WHAT DO YOU MEAN I’M OVERREACTING
“Supernatural” depicts two young, conventionally attractive brothers following in their father’s footsteps and hunting down, you guessed it, the supernatural. Ghosts, vampires, werewolves, and assorted other creatures are tracked and destroyed in each episode with an emotional underlying plot line of saving people and struggling with inner demons (literally and figuratively). CW, the show’s broadcasting network, specifically targets a demographic of women, age 18-34, and a cult following has built up around it. Blogs and websites have been dedicated to worshiping and analyzing the story line and the characteristics of Sam and Dean Winchester, the stars, and thousands upon thousands of fan fiction stories have been written from the imagination of the viewer’s minds. Thanks to the immense and mostly unconditional support of the largely female fan base, the show is now going for its ninth season, despite major plot holes, issues with the show’s writers, and criticism of the story line from mainstream reviews. For many young girls and grown women, the show has become an obsession, the love for the two main characters and their intricate personalities obsessively thought over and written about on many social media platforms. With the amount of time these women spend watching, re-watching, and analyzing the show, the question then becomes: How are the women in this show treated by these worshiped and adored main characters, and what could this mean for the women watching? As a feminist and a dedicated fan to Supernatural, I am constantly conflicted by a deep love for the show and an even deeper hatred for the objectification of the women in it, the minimal showing of the potential for the women to perform the same duties as the men and their throwaway nature as woman, the massive amount of stereotyping involved in the portrayal of the women and the dialogue between the two main male stars, and how this affects the women watching the show.
The first three seasons of “Supernatural” followed a relatively basic plot; Dean Winchester, the uneducated but street-smart and loyal hunter, breaks into his brother Sam Winchester’s dorm room at Stanford University and informs him that their emotionally distant father, with whom Dean has been hunting while his book-smart brother gets a degree, has disappeared, and that Dean needs Sam’s help to continue hunting supernatural beings while searching for their father. With a little convincing, and the death of Sam’s girlfriend by a demon sparking a desire for revenge, the two run away together and, begin hunting demons. Each episode begins with Sam finding a strange happening in the news, generally a murder, and the brothers drive to the city where it happened, masquerade as cops or FBI agents, and interview the closest friend or relative to the murder victim in order to discover what kind of supernatural being they are dealing with. Without fail, each interviewee is a conventionally attractive woman; skinny, tall, long haired, light skinned, and above all, hyper feminine. Each women sobbingly discusses how their poor boyfriend, or husband, and occasionally friend, was viciously murdered in an odd way. Sam and Dean then leave the house, and comment on the attractiveness of the woman they just interviewed. For the large portion of the episodes, the ending comes with one of the brothers identifying with the woman’s struggle, and “getting the girl” in the end, generally a kiss but sometimes sex. The women in each episode are portrayed as helpless beings, sad and in desperate need of their male heroes to come solve their problems for them, with their sex as the prize at the end. Sam and Dean are subsequently “rewarded” for their good deeds with women and sex. In another aspect, women are objectified as being reasons to seek revenge. They’re shown as catalysts to greater inspiration for Sam and Dean, never humanized on their own, but only important in relation to how they inspire Sam and Dean to keep moving in their journey. Mary Winchester, the boys’ mother, was killed by a demon when Sam was an infant and Dean was a young child. This inspired the father to take his young children away from any life of normalcy, force them to mature early on, and become hunters, seeking revenge for the demon that murdered their family member. The mother, as shown later on in the show, was a hunter long before John, her husband, but somehow, she was easily murdered by a demon that Sam, Dean, and John track down for years without coming to any real harm. Jo, the young daughter of Ellen, met later on in the show, is the daughter of two hunters, both extremely experienced. Her father was murdered by a supernatural being while hunting with John Winchester, an interesting story line that is barely touched on, despite how similar it is to the boys’ own beginnings of hunting. Yet, with all this experience and possibility for an intricate character, the first plot line regarding Jo is the conflict between Sam and Dean’s sexual interest in her, and her sexual interest in one of them. Realistically, it would have been more likely that Jo would have been more interested in tracking down her father’s killer, as the boys are doing for their family, instead of being primarily interested in gaining the attraction of Sam or Dean, but her character is quickly turned into a sexually objectified one. The vast majority of scenes involving her involve some type of flirting or attraction-seeking between her and the boys, instead of acknowledging her growing skills as a supernatural hunter or her journey to become a full-fledged hunter like her parents.
While women are objectified in “Supernatural”, their abilities and potential power to assist in the main plot line is downplayed and demeaned, while their worth as consistent characters is often shown to be nonexistent. With Jo, although her father has been killed while hunting and her mother is in charge of one of the largest hubs of hunter activity in America, when she requests to accompany Sam and Dean on their journey, they turn her down, telling her it’s too dangerous and she doesn’t understand what the world out there is like. They demean her and coddle her, despite her ability later shown in the show. The only time Jo is shown as powerful and important is when she and her mother are sacrificing themselves so that Sam and Dean can continue with their mission. While they argued vehemently against Jo actively fighting alongside them, with actual potential to defend herself, they sadly agree to allow her to die in order for them to continue on with their important goals. Teary-eyed, Sam and Dean give a single moment of admiration for the women before they blow themselves up, and then they are finally considered worth fighting with in death. Later, a woman named Ruby arrives in the show. She’s attractive, smart, witty, and most of all, she can fight. She can actually fight better than the boys at first. Imagine my excitement when this woman was introduced! Finally, a competent woman with power that is openly acknowledged! However, CW couldn’t let us have that. Ruby turns out to be a demon possessing a woman’s body. Suddenly her power and character depth is twisted into an evil thing, a thing to hate, a thing to be despised and to destroy. The first time a powerful woman is shown on the show, and the main goal is to kill her. What a disappointment. Sam and Dean do triumphantly destroy Ruby, but she returns later in the show through a complicated plot twist to help Sam and Dean stop the Devil from being released from his cage. A possible second chance, I thought. Guess again! Ruby uses her “feminine wiles” to lure Sam away from Dean, slowly tricking him into betraying his brother through lies. She uses her sexual attractiveness in her new possessed body to turn Sam away from his “righteous path” and his brother. Again, she is driven away and killed, the evil woman destroyed, and brother is united with brother again, free from the horrible influence of a powerful, intelligent woman. Over and over, the powerful women are shown as nothing more than evil beings to be destroyed, and as distractions to the true heroes: the men. Finally, we get a female character who is a neutral evil: Bela. Bela is beautiful, British, and an expert thief. She has no sexual interest in either of the boys, is exceptionally more talented in hand-to-hand combat than they are, and lavishes herself with money and self-love. Could this be? No, of course not. CW didn’t change this character over time. Instead, they kill her off. The most self-confident, intelligent, independent woman of the entire show is around for a mere 7 episodes, and then is taken off the show in a pathetic plot move that makes exactly no sense and is not worthy of a character of her caliber, and she is never mentioned again.
With all this belittlement of women, downplaying of their abilities, and constant deaths on the show, do Sam and Dean play the culprit in any of this? Sadly, yes. Though these two boys are worshiped and absolutely adored by their female fans, their virtues extolled and their character depth thoroughly searched and examined, Sam and Dean Winchester are no less misogynistic than their show’s portrayal of women. For the first three seasons, they view women only as objects to be saved due to their womanly inability to take care of themselves, and then as sexual objects to be won once they have done their masculine duty of saving them. Sam does not show these characteristics even half as much as Dean does, so it comes as a surprise that Dean is the favorite character amongst the fan base. Despite Dean’s teasing to Sam, “Don’t be such a girl!” whenever Sam is hurt and acknowledging his hurt, and despite his playboy reputation pushed heavily by the show, girls and women are in love with the virtuous Dean Winchester. At a Supernatural convention, the cost to take a picture with Jenson Ackles, the actor who plays Dean Winchester, is $175. Even with this exorbitant price, girls line up for hours merely to take a picture with their hero. Despite Dean’s misogynistic nature, the show puts him as the emotionally closed off, but secretly tender, loyal man who would sacrifice his own life for his family, and the sexism is seen as a side characteristic that should not only just be dismissed, but perhaps admired by the male viewers.
With such a large female audience, “Supernatural” has failed in its responsibility and potential to provide strong female characters, respected female characters, and female characters with depth. CW has shown its female viewers that they believe women are neither strong enough, nor important enough, to participate in any action-based, violent actions, even to save the world. All the while, these demeaning portrayals of women are framed as positive things, and subconsciously, thousands of female viewers daily take in what it means to be a woman according to their favorite characters, and that definition entails weakness, or strength in evil, and importance only as a nurturing, supporting role that can easily be discarded without affecting the main issue at hand, and as a sexual object in the eyes of those that they admire. Whether consciously or not, female viewers are surrounded by images of femininity as being evil and discouraged, while masculinity is admired and valued above all else. Fans will be shown time and time again that women cannot participate in action-based heroism, only as a sacrificial lamb, good for temporary destruction and inspiration for the men involved.
The Time War
"We are the same.”
I’ve been waiting for River/Eight!