So today’s article is probably going to be a bit contentious for some. Yes, we’re talking about Supernatural, one of my favorite shows currently on television, but we’re also discussing issues of gender identity, slut shaming, homophobia, “reverse feminism,” misogyny, rape culture, Hollywood’s hiring state, and so much more that might make you think twice. Yeah, it’s one of those articles.
So, if I haven’t scared you off yet, let me start by saying I love Supernatural. I love the characters, the stories, the mythos, and so much more. I’ve been a fan from the first episode and have enjoyed watching the show develop through the seasons. I even wrote my own cover of “Carry On My Wayward Son” by Kansas because I was inspired by the 200th episode. And yet, there’s been this niggling in the back of my mind about the show. Why? Well, it took a while to figure out, but I think it comes down to the lack of women characters (who aren’t killed off) and, ultimately, the lack of women writers/directors/producers/etc involved in this production.
Now, I spend a fair bit of time searching through the internet and reading articles and blog posts about my fandoms. I’ve found a lot of articles and blog posts stating that Supernatural is misogynistic. Seriously, if you google “Supernatural feminism,” you get over 750k hits, the first few pages of which are all posts stating that the show is rife with misogyny. But, I love this show, and it feels wrong to think that I could love a show that is truly anti-feminist.
So, I read through the articles. Okay, not all 750k of them, but several pages worth, and I found some things I agreed with and a lot I disagreed with. Some common themes included:
- More women get killed off/written off than men.
- There are no “real” women written on the show.
- Women on the show are repeatedly slut shamed.
- Men on the show can’t have same-sex romantic relationships even though it’s there.
There were a lot of complaints, but most of the arguments fit into the above four categories. So, let’s look at them!
Number 1: More women get killed off is something that’s bothered me during the run of the show. However, others, better than me, have analyzed the death count of Supernatural, and the results were surprising. When considering all of the characters, more men die in the show than women. When considering “important” characters (those characters with substantial lines or backstories who are either repeat characters or important to the plot), the death count becomes about 50/50.
That doesn’t sound so bad, until you look at the percentages. The fact is, if you’re just comparing the numbers of people killed, it looks pretty equal, but there’s a much higher percentage of women killed on the show than men. Why doesn’t the percentage line up with the real numbers? Well, that’s because there are many more men, overall, on the show than women. So, if there are 20 men on the show to every five women, even though only five men and five women get killed off, that’s 25% of the men compared to 100% of the women. Ideally, the percentage would be 50/50, not the actual number of people killed.
Number 2: There are no real women on the show. Okay, this point bugs me. A lot. Yes, there are quite a few characters, both women and men, who aren’t three-dimensional within the span of Supernatural, though I’d argue that these characters were more prevalent in the first few seasons. However, the show has had several women throughout its span who are quite a bit more developed.
Jo, for instance, is our first strong, non-demon, recurring woman character (along with her mother, Ellen). Jo is slight of body, but nowhere near slight of mind. She’s a headstrong woman who, yeah, may have originally been considered a love interest for Dean, but manages to hold her own in the Supernatural universe. Unfortunately, Jo does fall victim to complaint number one…
Another example of a well-rounded woman is Charlie. Charlie is a hacker-extraordinaire, LARPer, researcher, and all-around geek. Oh yeah, and she’s a lesbian. Charlie happens to be one of my favorite characters, but I saw some blog posts railing against her, stating that she’s an example of the misogyny present in the show.
You see, Charlie is too much for these people. In their opinions, the writers made her a lesbian to solidify her place as a non-love interest, important character. Then, the writers threw everything geeky and nerdy at her until she became the ultimate LGBT geek. Ultimately, the argument of those who don’t like her is that she’s not a real character. She’s too much rolled into one package that the writers should have separated into separate, believable characters.
Here’s my problem with that. I know people like Charlie. Yes, I think having Charlie be a lesbian was an easy method for the writers to use to separate her from romantic characters, but I don’t think her LGBT status is a bad thing. I’ve seen tweets, chat comments, and more from individuals thanking Felicia Day for her portrayal of Charlie. For them, Charlie helped them overcome their fear of exiting the closet into the rainbow-colored starlight. She helped them share a large part of themselves that had been hidden and, overwhelmingly, they were happier because of it. For that alone, I’m glad Charlie is a lesbian.
Yes, they could have separated the characteristics that make Charlie into several different characters. However, I don’t know if this would be good storytelling in regards to the tone of Supernatural. Ultimately, the story is about the two brothers. Everything in the show centers around their experiences and their relationship with each other, so numerous recurring nerdy characters would prove a distraction from the central story. Personally, I think it would break the pace of the show too much and cause interactions to be stilted. So, I’m glad all of these awesome, nerdy characteristics are in one person.
And yes, I know people like Charlie. I know people who are LARPers, in love with multiple fandoms, and extremely talented at a nerdy craft or two. I know people who, like Charlie, are impassioned by the world around them and strive to learn more, master more, become more than they previously were every day. This isn’t a bad thing. I wish more of us were like Charlie. Also, if you were the one complaining that Charlie picked up shooting too quickly, I would like to point out that, yeah, she jokes about playing a lot of FPSs, but concluding that Charlie’s shooting at the bunker was her first time with an actual gun is asinine. She was separated from Sam and Dean for quite some time and accomplished a ton of research on demons and monsters. It’s pretty reasonable to assume she would have picked up a gun and shot a few rounds before then. Just my two cents…
Number 3: Female characters are repeatedly slut shamed. This is true. Dean, in particular, uses sexual slurs against many women, both good and evil, in the show. I’m not gonna defend Dean. He’s kind of a misogynist. But, just because Dean is a misogynist, does that mean Supernatural and its writers are as well? A lot of people have taken Dean’s actions as a direct example of the show’s misogynistic roots. However, though I acknowledge the slut shaming, I never got the impression that the audience was supposed to approve of Dean’s misogynistic attitude. Actually, the show rarely indicates that either brother is truly “good” or a decent role model.
Let’s be real; Dean and Sam are basically serial killers. Yes, they fight and kill beings that would harm the human race and, often, the world, but their actions boil down to murder. Supernatural doesn’t really applaud these murders, either. Often, the show deals with the nature of good and evil and seems to arrive at the conclusion that morality is not a dichotomy that can be labelled by being “good” or “evil”. Morality is much more ambiguous, and the boys ride through life on this ambiguity. Don’t forget, the angels are “bags of dicks” and, though sorry for his actions, Dean (more than once) kills some being that may eventually kill, or kills to protect.
Dean and Sam aren’t good people. They’re highly flawed individuals trying to keep the world safe and killing whatever they feel threatens that safety. We aren’t supposed to see them as models of how humans should behave. They’re two people, struggling to survive, consolidating the way they were raised with their personal experiences. So, is it fair to call the show misogynistic because a lead character is? If the show upheld Dean as a perfect example for all men to follow, absolutely. But, the show doesn’t do that, so it’s not a fair conclusion to draw.
Number 4: Men can’t have romantic relationships with other men, even though the relationship is there. This one pisses me off. First off, there are some background men important to individual episodes who are in a same-sex relationship. Secondly, just because it’s your head canon or OTP doesn’t mean it’s canon and “really” present in the show; unless it’s overtly stated, it doesn’t count.
Anyone who’s talked to me for more than five minutes about Supernatural knows that I’m a fan of Destiel. I enjoy how Dean and Castiel interact in the show, and like fanfiction that explores the potential relationship that could form. However, I know that Destiel is not canon. I accept this, and to think that I know the sexual identities or romantic lives of two fictional characters better than the writers, actors, and creators of the series is highly presumptuous. If it’s really there, the writers will explore it eventually. If it’s just your head canon getting in the way of reality, you need to have a reality check.
Just because a character is straight but you think they should be in a gay relationship doesn’t make a show misogynistic. The end.
Strangely, I didn’t see a lot of people pointing out that the supposed issues above are just symptoms of a larger issue: not having diversified writing/producing/directing teams. I don’t think a lot of the issues that are brought up about Supernatural are proof of misogyny. However, the problem is larger than one television show. The fact is, there aren’t a lot of women hired to fill producer/creator/writer roles in Hollywood. Most women involved in a production are either actresses, hair stylists, costume designers, or makeup artists. There’s been backlash about this (if you don’t believe me, just check the award show acceptance speeches from January). Supernatural’s production team is just further evidence of a larger problem occurring in Hollywood. It’s not the problem, but it’s not yet part of the solution.
So, do I think Supernatural is misogynistic? No, I really don’t, and I think that it actually makes sincere efforts to show a large spectrum of human life from both men and women. I wish there were more women on the production staff (feel free to hit me up if you’re hiring, Supernatural), but I don’t believe the show is sending a message that women are inferior. I think ultimately, it’s trying to share the story of two brothers who have led rather f’ed up lives. I watch the show for their story, their development. But I would always love more Charlie. 😉
What do you think of Supernatural? Do you think I exorcised this monster, or was I just speaking Pig Latin? Let me know in the comments below.