Is Supernatural Sexist?

Kristin Devine

Kristin has humbly retired as Ordinary Times' friendly neighborhood political whipping girl to focus on culture and gender issues. She lives in a wildlife refuge in rural Washington state with too many children and way too many animals. There's also a blog which most people would very much disapprove of

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25 Responses

  1. DensityDuck says:

    I mean, isn’t “Supernatural Only With A Feminine Perspective” just Buffy The Vampire Slayer?Report

    • Ozzzy! in reply to DensityDuck says:

      Is XX sexist? can really only be answered in the affirmative. It’s rhetorical. I like how this write up goes into the more thoughtful question of Is it sexist ‘enough’ that I should think about the answer to this question?

      Thanks Kristin for the dive into a show I never engaged with but probably would have been a huge fan of.Report

    • Jesse in reply to DensityDuck says:

      Except close to half the full time regular cast on Buffy were men.

      If Buffy was a show with an almost exclusively female regular cast, where a vast majority of the men that appeared on it were beefcake of the week, and ended up either dead or some kind of victim, that’d be about equal. I say that as somebody who actually enjoys Supernatural.Report

      • Ozzzy! in reply to Jesse says:

        Wait, 50-50 casting? Even nature isn’t that stupid. 😉

        “Like most sexual species, the sex ratio in humans is approximately 1:1. In humans, the natural ratio between males and females at birth is slightly biased towards the male sex, being estimated to be about 1.05[2] or 1.06[3] males/per female born.”

      • DavidTC in reply to Jesse says:

        Except close to half the full time regular cast on Buffy were men.

        Counting ‘full time regular cast’ is _extremely_ misleading, considering that fricking Emma Caulfiend wasn’t ever counted as a full-time cast member.

        Who a ‘regular cast member’ is is almost entirely defined by Hollywood nonsense based on the work history of the actor, and has nothing to do with the importance of a character or how much screen time they get, and Joss Whedon specifically complained about how he had to deal with stupid rules about this. If it had been up to him he would have put all the ‘in basically every episode’ cast in the credit, but he couldn’t.

        And it’s worth pointing out that because Hollywood is generally sexist and writes stories for men, men get more important roles, which means they have better ‘work history’, which means they often get regular credit and women don’t, even for basically the same thing. For example, Seth Green vs. Amber Benson, they both played the role of ‘love interest of Willow with some small level of supernatural power that eventually joined the gang’.

        And Benson had more episodes, yet Green got the ‘regular cast member’ credit and not her…because of Hollywood rules.

        In reality, if I had to guess, the show was about 66/33 tilted towards female characters. Even in the early seasons, when there were hypothetically four main characters, equally gendered…in reality, Giles was barely there, and Cordelia was also there. (And she, at least, was officially regular cast.)

        When men got added, like Angel, and Oz, and Riley, they got added as love interests of the women. (Which didn’t help the ratio when Willow was revealed to be gay so her love interest from that point on were women.) Oh, and they added a sister.

        A lot of people seemed to think Buffy was called ‘feminist’ because it was about a female superhero. But…that’s not really the reason. Or…it shouldn’t have been. The reason it was feminist was that the entire show was extremely female-focused, women drove basically every plot.

        Even in places where the story was, in theory, about men, it tended to be about women in some manner…for example, Xander’s big plot in season six was his marriage to Anya and lack thereof, but we also got plenty of Anya in there, in fact, the aftermath was mostly about her.

        It’s very easy to think of stories in Buffy that don’t involve any men…the story of Buffy and Dawn and Joyce, the story of Buffy and Faith, etc, etc. It’s really hard to think of stories that don’t involve any women. The only ones I can really think of are the various male jealousy _over_ Buffy! (I guess Andew’s story doesn’t really involve women?)

        That’s not to say that Buffy is the same as Supernatural. For one thing, Supernatural seemed to have close to a 90/10 ratio towards men for most of its run, even if it toned that down coming up on the end. And on Buffy, men were a reasonable important part of the show, and actually existed, and didn’t just get killed randomly. It’s just the stories were about the women.

        The show that is the male version of Buffy is, of course, Angel. Not Supernatural. Angel, despite being about men, also had women, who also were not disposable and forever shoved off to the side. It’s just the stories were mostly about the men. (This, of course, was much less groundbreaking.)Report

    • I wouldn’t say that, they’re about two different things.

      The supernatural stuff is just the scaffolding upon which the subtext is hung for both shows. The subtext differs.Report

  2. LeeEsq says:

    What I’ve noticed is that many people are very inconsistent when it comes to men portraying their emotions. They like to talk about toxic masculinity and how the Patriarchy (TM) teachers men to hide their emotions. But when you get a generally masculine looking and acting man show some pain and vulnerability, it’s all “male tears. ha ha ha.” This is especially true when the vulnerability has to do with a lack of female romantic and sexual companionship.

    As somebody who really is suffering from a lack of female romantic/sexual companionship, I’ve noticed that this is a very tricky subject to deal with in the age of #MeToo. Since the current emphasis is on consent and getting rid of sexual attraction and assault, having a class of decent heterosexual men that can’t get a woman is troublesome. People have a sense of fairness and admitting that there can be thoroughly awful men who have no problems attracted women and that there are plenty of decent men that can’t, it is a lot easier for people to believe that men with horrible lovelies are all misogynists rather than deal with reality. It’s the just world fallacy applied to romance and sex.

    What I’ve also notice, from my hobby scene and real life, is that there are a few women that love to be mean towards men that they find beneath them. In my partner dance scene, there are about dozen or so women that refuse to dance with me on general principle. This isn’t because we’ve danced before and went horribly. It’s because they think they can use me to establish their high social status by treating me with contempt. This is another thing behind “male tears”, it is a way to show you are of higher social status because you get to make fun of them.Report

  3. LeeEsq says:

    On a less personal level, heterosexual male romantic loneliness and sexual frustration doesn’t set well in certain ideological spaces because they don’t want love or sex being presented as something men are entitled to. So they don’t like shows that deal with heterosexual male romantic frustration.Report

  4. Jaybird says:

    The troublesome question is something like “Is it possible for a proposition to both be true *AND* sexist?” (or both true and racist, true and whateveric/ist).

    If it isn’t possible for such a proposition to be both, then the question of whether Supernatural is sexist has an answer of “probably” with an implied “and it shouldn’t be”.

    If it is possible for such a proposition to be both, then I’d wonder if Supernatural’s sexism is among the kind that accurately depict the world and then ask why the fantasy show chooses verisimilitude here, of all places?

    Now, I don’t watch the show and haven’t seen a single episode but, without having to watch it, I can conclude that it needs to change and be less sexist. Get new characters. Get rid of some of the old ones. Change storylines. I won’t watch the new one either but I’ll be happier knowing that it’d appeal to me if I did.Report

  5. Jesse says:

    Eh, I think there’s a vast difference between Supernatural being the most sexist show on TV and acting like there’s no issues with it at all because it’s pro men. Again, I’ve watched lots of seasons of Supernatural and generally like the show, but there is also a big difference between early seasons when it was very mid-2000’s TV in all circumstances and more recent seasons. However, I do have a couple of bones to pick –

    1.) The idea there is anything close to a meritocracy when it comes to representation on TV. There’s almost no such thing as forced diversity – by 2019 standards, Uhura, Chekov, and Sulu were all forced ‘diversity’, but yet, millions of people, including MLK Jr. were incredibly happy that such diversity was on TV. When whiteness is the default, anything more diverse than what’s been on TV for decades (and largely continues to be) seems like ‘forced’ if you’re not used to it. But yeah, there’s no meritocratic ‘fair’ way for women to get an equal shot on TV, so acting like women wanting more representation on TV don’t want actual equality is silliness.

    2.) I’d buy more into the ‘it’s OK there are no long term permanent female characters on Supernatural because Sam & Dean are like soldiers or hunters or whatever’ if ya’ know, they were actually in a situation like WW2, etc. where there were no women around. In reality, there’s women every week on Supernatural. Hell, their have been multiple episodes with female hunters. They’re just not deemed important enough to hang around and yeah, I really don’t think a lot of people who want more representation are going to buy the argument, “it’s OK, because these men are really unhappy the women around them are dying all the time.”

    In a world with vampires, demons, and angels, the idea that it wouldn’t be realistic to have a woman around is kind of silly.

    3.) Again, I like Supernatural, and lot of the women on the show are good actresses, but the idea they’re “normal” is kind of insane. You showed basically, two of the few women over thirty that are the main female characters of the week in general, and aside from that, most of the other normal characters are in some cases, actual literal models that they put some dirt on or dressed down. Now, their characterizations may be less fabulous (I mean fabulous in the actual how they’re dressed/made up sense) than say, Gossip Girl or Riverdale, but the women themselves could easy fit in on those shows if they were going through those shows costuming and makeup process.

    Now, that’s totally fair, since actual supernatural hunters would likely not look like Jensen Ackles or Jared Paladicki either, but it’s better to admit that 95% of the people on Supernatural are very pretty people and that’s OK, as opposed to being upset that some people still like Wonder Woman more than you do and thinking that’s a trump card.

    4.) At the end of the day, when it comes to representation, I actually don’t blame the producers or creators as being sexist, when in reality, the biggest backlash to women regularly being on the show has come from the disproportionately female fanbase who’d rather ship Sam or Dean with themselves, with each other, or with Castiel depending on the woman.

    In a lot of ways, Sam & Dean not having a long-term relationship is as much wish fulfillment for much of the women who watch the program than anything else.Report

  6. PD Shaw says:

    One thing that probably should be brought out is that it’s a story about brothers, and brothers have their own dynamic that is different from male friends. Sibling relationships can be rivalrous and full of deep conflict, some of which is due to personal identity emerging through young relationships. Siblings know each other from the long timeframe, sometimes knowing each other better, sometimes not seeing who each has become. The show plays with these dynamics by having the brothers blow-up at each other, go their separate ways and return, not entirely resolved, to each other’s company. There is a certain elasticity that is tested, that doesn’t exist with friends. At some points friends just leave, and friends of brothers amidst such continual conflict, have to keep their distance, or get spat out.

    I kind of think the show can be charged with some of women in the fridge because their origin is built on the deaths of their mom and girlfriend. The redeeming thing though is that everybody they love dies, man or woman, sometimes more than once.Report

  7. DavidTC says:

    I guess you aren’t aware that Sam and Dean’s mother was resurrected at the end of season 11 and has been a series regular the three last seasons? She was right there with Sam and Dean and Cas, as a hunter, in every episode.

    She’s kinda a big thing to leave out if you’re listing women of show. I get why you didn’t, you stopped watching back in season 9, but…that’s a huge ommission.

    You also aren’t aware of the Wayward Sisters spinoff attempt, I guess. Like, Jody has an actual team of hunters now working with her.Report

    • Kristin Devine in reply to DavidTC says:

      Yep, I’m aware of it all, and the spinoff. View what I wrote as a defense of the old-school all boy Supernatural if you’d like.Report

      • DavidTC in reply to Kristin Devine says:

        Ah, okay.

        Old school Supernatural, original first five seasons Supernatural, was…sometimes a bit sexist. Not because of the fact women got killed off (Everyone gets killed off.) but because it sometimes had problematic attitudes toward women, or at least Dean had the attitude and the show often failed to push back on that. (Mostly just by Sam grumbling under his breath.)

        And, yes, that attitude includes slut shaming. (Which Dean reverts back to under the influence of the Mark of the Beast.)

        The thing is: Dean matured. I’m not really sure when, but it was definitely by the start of season 6, when he’d spent a year offscreen living with Lisa and raising their kid.

        Or, to put another way: See, the thing about these societies that men are in without women…they tend to reinforce sexist thought. When men have ‘no access to women’ they start think of women as things to ‘access’, and only that.

        Which is why Dean thinks that way at the start of the series, and not Sam. Sam is living a normal life, he has been for years, where there are people who happen to women around him. Dean…is not. He’s never lived a normal life since he was a kid. He had no female friends, because he really had no friends at all. Give Dean a normal life, and he…starts treating women better. Even after he goes back to hunting.

        At least, that’s Watsonian explanation. The Doylist one is: The writers took a lot of criticism for the perceived sexism at the start of the show, and started fixing things.Report

        • WonderingWhy in reply to DavidTC says:

          I always ask this and have yet to get an actual answer;
          What has Dean done EXACTLY to “have a sexist” attitude? Sexual is not sexist.

          Everybody is saying Dean is being sexist all the time, but I’m rewatching the entire show, looking out for it, nearing the end of season 5 now and have yet to see one single sexist remark from Dean. He’s actually pretty much being a gentleman?

          Obviously Dean with the mark doesn’t count as he’s supposed to be evil.Report

  8. I really enjoyed this essay DD, thanks for posting.Report