torso white and headed into the office. This is an on-going problem with a lot of outfits on ladies in comics, but PARTICULARLY an issue with Mary Jane that I wish would go the way of the Dodo.
Some background: Mary Jane was purposefully designed to be as attractive and sexually alluring as possible. Stan Lee introduced her as a way to throw a wrench into Peter’s relationship with Gwen and wring some teen angst out of the storyline, though Lee has said he always intended for Gwen to be Spidey’s true love. Of course, all that went out the window when Lee stepped back from writing duties on Spider-Man and 20-year-old Gerry Conway stepped in.
Conway had no use for Gwen Stacy and, as such, used her as fodder in a twist that became THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN: THE NIGHT GWEN STACY DIED. Years later, Conway’s attitude towards her was still clear:
“I really defy anybody to come up with anything memorable that Gwen Stacy ever did other than die,” Conway continued, also calling Mary Jane Watson his ‘idealized female.’
And therein lies the crux of why Mary Jane rubs so many comic fans — male and female — the wrong way. She wasn’t created as a character. She was created as an ‘ideal female’ for Peter. A perfect, empty specimen of femininity into which teen boys could project their crush. One could argue she was the original MPDG (Manic Pixie Dream Girl). She existed solely for Peter’s benefit, to shower him with love and validation, have supermodel good looks, and never have an opinion of her own.
Contrast this to Gwen Stacy, who was always an equal partner to Peter, be it in their relationship or on an intellectual level. Peter Parker was PART of Gwen Stacy’s life; not her entire life.
Even Stan Lee wasn’t exactly thrilled to find out Gwen Stacy had met an inglorious end because happy relationships are “boring.”
“That’s a very sore subject with me. I created Gwen Stacy and Mary Jane [Watson], and I wanted to have some fun with them as the series went along. I came back and I found out he had killed Gwen Stacy. I almost killed Gerry Conway.”
Of course, this was decades ago. But Mary Jane hasn’t exactly bloomed into a three-dimensional character over the years. Her existence is rooted in hyper-sexualized, objectified passivity. So yes taken by itself, Mary Jane’s shirt on the cover of INVINCIBLE IRON MAN #4 is just a highly improbable shirt. But combined with a long history of Marvel reducing Mary Jane to a sex object and it becomes annoying and lazy.
As commendable as it is that Marvel saw that Mary Jane wasn’t being utilized in ALL-NEW, ALL-DIFFERENT MARVEL, why she has to beholden to yet another dude — instead of striking out on her own — remains a mystery. At least Mary Jane doesn’t seem to be taking any of Iron Man’s guff on the variant cover by Yasmine Putri?
Image Credit: Marvel Entertainment/Yasmine Putri
Mary Jane joins the cast of INVINCIBLE IRON MAN this October.