One of the most prevalent acts of sexism in narrative media is what Gail Simone calls “Women in Refrigerators Syndrome,” where a female character undergoes some major trauma, but the story’s focus is entirely on how this trauma affects a male character. While particularly common in superhero comics, it is hardly limited to them.
There are far too many Women in Refrigerators in superhero comics alone to list here, but Marvel has recently acheived an all-new low with their out-of-continuity title Spider-Man: Reign. The book is set in a dystopian future where life sucks for Spider-Man as much as possible, primarily because his beloved wife Mary Jane is dead.
Was she killed by the Green Goblin? By Doctor Octopus? In a random accident that Peter convinces himself he could have prevented?
Nope. She developed cancer as a result of repeated exposure to Peter’s radioactive semen.
I am not making this up. This is not some fanwank or “Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex” story poking fun at superheroes. This is an actual Spider-Man comic book published by Marvel, even if it is essentially a “What If?” story.
I honestly don’t know what else to say about this. Spider-Man is one of the most iconic characters of the past forty years, is the star of a multi-billion-dollar film franchise that includes what will probably be the top-grossing movie of this year, can be bought as cute plush toys for pre-schoolers, and Marvel thought it was a good idea to print a book where he kills his wife with his radioactive semen.
It has, of course, already inspired new lyrics to the old Spidey theme song:
Is he strong? Listen chum...