What Gwen Stacy Should’ve Said to Spiderman
The most recent second Spiderman installment has already faced a lot of criticism. The film bounces between being completely ham-fisted in its foreshadowing of some things and having practically no set up for others; Some of the scenes between Harry (New Goblin) and Peter are unbearably halted and stiff, despite their suddenly revealed close friendship; And of course, the plot bouncing from villian to villian (to discovering family secrets, to relationship issues, back to villians). But no one seems to be talking about the one thing that made me most uncomfortable: Peter Parker becomes a stalker.
It’s hinted at that Gwen and Peter are off-again on-again, and there’s a lot of complicated feelings. After graduating high school, Peter attempts to break up with her to fulfill Gwen’s father’s dying request: To keep his daughter out of harm’s way, out of Spiderman’s lifestyle. And Gwen, sick of Peter’s flip-flopping, dumps him, making the breakup complicated… but mutual.
It’s a commonly explored trope, having superheroes isolate themselves in order to protect those they love. But all too often, it also intersects with the idea of helpless women; Instead of enpowering the dream girl with ways to protect herself, the hero must sacrifice his own happiness so the dream girl can remain hidden and safe. The woman, throughout the story, does not change. She does not gain anything.
But what really got under my skin was the Spidey-stalking. We see Peter as Spiderman, following Gwen on the street, watching from the rooftops. It’s unsettling, but when Gwen looks at where he’d just been and smiles, and uplifting music plays, we’re reassured that Peter knows best. He’s just keeping an eye on her, keeping her safe!
There’s all sorts of toxic mentalities going on here: that Gwen cannot look out for herself, that it’s still Peter’s duty to protect her, and that Gwen’s consent is not needed. Gwen is the passive party in this interaction; She is the helpless child in need of protection, not the grown woman who, by the way, doesn’t really need protecting if no one knows she’s linked to Spiderman.
When summer ends and Gwen contacts Peter again, she says she wants to get together. She reveals when he arrives that she is only looking for friendship, and Peter immediately tells her if she wants that, to not be so cute. It’s meant to be playful, but Peter is repeating a common mentality in rape culture: You’re asking for it.
And the insulting cherry on this sundae of creepiness: When Gwen discovers that Peter has been stalking her, she doesn’t respond with outrage. It’s hard to figure out what she’s thinking thanks to some awkward writing, but it seems to be a mix between slightly offended and slightly flattered. And even that is quickly glossed over, as the next action scene is already starting. Gwen’s response to being stalked is not important, just as her consent to being protected wasn’t.
While you can create whatever specific excuse to the Spiderman universe as to why it was specifically okay in this specific situation with these specific characters, we need to keep the bigger picture in mind. Media affects us, and when we repeatedly see scenarios with women passively being stalked and emotionally abused, that affects us too. We get it drilled into our heads that this is okay behaviour, that this is how we should react. It’s one of the many factors that keep women experiencing these things in real life silent: all the other (fictional) women she’s seen go through these situations stay silent. There’s no examples of other options.
So, to the writers of The Amazing Spiderman 2, here’s what Gwen Stacy should’ve said to Spiderman: She should’ve said that it wasn’t okay that he followed her around. She should’ve said that it made her feel uncomfortable and was a violation of her privacy. She should’ve said that she didn’t want to see him again if he would behave like this. And she should’ve had a place to say it. You’re affecting young minds with your movies; Please use it to empower them.