A Husband’s Perspective on Gender Equality (and Spider-Man)

"Spider-Man | PS4 | Minimalist" | Art by Sephiroth508. Used with permission.

Peter Parker has been Spider-Man for several years, has graduated from college, and is working for Dr. Otto Octavius as a research assistant. Aunt May is still in the picture; the passing of Uncle Ben, while painful, is not fresh; and Mary Jane is a significant figure in his life. But in this iteration of the Spider-Man mythos—the 2018 video game—Peter has quit working for the Bugle because his photos of Spider-Man were being used for harm, JJ is a podcaster rather than an editor, and MJ is an investigative reporter. Also, she appears to know exactly who Peter is, saying, “Hi, Pete,” even though he’s in full costume. And when he replies, “This isn’t how I imagined us meeting again,” she says, “It’s exactly how I imagined it.” Having broken up several months before the game’s beginning, there is a lot of unresolved relationship tension between the two.

Though there seems to be hope for rekindling the relationship at first, MJ is reminded of the reason they broke up as she sneaks into a military camp to get some critical information. Spider-Man shows up to “save” her and ends up knocking out the informant before MJ can get all the information she needs. MJ tells him this is why they broke up, because Peter kept treating her like she was made of glass. She wanted, and still wants, to be his partner—but he treats her like a child rather than an equal.

I understand MJ’s desire for equality, but at the same time, I relate to Peter. I am 6’3” and around 280 lbs, while my wife is 5’3” and closer to 120 lbs. If she stands behind me, you cannot see her at all. Much like Peter and MJ, I am significantly more capable of dealing with physical challenges. Factor in the way many women are treated in society and the crap they face daily vs. what guys deal with, I have been as guilty as Spider-Man of rushing in to defend or assist my wife with anything I think might be too heavy or difficult for her to handle. My desire to help comes from a place of genuine care, but it ends up looking like I think she is not as capable of dealing with life as well as I can. I’ve never consciously believed that, but when she found herself frustrated by this behaviour and questioned me about it, I couldn’t come up with a reason that wasn’t some form of her not being as capable as me.

Partnership is loving and respecting the other person enough to let them do their part without trying to take it from them.

This realization has forced me to correct how I understand people. The conservative Christian environment I grew up in emphasized men being created first; they were in charge and responsible. But as I’ve studied the Bible, interacted with others, and questioned my beliefs, I’ve realized that men and women are created equally. They are both made in the image of God, and neither is better than the other. It’s not just society demanding equality—it’s God, too, encouraging me to recognize that my wife is a strong, capable woman who can accomplish anything she sets her mind to.

She might not accomplish tasks the same way I do, but that doesn’t mean they get any less done. Plus, equality doesn’t mean I do nothing. I try to make her life easier, just like she does for me. When she’s going out to run errands, I ask her if there’s anything I can do, rather than telling her it’s too dangerous without me. I can still offer to do most of the heavy lifting (because I like doing stuff for her and because heavy lifting sucks for everyone). I always let her know I’ve got her back and am ready to support her however she needs.

Spider-Man starts figuring this out as well. When MJ’s caught in a hostage situation in Grand Central Station, she tells Peter that he can save her and all these people will die, or he can help her stop the criminals. The game goes back and forth between controlling MJ and Spider-Man as they help each other accomplish the mission. She does all sorts of distracting, isolating criminals while Spider-Man webs them up and keeps a watch. Even in the critical moment when a bomb needs to be diffused, he tells her she’s got this instead of rushing in himself.

It is a testament to their growing partnership that Peter doesn’t step in to “save the day,” because MJ is capable. When Mr. Negative shows up, MJ gets everyone out of the building while Peter handles the super villains. It’s a great moment of working together in their strengths rather than the hero saving the girl, and will hopefully continue to shape their partnership into the future.

Similarly, my wife and I have different skills and abilities; working in our strengths will always make us better, but even in our weaknesses we aren’t incapable. I can figure out how to organize things and make sure the budget works even if she is a lot better at it. And she can move all the furniture around in the house even if it takes a bit more effort or a different technique. We are best together, yet still effective alone. Partnership is loving and respecting the other person enough to let them do their part without trying to take it from them. When you do this, you are capable of more with less effort and with a greater sense of accomplishment. It might take a bit to break down those faulty assumptions and practices, but the excitement of true partnership is worth it.

Dustin Schellenberg

Dustin Schellenberg

Contributing Writer at Area of Effect
Dustin spends his time exploring the far reaches of space, understand the ancient ways of might and magic, and wandering the post-apocalyptic wastes. If it has a reasonably open world, a crafting system and some way to sneak around, he'll be there. When not gaming, he's probably planning his next D&D character (because his DM keeps killing off the old ones). He is a competent bass player and guitarist, mediocre mid laner and outright awful FPS player. He is father of two, husband of one, a sometimes theologian, and all-times pastor of Crestview Park Free Methodist Church in Winnipeg, MB.
Dustin Schellenberg