Nothing that I say in this article is particularly new, either to me or to the internet at large. These are not original thoughts, or rather, they are, but not original enough to merit any fanfare or applause. So why share them at all?
Because even though these aren’t new concepts, they are still important.
Novelty is not the only determiner of worth, and although I am well aware that lots of people have said this before, I think it’s high time someone said it again.
Supernatural is incredibly sexist. And pretty racist as well.
It’s actually really hard for me to admit this, though I have pointed it out several times before, because, as you probably know by now, Supernatural is my favorite show currently on television. Oh, I have a lot of shows I love that are currently airing, like Elementary and Game of Thrones and America’s Next Top Model (don’t judge me), shows that I obsessively follow and intensely wait for the next installment. But none like Supernatural. No other show currently on the air has inspired me to skip class so that I could watch the episode air. I love school. That was a big deal.
So. I love Supernatural. I love the characters, I love the story, I love the writers who make it, the directors who shoot it, and the props people who presumably put the props in the right places and things. I love everything about this show.
That does not mean that I approve of it.
It’s a hard thing, loving something so incredibly much and still being keenly aware of its shortfalls, but it’s true. I am perfectly aware of how many problems there are in Supernatural, and instead of just handwaving them away because I love it and I want it to do well, I have to admit that something else happens. When I see Supernatural do something wrong it actually hurts. A lot.
You see, I want it to be good. I want this show to be an exemplar of good writing, to be a beacon of hope to all of us who long for better representation in the media. To be just as good at saving our hopes and dreams as the Winchesters are at saving the world.
Unfortunately, Supernatural is exactly as good at representing women as the Winchesters are at saving the world. It’s terrible.
Instead of going into a diatribe about all the women that Supernatural has “done wrong” over the years, which would take a dissertation, we’re just going to look at the first episode of season nine. Partly because it’s topical and I was going to review it anyways, and partly because holy crap is it a perfect example of all of the things that would appear in the aforementioned diatribe.
So, shall we?
The episode starts presumably a couple of hours after season eight ended. Sam (Jared Padalecki) is in a coma in the hospital, dying from the wounds he incurred in trying to close the gates of Hell. Since his wounds aren’t exactly physical, there’s nothing the doctors can do. Dean (Jensen Ackles) threatens them with everything he’s got, but in the end, it’s just Sam in Sam’s head trying to decide whether or not he wants to live. Also, Dean and Bobby (Jim Beaver) are in his head with him (actually, they’re mental projections, but who cares) arguing over whether or not he should die. So just another day in the office, eh?
Dean, in a desperate plea to bring his brother back to the land of the living for the umpteenth time, reaches out to Castiel (Misha Collins), but gets no response. After, he opens up the line to all the angels, which as you may recall, fell to earth in the season eight finale. Said angels hear his plea and several come to aid Sam. Sort of.
Meanwhile, Cas finds himself rather human and wandering around civilization. Also, constantly confused for a crazy homeless person, which makes perfect sense. He bumbles around for a bit, trying to get into contact with Dean and failing, and eventually has to get a ride from a kindly trucker back to civilization.
Lots of angels show up to “help” Sam, but mostly they just want to find out where Cas is so that they can kill him for getting them kicked out of Heaven. One of said angels nearly kills Dean, but he’s saved by another angel: Ezekiel (Tahmoh Penikett). Ezekiel is gravely wounded, but he wants to help Sam.
Cas gets picked up by Hael (Grace Phipps), an angel struggling to find herself after the fall. Hael wants to see the Grand Canyon, and Cas wants to help her. Except…he finally gets in touch with Dean, who assures him that all the angels are trying to kill him. And Hael predictably goes a bit nuts and knocks Cas out so she can kidnap him.
Back at the hospital, Ezekiel discovers that Sam is going to die unless he heals him, but he can’t heal Sam, because he is so weak. The only way Ezekiel can heal Sam is to do it from the inside. Which means he needs consent. And Sam is in a coma. Also, all of the angels are trying to kill them.
Cas wakes up in the car with Hael who explains her grand plan for the two of them to be together forever. She’ll join with his vessel, which is now his body, because Cas is completely human. They’ll never be parted, and Hael will help Cas be protected while he helps her learn about humanity. Cas is kind of not okay with that, and crashes the car into a tree. Hael is a bit the worse for wear. It’s gross.
Dean goes into Sam’s coma to convince him to live, and the yes he gets is enough to get Ezekiel into Sam’s body. Sam wakes up, unaware that he is host to an angel, and Dean gets another terrible secret to bury with alcoholism and regret. Cas kills Hael before she can get him killed, and discovers that humans have to do things like eat food and wear clothes. He dislikes this.
Everyone caught up? Good.
Oh, and I nearly forgot. Crowley (Mark Sheppard) is in the Impala’s trunk. Now we’re all caught up. No idea where Kevin or Charlie are, but it’s not important at the moment.
What is important is this: what was up with the women in this episode. Did you catch what happened? Because I did. Oh did I notice.
There were two female characters of note in this episode. The first was Hael, obviously, and the second, the only other major female body on screen at all, was a nurse at the hospital who turned out to be an angel. Oh, and a nice old lady at the Laundromat who looks at Cas like he smells, which he probably does. That’s it.
That’s a bit weird, isn’t it?
I mean, think about it. This was an episode full of old, familiar characters and new characters alike. It had lots of opportunities to showcase old relationships, new relationships, characters of all races and genders. Angels are, after all, genderless in their original state. So, main point, why are all of the ones we meet in this episode white, and why is the only good guy a man, and the two female characters are both evil? I smell badness.
If this were an isolated incident, if this episode were just one out of the literal hundreds which happened to feature very few characters of color or female perspectives, then I don’t think I’d mind. For that matter, I’m not sure I’d notice. It wouldn’t really matter, would it? But it’s not an isolated incident. Far freaking from it.
Supernatural, like lots of shows, is particularly biased in its writing. While there have been a fair number of female characters over the years, they all share a few characteristics in common, and those characteristics are depressing and kind of weird. First, the female character to have appeared in the most episodes was Lisa Braeden (Dean’s lady friend), who appeared in thirteen episodes. That’s thirteen out of one hundred and seventy-seven.
Now, admittedly, Supernatural is a show with a lot of character turnover, and after the boys and Cas the most a guest star has appeared is fifty-seven times for Bobby, or twenty-nine times for Crowley, or fifteen times for John Winchester, but it’s still not looking good.
After Lisa is Ruby 2.0, at twelve episodes, then Ellen Harvelle with ten, Mary Winchester with eight, Jo with seven, and so on. The point isn’t the actual numbers, it’s what they represent.
What this means is that there is no consistent female voice on Supernatural. There is no female presence really at all. Of the female characters I mentioned, all of them are dead, with the exception of Lisa, who has lost all memory of the Winchesters and presumably will never be seen from again. And though Supernatural is infamous for bringing back dead characters, none of these women have ever been brought back. Not for good, like the male characters are. Repeatedly.
So, there’s that. But there’s more. Oh, there’s more.
You see, the women on Supernatural are problematic for more reasons than just their invisibility in the narrative, though that is a big issue. There’s also the roles they play that ought to be considered. Each of the women in this show, with one single exception, can be fit into one of four categories: mother, daughter, love interest, bitch.
Think about it for a second.
The only real exception to this rule is Charlie (Felicia Day), though she could arguably be put in there as “daughter”. Still, she is the only female character to whom the boys relate as an equal. She is the only one that the narrative treats the way it treats its male characters. She does not die by the end of the episode, she has a life outside of the boys that is not glossed over or filled with unimaginable supernatural horror (like Jody Mills), and she is perfectly capable of up and leaving at any time. She’s there because she wants to be, and the narrative never infantilizes or sexualizes her. That’s it. She’s the one.
As with many other things, though, each of these characters is fine in isolation. Individually, they’re great and I love them all. When added together, unfortunately, we find a rather horrifying truth: that in the Supernatural universe, women are subject entirely to the whims and fates of men, and when they try to break free of that, they must be punished. With death.
We see this in our season opener. Of all of the characters introduced, it is worth noting that both of the female characters are either dead or incapacitated, and the major female villain from last season is referred to only in passing, and is presumed dead as well. Maybe she’ll come back, but I doubt it. They rarely do.
Abaddon (Alaina Huffman) promises to be an interesting villain for this season, but I have very many doubts that she will turn out to be the main villain or even a main villain. I also doubt that she will live through the season. Of the actual female characters who we met in season two that lived through to season eight, we had only one: Meg (Rachel Miner, Nicki Aycox). She’s dead now. Probably for good. (As a point of note, Meg technically appeared in thirteen episodes, and Ruby appeared in about eighteen, but since they were spread out over different actresses, I’m counting them separately.)
The point is this: Supernatural, for all that it purports to be a story about the common man fighting back against destiny and fate and the big bad world, is not. Or rather it is about the common man, but only the common man. There is no female voice to this show. There is no consistent female representation, and as a result, there is no female narrative.
And something is lost.
It’s hard to imagine what Supernatural would be like if it weren’t so unfailingly misogynistic (we didn’t even get into the way Dean refers to women, which is terrible), but I’d like to try.
Let’s pretend that this is a show where everyone gets to fight the big evil. Where women are not sidelined by their vaginas or taken out of danger “for their own good” or killed off because they were mean or written out of the story because they didn’t fit the macho narrative. Let’s pretend that we got to see seasons of Ellen Harvelle helping the boys with their problems, and helping them see their right path. Let’s pretend that Jody Mills showed up more than once a season and actually spoke some sense into Dean and Sam. Let’s pretend that Anna and Cas stayed biffles and went on amazing angels-with-free-will adventures. Let’s pretend that Kali came back and she and Charlie fell madly in love. Whatever. Let’s imagine a world where the women of Supernatural don’t die and they aren’t swept under the rug.
Don’t you want that? Doesn’t that sound awesome?
The show is ending in a season, presumably at the end of season ten, I believe, so there isn’t much time to change. But I don’t think that negates us from trying. Because who cares if we don’t succeed? Maybe striving to make Supernatural a better show for women will make other shows better for women. I don’t know. But I do know that it’s not good right now, and I’m not okay with that.
So. To start with, stop bitching about the female characters we do get. Instead of complaining about the terrible tropes they highlight (which I will fully admit to being prone to), let’s love on them. Make them popular. I’m talking gifsets, tumblr pages, the whole nine yards. Love those female characters, and encourage the writers to give us more. We know they listen to their fans. Tell them the right things.
Write to the writers. Try. Write to Misha Collins. We know he listens. Write fanmail to the actresses who you loved on Supernatural. Don’t go negative. Go positive. Encourage good behavior. Tell people what you love and what you want.
Tell the Facebook page to bring back Mary Winchester, tell the twitter account to show us more of Charlie.
Say something. Speak up. Fans have never been more empowered. Do something with it.
Why? Because representation matters, and there is no excuse for not trying.
|Just because I love you doesn't mean I'm not disappointed in you.|