“Proud Mary Keep on Burning” - Negative Gender Tropes and Feminist Criticism Related to Supernatural
In one of my previous posts, I reblogged some excellent videos that Anita Sarkeesian from the Feminist Frequency did regarding media tropes related to the portrayal of women in pop culture sources ranging from comics to movies and television (see list below for links to these tropes and their corresponding videos).
- The Manic Pixie Dream Girl
- Women in Refrigerators
- The Smurfette Principle
- The Evil Demon Seductress
- The Mystical Pregnancy
After watching the videos, I immediately started thinking about my new favorite TV show, Supernatural, and how, sadly, it’s guilty of perpetuating a lot of these negative tropes.
One word: Ruby. But also, pretty much every female-gendered antagonistic entity the show has ever depicted. Granted, Lucifer got fresh with Sam that one time, and Crowley did french Bobby, but still… the sexualized bad girls far outnumber the sexualized bad boys. Ruby, specifically, is the quintessential example of lady baddies using sexuality to elicit sympathy and/or manipulate others because of her long term relationship with Sam that ended in complete betrayal.
Actually, besides, Crowley, are there any lower tier characters that have regularly antagonized the boys that aren’t female? Ruby. Bela. Meg. All variations on the same femme fatale theme. Even Anna, the only female-gendered angel in the show (who was actually pretty progressive to start), ultimately became an antagonist when she was reprogrammed by the patriarchy and decided to uproot the Winchester family tree. Her sexiness with Dean was pre-fatale-ness though.
Lilith. Eve. On Supernatural, it seems as though evil is most frequently characterized as being female. I think this is a side effect of the show’s biased male gaze, yes, but more specifically it might be latent homophobia. In order for evil to be effective, it has to be intimate. It’s safer to have sexualized female characters get closer to the boys because a) sexy bad chicks are good for ratings and b) sexy bad boys would offend subconsciously homophobic viewer/creator sensibilities. Having all these antagonists constructed as women allows the writers to play with themes related to evil in terms of temptation and carnality without things getting too “gay” in the process.
Of course, those creative decisions certainly haven’t stopped the show from reeking of homoerotic sexual tension anyways. *cough* Destiel! Wincest!, *uncough*
Ah yes. Mary Winchester and her Faustian bargain that resulted in Psychic!Sam. Mary had to go through A LOT of shit on the show, and all her suffering stems from the fact that Hell wanted to use her lady oven for demonic occupancy. The Mystical pregnancy is damaging partly because of the way it depicts a wholly natural biological process, but it also diminishing because it reduces characters to their reproductive functions and domestic roles. Mary, specifically, is most frequently understood only within the dimensions of wife and mother. That’s why I’m so happy the time travel episodes provide us with the chance to see her in a three-dimensional light, fleeting though it may be.
I love Mary but from day ONE she has been there primarily to pull on our heartstrings and move the plot forward for her menfolk. Which brings us to the next trope…
Mary Winchester again, but, more specifically…Jess. We didn’t really get to know Jess as much of anything outside of a martyr figure whose death was used for a purely functional purpose in the pilot: To motivate Sam to take up arms with Dean and go a-questing for ol’ yellow-eyes.
For these reasons, Jess is more so an idea worth fighting for instead of a real, three-dimensional person. Jo and Ellen might also be seen as characters who edge on this trope, but I think they were a little more well-rounded than Jess. Still, the fact remains that their collective death was both oddly sudden and certainly ineffective in terms of resolving any crucial story conflict for that season. Their deaths really only served to create a sense of urgency in Sam and Dean by upping the “end of days” ante.
Again, women are used as plot-fodder. Eesh.
I think Lisa fills the function of this trope for Dean, but in a different way than the standard Pixie Dream Girl. Rather than comforting her man with wide-eyed, dreamer sentimentality, Lisa embodies the mundane for Dean; the luxurious ideal of “normalcy.” The end result is the same though. Lisa is likewise reduced to representation; a mere symbol of the life domestic and nothing more. That’s why she’s not relatable or particularly intriguing. She’s not even a real person; she’s just a lifestyle that Dean eventually discovers he can never have.
The Impala. She is the only recurring feminized entity on the show. And the poor gal is always being objectified and infantilized by Dean.
“My baby! Nobody touches my baby!”
- Dean Winchester (Every other episode)
Just kidding, but not really…It’s worth noting that there’s not a single female regular in the series, so this is a trope Supernatural avoids only because it’s not even eligible for consideration. It’s hard to expand upon gender disparity in a given show when one gender isn’t even really represented.