Mary & John & Ellen & Bobby

May 4th, 2013 3:33 pm by Kelly Garbato

I initially published this on tumblr, in response to a question I got about misogyny in Supernatural. (I’d go back and find a link, but I forgot to tag the post, and tumblr doesn’t exactly make it easy to search a blog so NEVERMIND! tumblr, ugh.) Anyway, I’m crossposting here because I like to have my stuff all in one place and don’t exactly trust tumblr not to delete my blog willy-nilly and hope to do more pop culture blogging here anyway. So yeah reasons.

And if you’re into this sort of criticism, there’s this new blog I’m totally digging that you should check out called Feminist Supernatural. Submit an insightful comments, get a pie!

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A family “Team Free Will” portrait.
Left to right: Castiel, Sam, Ellen, Dean, Jo, and Bobby.
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(Ooops! When I was writing this for some reason I’d assumed that you were also a fan, so my answer is full of spoilers and specifics. To sum it up for non-fans: I wouldn’t say that Supernatural is super-misogynist – definitely not more so than most of the other stuff on tv – but it could definitely use some improvement, particularly when it comes to the representation of women (see #1). More roles, more screen time, more diversity of characters and fuller character development. Ditto for people of color and LGBTQ persons. SPN can be problematic – just based on my veganism alone, most all entertainment is problematic in some way – but I love it just the same.)

Hi! Yes! One could easily write an entire book about gender politics & SPN (someone write this book please!), so I’ll just stick to a few general examples.

1 – Representation. This is by and large a show about men and their relationships with each other. Women are mostly relegated to one of three roles (which aren’t always mutually exclusive): demons/witches/other baddies, damsels in distress, and love interests. (I actually think the show’s improved on this front in more recent seasons, Charlie and Chrissy being two notable exceptions.) If you’re a reasonably attractive damsel between the ages of 18 and 35, Dean will try to fuck you (and even if you’ve got more pressing things to deal with). If you’re unlucky enough to hook up with Sam, most likely you’ll die a brutal, gruesome death. (Hence the graphic to which I think you’re referring.) Granted, this is a show with a high body count, but on average I think the men tend to outlast the women, and get more screen time too. Many of the women significant to Sam and Dean mainly seem to function as vehicles to propel their stories forward (see e.g. Mary, Jess, Madison). I don’t think I’ve ever tried rating SPN using the Bechdel Test, but I bet that many episodes would fail.

1b – John and Mary. Sam and Dean’s relationship with their father has been a central focus of the show, particularly in the early seasons when they spent so much time searching for him. But once we learned that Mary was born a hunter, I think she arguably became the more interesting character. (Though I guess you could argue that the flame was passed back to John in “As Time Goes By,” when we discovered that his father belonged to The Men of Letters.) Certainly the revelation that she gave Azazel access to Sam in return for John’s life should have caused Sam and Dean to reexamine their feelings toward their mother. Yet this relationship receives precious little attention, especially in comparison to that with their father.

1c – Bobby and Ellen. Bobby’s relationship with the boys is one of my favorite parts of the show. He stepped up as a surrogate father in John’s absence (which was often), and together they formed their own weirdly awesome adopted family. He gave them the father they deserved, and they were the children he was too afraid to have with Karen. I hoped – even expected, early on – that Ellen would similarly function as a mother to them (and Jo, a sister). But that never happened – she was never allowed the same screen time as Bobby, and died before her relationship with the boys was given ample time to grow. Ellen is just an all-around BAMF and the writers’ failure to fully utilize her character is easily the biggest disappointment for me.

2 – Dean’s womanizing. I don’t care if Dean sleeps around, but sometimes he objectifies women in the process. For example, in an early season 1/2 episode (I can’t remember which, but it aired on TNT last week), Dean tells two women at a bar that he and Sam are Hollywood scouts in order to get laid. And of course there’s the running “Busty Asian Beauties” gag, which fetishizes Asian women.

3 – Dean and Bobby pretty much constantly mock Sam (and one another) for any “feminine” displays of emotion. CueL jokes about Oprah and herbal tea.

4 – The constant use of the gendered slur “son of a bitch” as an insult, even when it doesn’t make any logical sense. (Lucifer only has a father! And God doesn’t have any parents!) I almost fell out of my seat with shock and happiness when they introduced “bag of dicks” in season 5-ish.

As for a more specific example, “Man’s Best Friend” was embarrassingly racist and sexist.

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