“Proud Mary Keep on Burning” - Negative Gender Tropes and Feminist Criticism Related to Supernatural
Note: My tumblr refuses to update the tags on this post, so I’m RE-posting it and adding the tags MYself. Apologies for the rerun! - QLM
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 Heaven’s patriarchy and decided to uproot the Winchester family tree. Her sexy times with Dean was pre-fataleness though, I think.
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 also 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 the 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 female characters to their reproductive functions and domestic roles. Mary, specifically, is most frequently understood only within the dimensions of wife and mother. Thankfully, the time travel episodes provide us with the chance to see her in more of a three-dimensional light, as a skilled hunter, rather than just a motherly martyr.
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 interesting. She’s not even a real person; she’s just a lifestyle that Dean eventually discovers he can never have. This is best embodied, again, through her ovaries, when Dean discovers Ben is his progeny.
Lisa is defined by this motherhood role (even if she is not specifically motherly to Dean). Would Dean feel so attached to her if it were not for Ben? Would her role have expanded past one episode if she hadn’t reproduced? Give me a break!
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 isn’t even eligible for consideration. It’s hard to expand upon gender disparity in a given show when one gender isn’t even really represented.
My final impression?
Really! I mean, I figured that the movie was going to be “a little bit gay” seeing as how the bromantic angle is really popular and intriguing, but I had NO idea that the entire film was going to drip with all this blatant, homoerotic imagery.
The first movie hinted at the romantic chemistry between Holmes and Watson. This movie practically bashes you over the head with their sweet gay love, so much so that I began to wonder if their ambiguous relationship was less tongue in cheek this time around and more of an intentional, narrative construct.
I mean, some of these messages are so overt, you can’t even call them subtextual anymore:
1) The scene where Holmes and Watson dance together after Simza asks Holmes if he’s found what he’s looking for…
2) The scene where Holmes describes his relationship with Watson as a being a “partnership” and the Mary/John honeymoon effectively morphs, structurally, into a Sherlock/John honeymoon…
3) And, perhaps most famously, the scene where Watson wrestles Holmes to the floor and rends his garments while Holmes straddles him with his legs.
For me though, all that stuff was just the gay icing on the gay cake. The meat of my theory that there is an intentional gay backstory to the plot is based on the fact that Holmes’ solitary, eccentric “bachelor” life is so clearly juxtaposed with Watson attempting to achieve a socially acceptable “apple pie” married life in the film. It’s a genius approach because that is exactly how and why that kind of romantic relationship would have disintegrated back during that time period.
It’s played up a a platonic loss, the loss of a kindred spirit, but when Holmes and Watson look at each other, under the premise that this will be their last adventure, it just feels like so much more is bubbling up between them…
Do me a favor: The next time you watch the movie, pretend this backstory has occurred:
Holmes and Watson used to have sex.
They weren’t “gay” because their era didn’t even really have a language for articulating the nuances of their relationship, but effectively, they were good friends who worked well together and liked to bone on occasion. Which was, honestly, quite frequently.
All of a sudden, Watson (who is bi in modern terms) finds himself a charming woman that he can marry. He loves her as much as he loves Holmes, but only one of those relationships is socially sanctioned. The other isn’t.
Watson is forced to pick, so he chooses a life with Mary.
Holmes (who is straight-up gay) finds himself torn by this development. He resents Watson for abandoning him, yes, but he also wants for his friend to be safe and happy. It’s hard for Holmes because he knows he will never be able to have the “normal” heterosexual relationship that Watson has with Mary. Irene Adler was the only woman he ever slept with, and he swore he would NEVER do that again. Instead, she became his best hag and only confidant regarding his homosexuality / unrequited love for Watson.
Morriarty is especially eager to kill Watson because he and Holmes used to f*ck, but now Morriarty just f*cks Sebastian Moran, who happens to be an expert marksman…IN THE SACK!
It’s sort of this really messed up, gay love quadrangle.
No regrets. Just gay love.
Yesterday I watched Home for the Holidays…
Today I watched Heart and Souls…
Tomorrow I was planning on watching Kiss Kiss Bang Bang…
See any common threads emerging?
And as soon as the thought to see Kiss Kiss entered my head, I realized I had unwittingly created a pattern. You see, all these movies had two things in common:
1. Mr. Robert Downey Jr.
2. Gayness (or, minimally, deviations from heteronormative male behavior)
A. In Home for the Holidays, Robert plays gay younger brother, Tommy. Who kind of gets gay married to his usually off-screen lover, Jack (not pictured below).
B. In Heart and Souls, Robert plays (another) Thomas, a man who is possessed by ghosty souls that use him to resolve the issues they never got a chance to finish in life. Two of these souls are ladies who overtake his body and make him act effeminate and/or hit on men. One is Kyra Sedgewick and the other is Alfre Woodard. Be still my beating heart.
C. In Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Robert hangs out with a gay detective played by Val Kilmer. I haven’t seen it yet, but I believe there are some man-kisses.
Robert? That’s kind of the idea ;)
This Trifecta of Rainbow-licious R.D.J. Awesomeness just sort of…happened. It wasn’t in any way planned or structured. At least not consciously on my part.
That being said, I still think it’s cool, so I’m still taking credit for it.
I was in my friend Melinda’s car in a parking lot recently. We had just bought some goodies and were preparing to leave the area so we could run and catch a movie.
Melinda had purchased some Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, and asked me if I wanted one.
David: Are you sure?
Melinda: Yes. There are two of them. Please share the fattyness with me so I don’t feel so bad about it.
David: Thanks! (reaches for the candy)
Melinda: It’s kind of hard for me to see (turns head around to get a better look).Go ahead and grab yours while I pull out.
David: (Freezes mid-motion. Pauses to process what was just said.)
Melinda: Say, do you have a watch? What time should we-
David: (frantically) THAT’S WHAT HE SAID!!!!
‘Twas a delayed reaction on my part, but after the dust/confusion cleared, Melinda laughed heartily and high-fived me for my effort.
I’m particularly proud of that joke because, given the implied mechanics, that specific “That’s-what-blah-said…” moment seems to best be describing a “dude-on-dude” kind of intimacy, if you catch my drift.
Unintentional Homoerotic Subtext, anyone?
Why….that’s my favorite kind.