Feminists Vs. Supernatural: What’s the Verdict?

The following two tabs change content below.

Tanya

I am the outspoken feminist that Pat Robertson warned you about.

I am a huge fan of Supernatural; A big enough fan to have watched the series over from start to finish more times than I care to admit. I also follow the show’s online presence enough to be aware of the criticisms the show has faced over the years. Supernatural has been accused of everything from misogyny to queer baiting to racism. So how much validity is there to these claims? Let’s find out.

In the trial of Feminists V. Supernatural, I’ll start with the first charge of misogyny. The accuser in this instance is Misha Collins who plays Castiel on the show. According to a 2013 interview:

“Sorry, people who write the show and everybody who works on it and everything but there’s stupid things on the show that they shouldn’t do. Like, why do they have to say ‘bitch’ and kill all the women?”

Misha Collins portrays Castiel, an angel on Supernatural.
Misha Collins portrays Castiel, an angel, on Supernatural.

As Misha says, the most common argument for why Supernatural is sexist is that they kill off all the women characters. This issue has been raised by just about everyone–fans, the media, feminists, apparently Misha Collins, just everyone. It came up again at Comic-Con this month.

Abaddon played by Alaina  Huffman.
Abaddon played by Alaina Huffman.

If you look at the score card, it doesn’t, on the surface appear that there are more female characters killed off. Male villains (Yellow Eyed Demon, Dick Roman, Cain, Zachariah) have died just as much death as female villains (Eve, Abaddon, Lilith, Ruby). When you’re talking about “good” characters, there always seems to be a male counterpart that is also killed off who has equal screen time. Think about Charlie versus Kevin. Both dead. Both probably had equal relevance to the show. You could also make a comparison between Meg (the sometimes friendly demon) and Benny (the mostly friendly vampire). Both dead.

The real problem is the lack of long term female characters. When we’re talking about secondary characters, yes, the women and men seem fairly evenly matched. When we’re talking about main characters, not even close. Castiel and Bobby are great examples of long term characters who really became part of the Winchester hunting business. There are no female characters that have had as much screen time or have been as integrated into main plots of the show as them. That is a shame, especially when there have been some AMAZING female characters on Supernatural. My favorites are Charlie, Abaddon, Jody Mills and Lisa….Just kidding. No one likes Lisa.

Watcher02-24-supernatural
Dean’s short lived domestic bliss with Lisa.

But Lisa brings me to a good point. It has been hypothesized before that one of the reasons that Supernatural doesn’t have more female characters is that they don’t want to bring them onto the show simply to be love interests for the guys. I would like to tell you that there is a non-sexist, feminist reason for that but there isn’t. What I’ve read time and time again on fan sites, forums, and interviews is that the writers won’t add love interests because the fans don’t want to see Sam or Dean in a relationship. Lisa was, according to the internet, the most hated Supernatural character ever. The Supernatural fandom is a dedicated and vocal group and the show runners have always taken their opinions into account. If the fans don’t want to see Sam and Dean with a partner, it probably won’t happen. Every time it’s happened in the past (Lisa, Amelia, Ruby), the fans have reacted negatively.

So, is Supernatural guilty of misogyny? I think the jury is still out on that.

The second accusation against Supernatural is queer baiting. Queer baiting, for those that aren’t familiar, is when a show creates sexual tension between two same gender characters in order to attract LGBTQ+ viewers when they have no intention of actually having those characters hook up. Typically this comes up in reference to Dean and Castiel. Certain members of the fandom community have drawn further attention to the queer baiting by “shipping” Destiel. It creates some division within the fandom but not as much as the weirdos who “ship” Wincest which is EXACTLY what you think it is.

So let’s examine this. I can’t say it any better than the author of this TV Guide article:

“Supernatural is filled with queer references and jokes based on the idea that Dean is bisexual and that he and Castiel are more than friends. While some of these are quite blatant (“he was your boyfriend first!”), others are more subtle. There’s the time Dean referenced Purgatory, a gay bar in Miami. Or when he joked about opening a “charming B&B in Vermont,” the first state to legalize same sex marriage. What about when the characters compared Dean’s “breakup” with Benny to Sam’s split with his girlfriend Amelia? In one interview, Collins even admitted showrunner Jeremy Carver instructed him to play Cas like a “jilted lover” with Dean. In addition to these and dozens more, the show utilizes common rom-com tropes and visual cues to create a romantic atmosphere in Dean and Castiel scenes.”

When I watch Supernatural, I don’t really see it like that. I see Castiel and Dean bro-ing out in that J.D. and Turk from Scrubs kind of way. I haven’t picked up on the romantic vibe between them as much as I have noticed the occasional queer joke or reference. I’m not excusing my lack of outrage about queer baiting because, let’s face it, it’s a pretty douchy thing to try to get viewer support from the LGBTQ+ community by hinting at a relationship that is never going to happen. On the other hand, I find the insinuation that the LGBTQ+ community is going to be duped by the sexual tension between Castiel and Dean to be rather patronizing. In other words, I am not sure that queer baiting works but I do think it’s an asshole move to try that strategy. The problem with queer baiting and queer jokes and references is that it perpetuates a bigger problem which is heteronormativity.

The amazing Felicia Day as Charlie Bradbury.
The amazing Felicia Day as Charlie Bradbury.

Regarding the issue of heteronormativity, or the tendency to regard hetereosexuality as the norm and all other forms of sexuality as the “other”, Supernatural has made some progress by having an openly lesbian character. However, it’s likely that the choice to make Charlie a lesbian character was not about diversity but about removing the question of whether or not she was a potential love interest for Sam or, more likely, Dean.

So is Supernatural guilty of queer baiting? It sure seems that way.

The third accusation against Supernatural is racism.  Here’s one viewers opinion:

“…any time you see a black character, he or she turns out to be trouble. There’s an unsettling authenticity about the racism in this aspect of the series, where white trash can be heroes but black people are still beyond the pale.”

Dean and Cassie in the awful episode Route 666. (But, hey, it wasn't as bad as Bugs, right?)
Dean and Cassie in the awful episode Route 666. (But, hey, it wasn’t as bad as Bugs, right?)

In the early seasons of Supernatural, characters like Gordon and Jake Talley were some of the only black characters and the author is correct: they were “trouble”. There were a few other black characters like Dean’s love interest from the horrifically bad episode Route 666.  Starting around Season Four, there were a few more characters of color. Uriel and Raphael, both angels, were also played by black actors and yes, they were bad guys, but, as Dean would say, “Angels are dicks”. All of the angels are the worst–except Cass–but they are important characters. Uriel and Raphael were central to the angel/demon/apocalypse plot. Even though they were villains, I saw their presence on the show as a positive in that they weren’t glorified extras.

Demore Barnes played Raphael on Seasons 4-6.
Demore Barnes played Raphael on Seasons 4-6.

Having a lot of minor characters played by black actors doesn’t make up for the fact that all the main characters are played by white actors. Given that this show is really only about a couple of heroes and lots and lots of villains, I’m not sure that it’s a problem to have women and people of color playing villains. The villains are quite often the best part. It’s more important that they introduce more non-white and female characters that have meaningful roles regardless of their status as hero or villain.

Is Supernatural guilty of racism? They’re guilty of not including people of color in the show in meaningful ways.

It might be one of my favorite shows ever but I can still see their shortcomings. The show runners need to incorporate more women and people of color as characters in purposeful and important ways. I’m talking about long term characters that fans can become attached to. I’m encouraged by Charlie (an openly lesbian character), Kevin and his mother (Asian characters), and Rowena (a female character). Even though Rowena annoys the shit out of me, she is a female character who was integral to the plot and was present throughout Season 10. She’s also not dead unlike Charlie and Kevin. But, as all of us Supernatural fans know, dead isn’t gone.

So, get it together, Supernatural. Figure your shit out. It’s not like you don’t have time. This show is apparently never going to end so figure it out. Cast some women and people of color in the good roles that last more than one or two episodes. Got it?

AND BRING BACK CHARLIE FOR FUCKS SAKES!

 

8 comments

  1. Small correction- Vermont was not the first state to legalize ssm; Massachusetts was. Vermont was the first to offer a civil union, which did not grant the same rights as marriage.

    1. This is true. I actually live in Massachusetts so I am aware. I was quoting another article which unfortunately had this misinformation in it. Thanks for bringing it up.

      1. Can we get a “[sic]” in there or something so that it’s at least acknowledged that the information being propagated is incorrect?

      2. Oh, aside from that though, I enjoyed your article and thank you for writing it. I’m on episode 3 of the entire series and was already getting frustrated by the misogyny (Why does it seem to want Dean to have a new, shallow love interest each episode, James Bond style? Why was the girl in Episode 2 the only one in the group to ever scream, which she did literally every time the camera cut to her while the entire group was being chased by a monster? Why did Jess have 0 personality? Why were there already two fridged women by the end of the pilot episode—3 if you count the episode’s baddie—which are literally all of the female characters accounted for in the pilot episode??????) and summarily googled to find out if there was a discussion going on about this on the internet.

        I’ve heard such favorable things about Supernatural by female fans, so I was surprised to see such blatant misogyny right from the start and was wondering if it was just a matter of the show getting off to an awkward start and sorting itself out later. Pretty disappointed to find out that’s not even the case, and not sure I will be able to stomach a full 11 seasons unless it’s to write feminist critique of the show and its fandom.

        1. In the later seasons, you don’t see the “shallow love interest” thing. There are more meaningful women characters as the seasons go on but it certainly is still a boys club but that’s sort of just the show. It’s about dudes. There are problematic elements but the truly concerning stuff is more present in the first 4-5 seasons.

  2. Probably a bit late to the party with this comment, however, I would like to address the comments in this article surrounding ‘queerbaiting’ as it is so lovingly put by many on the internet. As a bi-sexual, fairly open female and spending most of my youth competing in fairly male dominated sports (rugby, rowing, hockey etc) I have spent an awful lot of time around males who act exactly like Dean and Cas do at times. What you call broing out, most of my male friends would call it just being friends.

    I find the assumption that they are ‘queerbaiting’ the audience of Supernatural all the time highly disrespectly honestly as someone of the LGBT community, and feel that if you have spent a lot of time with men, bi, gay and straight you would understand that sometimes men just act like that sometimes. It’s got nothing to do with heteronomavity or what ever, as I’ve seen a gay man and a straight man act exactly the same way as Dean and Cas do with each other, not for inviting an eventual sexual relationship, but because sometimes you just need a brother in arms.

    And while I’m commenting, I might as well say something on the misogyny point. The story isn’t about two guys and the number of chicks that they can bang whilst on a road trip. Sam may have been college age when the series started, but he had what he hoped would be a long term gf and it went horribly wrong. This series to me, is more about the relationship between two brothers and how they overcome various obstacles, first trying to find their father then eventually save the Earth from Hell and various nasty demons with the help of various characters along the way. Yes, lots of people die in the series, but as you point out no more of one gender than that of the other. Why should it matter that there are more male characters than female when the show is inherently about two brothers and their relationship, however dysfunctional it is along the way.

    If you want to watch a series where female empowerment is at its best, go watch Buffy The Vampire Slayer, very similar show but with a female led cast, and an amazingly strong female main cast (Buffy, Willow, Cordelia, Faith) and supporting characters (Tara, Dawn, Jenny Calender, Harmony (in Angel) and Glory) to name but a few.

    1. It feels like you weren’t actually reading the article I wrote. I did not trash Supernatural in any way, nor did I conclusively say they were doing any of the things that the show is often accused of. I am a huge Supernatural fan myself and I am also the ‘B’ of the LGBT community. This is a feminist website so we analyze things through the feminist lens. That’s what we do. For people who are not interested, involved with, or knowledgeable about feminism, our articles can feel inappropriate to them.

Comments are closed.