Missing the Signs: Imperfect Allyship and the Re-examination of Personal Biases


  • Aaron Rife Wichita State University




Let us begin with some recent popular culture. Consider the excellent film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse released to theaters in late 2018.1 At a point in the movie, the intrepid heroes Miles Morales and Peter Parker sneak into a lab run by corporate scientists, for plot reasons. During this scene, we discover that the lead scientist, a woman, turns out to be Olivia Octavius, a female version of the famous Spider-Man nemesis, Doctor Octopus/Doc Ock. While watching the film, my friend and I turned to each other and gasped like pre-teen boys; we had not seen it coming. And yet the movie warns us a moment before the reveal that we need to challenge our assumptions, as Parker quips, "I re-examine my personal biases," after being told that the head scientist, who he thought was a man, was in fact a woman. The writers of the movie left clues throughout the story making it clear that not only would a major antagonist be a woman, but it would also make sense and not be a big deal. However, I think a lot of us long-time Spider-Man fans were genuinely surprised, as we overlooked the tells throughout the film, noticing only after the fact, to our surprise and, perhaps, embarrassment. Peter Parker had to re-examine his personal biases, but so did a lot of moviegoers.

Author Biography

  • Aaron Rife, Wichita State University
    Aaron Rife, Ph.D., is an assistant professor and program chair of History/Government Middle/Secondary Education at Wichita State University, where he teaches courses on social studies instructional methods, American educational history and philosophy, and a freshman seminar on race and ethnicity in America. Aaron's research interests center on educational opportunity in urban and suburban communities and the history of metropolitan change with its impact on schools. He is a former high school history and Spanish teacher and tries to not forget his roots. Aaron can be reached at aaron.rife@wichita.edu.






Reflective Essays