Gender, Rant, Television

Women in Supernatural

This post was suppose to go out in two weeks, but a blog pact member defaulted this week, so you’re getting it now. Enjoy!

Before I bust into this post, two disclaimers are in order. First: I have only recently (read: about five months ago) begun watching Supernatural, and am now in the middle of the fifth season. The things I am going to be reacting to in this post are four years out of date with the show, but they pissed me off, so I’m going to write about them anyway. Relevancy be damned.

Second: if you are a die hard Supernatural fan, that’s great! I’m glad you found a show that you can connect with and feel really passionately about. Media is suppose to engage and make us feel things, so you are doing a great job being a media consumer! Good on you! That said, my reasons for watching Supernatural probably differ from yours quite a bit. In my opinion, Supernatural is a deeply flawed and excessively melodramatic show, and I cannot recall a single moment in the series so far where I was actually concerned for a character. In fact, I spent the whole first season hankering for one of the Winchester brothers to just freaking die already so I could enjoy the lulz. Basically, I do not take this show seriously. I watch it to laugh at it, and I am going to write this post accordingly. You have been warned. (I would also like to urge you to consider what I am saying even if you disagree with it, because it is always a good idea to regard media that you like with a critical eye rather than a defensive one)

Now that all of those disclaimers are out of the way, let’s get into the meat of the issue. I’ve just finished watching episode 10 of season 5, “Abandon All Hope.” This episode really undid my cool with this show, and made it impossible to continue turning a blind eye to the blatant sexism that runs rampant all across it. This episode was so horrifically sexist that it broke down my thick skin of indifference and actually inspired me to hate it a little bit. So let’s talk about it. Oh, and spoilers for the show up until Season 5, episode 10, not that spoilers really matter in Supernatural.

I should start off by saying that I knew before I even started watching Supernatural that it was sexist as hell. I mean, anyone who’s even so much as googled the title can tell that from the absurd number of male characters who pop up, and the complete lack of female ones. Supernatural is a sausage fest and a half, and that’s not even the worst of it. What few female characters do show up invariably have a romantic connection to one of the Winchester boys (papa Winchester included), or else they die horrifically. Or, often, both. Rarely do they live for more than a few episodes, and those who do tend not to live more than a couple of seasons–and then only because they barely show up in the intervening episodes. Here’s a short list of major female characters on Supernatural and what happened to them, as of where I am in the show:

  1. Jessica – deceased
  2. Pamela – deceased
  3. Anna – carried off by antagonistic angels, presumed dead
  4. Ruby – evil, deceased
  5. Bela – evil, deceased, being tortured in hell
  6. Mary Winchester – deceased
  7. Tessa the Reaper – grim reaper, so still alive, but even she came pretty damn close to dying
  8. Becky – alive, but has only appeared twice
  9. Lilith – evil, deceased
  10. Jo – deceased
  11. Ellen – deceased
  12. Meg – evil, thrown into angel fire, presumed dead though possibly still alive

They’re all either villainesses who had to be defeated, mother figures/girlfriends who had to die for the plot, or utterly irrelevant to the story (and, in the case of Becky, mocked for showing interest and enthusiasm for the main characters because she wears sweater vests and is therefore not up to snuff). Women might as well be vending machine items in this show, so it’s already starting from a pretty weak position. Add in things like the fact that the only female character who gets a multi-season arc, demonstrates any kind of sexual initiative, and actively pursues her own goals is the demon Ruby. She is demonized, both literally and figuratively. Literally a demon. It’s like they’re not even trying.

But let’s set all of that aside, and just focus on those last three names on the list, because they are the three who died in this episode. Yes. All three remaining recurring female characters on the show just died in a single episode, and it wasn’t even a season finale. Goddammit. Let’s take it one woman at a time.

Jo

Jo is the young and hot yet naive and innocent hunter-wannabe who spent most of her first few episodes (waaaay back in season 2) making goo-goo eyes at Dean and getting rejected for being too young. One of Dean’s finer moments, actually–when he demonstrated the ability to think rationally about a situation and those involved and come to a conclusion that didn’t put his own feelings above everybody else’s. Bravo, Dean. Well done.

But forget all of that, because in this episode, after 55 GODDAMN EPISODES AWAY (the mother/daughter team reappeared briefly in S5E3, just long enough to get rescued but not long enough to re-establish their characters, or to talk to each other long enough to pass the Bechdel test), she suddenly appears in a slinky dress just when the Winchester brothers need to make use of her sex appeal. Nice. Because that’s all female hunters are good for.

Next, the demon Crowley (male, of course) relinquishes the colt and tells them where to find Lucifer. Figuring it’s their last night on Earth, the Winchesters, Bobby, Ellen, Jo and Castiel all decide to have a wild party with a lot of drinking, at which point Dean decides he’s finally ready to take Jo up on her offer of sex. You know. Now that she’s older and sexier, which the cameramen have been kind enough to emphasize for us by zooming in gratuitously on her rear end. Thanks for that, guys.

But wait! Plot twist! Jo doesn’t agree to have sex with Dean, because she has “self respect.” No really. That’s the reason she gives. Basically what she is saying is that all of the women who have agreed to one night stands with Dean before (read: all of the female characters who didn’t have one night stands with Sam) have no self-respect, and that she is going to reject his advances in order to maintain her dignity. So, thanks for the slut shaming, Supernatural, but this is Dean we’re talking about, so I guess I’ll let it slide. OH WAIT NO I WON’T.

I can’t ignore Jo’s rejection as a wise decision because the very next major move Jo makes is to literally throw herself into the path of a hell hound in order to save Dean’s life. Never mind how little sense it makes that Dean somehow suddenly can’t handle hell hounds–his slip up ends up getting Jo mortally wounded, and she has to be literally bride-carried to safety by Dean. Whoops.

But even that could be forgiven. After all, Sam and Dean have done as much for each other hundreds of times. It’s kind of creepy that Jo ends up literally sacrificing herself to save Dean, the man she’s been lusting after but refuses to have sex with out of self-respect, but whatever, the show has done worse. Like it does next, when Jo convinces them to leave her dying in the grocery store to lure off the hell hounds, and the last thing that Dean does before leaving her to die is kiss her.

YES, DEAN, DEFINITELY THE GIRL WHO IS DYING AFTER SAVING YOUR SORRY ASS BUT WHO REJECTED YOUR ATTEMPTS TO SLEEP WITH HER WANTS YOU TO KISS HER. THAT IS DEFINITELY THE RIGHT MOVE. GIVE HER YOUR HEALING KISS OF LOVE. WOMEN ONLY EXIST AS LOVE INTERESTS, RIGHT?

God, this makes me so mad. Jo rejected Dean’s offer of romance the night before, stating in no uncertain terms that she was not interested in a sexual or romantic relationship with him, because she has too much self-respect. The fact that he then kisses her in her dying moments can only be interpreted two ways:

1. He just forced a kiss on a dying girl who couldn’t resist because she was too busy literally holding her guts in, or,

2. She wants him to kiss her, and only rejected his advances the night before because she didn’t want to seem slutty, even though she actually still has feelings for him and totally wanted to get to the banging.

I don’t know which is worse–a female character who is forced to endure an unwanted kiss in her dying moments, or a female character who turns down the opportunity to sleep with the dude she’s been lusting after on the eve of a battle that she knows will probably kill one or both of them because she has too much “self-respect”–read: is ashamed of her sexual desires. Either way, it’s disgusting and I want no part of it.

Ellen

And then there’s Ellen. While Jo is the bulk of what’s wrong with this episode, Ellen is like the gross little cherry on top. It’s been well established in this series (back in season two when these characters were both still relevant players, of course) that Ellen is a tough hard-ass chick, but that she loves her daughter and would do anything for her. Alright. Fair enough. But when her daughter realizes that the only way left for her to help is by sacrificing herself, does Ellen do the smart thing and fight on in her daughter’s name to try to kill Lucifer? Does she listen to her daughter’s dying wish and live to fight another day? Does she join the Winchester brothers in their battle so that her daughter doesn’t die in vain?

You bet your ass she doesn’t. Instead, she lays down and dies with her daughter. Because heaven forbid any mother character on this show should outlive their child and survive the loss to fight for the survival of humanity in the face of the apocalypse. Apocalypse fighting is for men only, no girls allowed, your cooties make us susceptible to demons.

Gag me with a spoon, am I right?

But probably the worst thing about this episode is the fact that these two characters–the only good-guy female characters on this show who are still breathing–were called out of a 3-season-long hiatus for the sole purpose of dying in order to up the stakes for the Winchester boys. There was no reason for them to be in this episode. They had almost zero impact on the plot. It’s not even a key episode–not a season finale or even a lead-in to a season finale, like every dramatic death before (even Bela’s!) has been. They were literally called back into existence just to give the Winchester brothers something else to be sad about when they were starting to get along too well. That’s all these women are worth: angsty back story points. Let them wave guns all you want, but in the end, they have to join Pamela and Mary and Jessica in their refrigerators along with all the various villainesses.

What really bugs me about this episode is that even as Supernatural is killing off the closest thing it has to rounded female characters (episodes featuring Jo and Ellen are the only ones that pass the Bechdel test) for the sake of Angst, it’s also busily introducing yet another male character in the demon Crowley. I swear to god, if one more recurring male character waltzes into this show, I am going to punch tumblr. It wouldn’t be tumblr’s fault, of course, but when rage happens, innocents get hurt.

Oh, and then Meg, the closest thing we have to a female villain now that Ruby and Lilith both sacrificed themselves to raise Lucifer, gets totally outfoxed by Castiel and thrown into angel fire, which may or may not have killed her (it’s hard to tell what will kill demons, but that was a pretty I’m-dying-now kind of scream). Previously one of the more cunning villains, Meg’s sheer adoration for Lucifer blinds her to the obvious, and her death means that the only female characters left in the entire Supernatural universe are either a grim reaper (who therefore can’t be killed, though not for lack of trying), or don’t appear in more than two episodes. Nice. Thanks for that.

Of course, this is Supernatural, so any of these characters could come back to life, but so far no woman has gotten the revival treatment, which is just one more point of irritation. Frankly, this shit is just too blatant to keep ignoring. Somebody please tell me the sexism gets better in later seasons, because I’m not sure I can keep watching. Which is too bad, because I actually rather like Crowley (though I would like him more if he were a woman).

Antagonistically yours,
M.M. Jordahl

“I know that Supernatural’s just a book, okay? I know the difference between fantasy and reality.” -Becky Rosen, Supernatural

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1 thought on “Women in Supernatural”

  1. I agree with you, I’ve just started watching Supernatural and am up to season 4. I have never heard the word slut so many times in a show before. I really wanted to love this show but it’s ridiculous. I’m actually surprised that other people haven’t commented on this a lot more especially women.

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