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Heavy Meta Poisoning
Supernatural is truth
one feminist take on Supernatural 
25th-Feb-2008 06:43 pm
Sylph

This post is addressed to my livejournal friends who are troubled by the apparent misogyny of “Supernatural.”    Spoilers up to and including 3.12, Jus in Bello.



In this essay I would like to propose a slightly different way of viewing the position of women on the show. I’ll argue that “Supernatural” does not so much promote a misogynistic view of women, but that it does use the idea of separate spheres to create an atmosphere of fragility for the everyday world, in contrast to the brutal realities represented by the Winchesters.   The world of women is a sunlit world, a world in peril, that represents all the Winchesters long to protect and all they long for for themselves but cannot have due to their chosen role as warriors. Moreover, the Winchesters themselves are placed in a position of suffering by their exclusion from the “softer side” of life.  The world of Hunting is brutal and terrifying, yet having once acknowledged its reality, the Winchesters take upon themselves the onus of protecting the innocent from that world. On “Supernatural,” a kinder, gentler world is represented by women, but I argue that women are not limited to the less than fully human pedestal perfection of misogyny, but rather live fully fledged human lives that Sam and Dean cannot allow themselves to join.

 I will begin by positioning my theoretical background. I am a trained literary scholar with a women’s studies certificate and an avowed feminist.  That said, I’m not going to take the position that “Supernatural” is misogynistic even though many thoughtful women whose opinions I respect have come to that conclusion.  For better or for worse, my thinking represents what Keats would call “negative capability” – the ability to hold two conflicting ideas in my head simultaneously – this does not make me a better arguer, but it does allow me to enjoy Show even when it portrays women as less than fully realized characters. 

I wrote my dissertation on the novels of Mary Shelley, basing my arguments on her representations of what I call “utopian domesticity.”  I argue that Shelley represented the family and the home as the site of perfectable society, in keeping with the progressive political theories of her mother, feminist thinker Mary Wolstonecraft, her father, anarchist political theorist, William Godwin, and her husband, radical visionary poet Percy Bysshe Shelley.  So, I bring to the table in this conversation about “Supernatural” a certain set of ideas about the role of women, the nature of home, and the ideals of utopia, that are not usually part of the feminist conversation but that I argue can be both progressive and feminist in potential.

Let’s turn first to the sunlit world of women represented by Mary Winchester, Jessica Moore, and Lisa Braeden.   Because we are introduced so briefly to Mary and Jess before they are killed, we don’t know a lot about them, except for what they represent:  their murders represent the catalyst for turning the Winchester men into driven, homeless warriors. They represent the potentiality for home, love and security that is taken away and replaced with a never-ending series of seedy motel rooms and a mobile arsenal in the back of an antique muscle car. In the Djinn’s dream, Dean longed for his mother, her touch, her birthday celebration, the engagement of Jess and Sam, and the beautiful sunshine on the green grass while he mowed the lawn.  What he got instead was a midnight conversation with his dead dad, and a self-inflicted knife wound that woke him up to his own reality.

The fact that Mary and Jess are never fully explored as characters is troubling, yet for me, the idea that they represent home and love to Sam and Dean is not misogynist.  They are victims, but not because they were weak or deserved to die.   They were victims in the tragic sense: their deaths are senseless and random. In actuality they seem like mature, strong and interesting women, if only we had gotten to know them. In misogynistic systems, women’s characters are flattened and limited, so that “pure” characters and “fallen” characters do not have fully-fledged human identities.  I don’t think that “Supernatural” maintains Mary and Jess as pedestal pure, but rather as complex, fully human women we didn’t get a chance to know.

We do get a little more knowledge about love interests Cassie, Lisa, Sarah Blake and Madison the werewolf.  Of all these characters it’s Madison that interests me the least.  She’s a very sexy werewolf and there doesn’t seem to be that much more to it except that Sam is susceptible to her attractiveness.  She does die a noble death – facing her death without complaint when she realizes that she is doomed – so that can be admired. The equation of the sexy woman with the destructive animal – a step toward misogyny – is mitigated by her bravery and humanity when she accepts death as a way to keep from becoming a  beast and killing again. The witch in Malleus Maleficarum who tries to escape the demon by attacking it with a spell makes a similar move – regaining fuller humanity by resolute action in the face of doom.  By facing death bravely or by taking a doomed last stand, these women put themselves exactly in the subject position of the Winchesters.

Jo and Ellen are even more closely positioned as parallel characters to the Winchesters.  Ellen, though not a hunter, has the knowledge of a hunter and gives the boys vital leads and advice. Missouri is also introduced as a wise woman who understands the nature of the supernatural yet survives that knowledge.  Jo is two years younger than Sam and is itching to go out into the world as a hunter, a goal she eventually realizes.  I’ve never understood why there is so much animosity in fandom toward Jo.  She is young, and inexperienced, but she is ready to learn and ready to experience.  To my mind, neither of the Harvelles is a woman limited by the blinders of misogyny, but rather are women making a go of it in the Hunters’ world.

Back to love interests, we see in Cassie a sceptical view of the Winchesters’ world, and in Sarah Blake a more open-minded one.  When Sarah is convinced of the reality of a vengeful spirit, and is ready to work with them to take it on, Dean says to Sam, “Marry that girl”  -- meaning, here’s a woman who is your equal, a potential partner, someone you can be happy with – the kind of woman Cassie didn’t turn out to be. I’m sympathetic toward Cassie: as a sceptic she turns on Dean when he first reveals his identity as a hunter to her, and her scepticism is justified because unlike Sarah she does not see any evidence of the supernatural that we know of. When later she tells Dean that she doesn’t believe things would work out between them, I feel like this is her prerogative.  Dean leads a dangerous and nomadic life.  It would be like being in a relationship with an armed forces serviceman without any of the guarantees or community of that life  -- he could get killed or possessed and she might never even know about it – a rough row to hoe.

Lisa Braeden is another love interest Dean seeks out after he’s made the deal with one year left to live. (My husband always wonders how she has such a nice big house in that gated community on a yoga instructor’s salary....)  We see that she is important to Dean beyond her position as the mother of his possible son when we see her again in the dreamroot vision, clearly representing the same sunlit world of women that his mother and Jess represent to Dean. To me, it is fair that she represents that world to Dean, with her big beautiful house, the elaborate birthday party she throws for her son, her bravery in the face of danger, her love for her son, and above all, the tentative offer she makes to include Dean in that life.  He is forced by his circumstances (the Deal) to reject her offer though it clearly pains him to do so; he falls back on the idea that the role of the Hunter is the only role he is fit for: “this is not my life.”  Dean chooses to dedicate his remaining years to killing as many evil sons of bitches as he possibly can, instead of getting to know Lisa and her son. He exiles himself from the sunny world she represents even as he longs for it.

Let’s turn next to the world of women allies beyond the Harvelles.  We’ve met several women in law enforcement who see, understand, and meet the challenges represented by the Winchesters and their world of Hunting.  Two examples include Deputy Kathleen Hudak, who teams up with Dean so that they can learn the fate of their respective brothers, and Detective Diana Ballard, who teams up with Sam to solve a string of murders that we eventually learn were actually committed by her partner. Both these women are strong and capable law enforcement officers who come to respect the Winchesters’ dedication to Hunting, and are respected by the Winchesters in turn.  Oddly, both these women are faced by threats that are actually not supernatural, but rather stem from brutal men. They end their respective episodes saddened but alive.

Another woman character I enjoy is Lenore, who attempts to lead her family of vampires out of the realm of the supernatural into the realm of sunlight, by convincing them to drink cow’s blood and have dayjobs instead of preying on humans.  She is portrayed in marked contrast to the horrific Hunter gone mad, Gordon, who killed his own sister after she became a vampire. Lenore, though placed in the tragic position of having her family hunted down and destroyed one by one, refuses to allow her bloodthirsty nature as a vampire to triumph over her ethical understanding.   She cleverly arranges the abduction of Sam in order to convince him of her trustworthiness, developing the Winchesters as allies, and opening the eyes of Dean to  the true nature of Gordon, whom Dean had empathized with as a dedicated and self-sacrificing Hunter.   Lenore survives!  And leads her remaining family to a new safe location. Lenore, as a woman, represents a choice away from the darkness of the world of the supernatural, and toward the daylight world of home and family – not a misogynistic, but a women-centered (feminist) outcome.

I’m willing to discuss other woman characters such as Ava, Layla, Tamara, etc. but don’t necessarily think that their identities as women defines their character. Even the two new girls, Bela  and Ruby, though certainly cast as sexy women, do not seem to be woman characters first and foremost.

One more thing before concluding:  the attitude toward Sex on the show. Dean is a sex-positive thinker.  He sees sex as recreation and wants to enjoy it with whatever willing partner he comes across.  I get the impression that Dean would be an enthusiastic, attentive, and respectful partner.   I’d actually be more wary of getting involved with Sam, who seems to have a welter of expectations as to what sex might entail. I think Sam chooses rightly to keep himself reined in, and I believe that the two brothers both respect women as sexual creatures in their own ways – Dean by having a lot of fun, and Sam by staying unentangled. I especially liked Dean’s astonishment in Jus in Bello that the very kind and attractive Nancy is a virgin – he’s like, “no one is a virgin” -- she says she is and very earnestly defends her status as “a choice”.  He seems to respect that and yet conveys his willingness to help her out should she change her mind.   For Dean, it is not whether or not Nancy is a virgin, but whether or not to intentionally sacrifice a human in order to win their battle. His respect for Nancy’s life is not tied to her status as a virgin, but to her identity as a human being (not a demon).

In conclusion, I acknowledge that women are often put into the position of “victim” on the show.  This seems to be a feature of the horror genre.  (Show actually parodies this trope in the Hollywood Babylon episode.)  While Sam and Dean are Heroes, roaming about fighting evil and sacrificing themselves, they have cut themselves off from much of human life, a fact that Sam initially rebelled against, the character of Gordon played out to a horrific extreme, and something Dean is coming to understand and regret.   It is a show about two brothers, something the Show’s creative team strives to keep free of an encumbrance of supporting characters (no matter how much we long for the return of Ellen). I might even posit that the wealth of wincest represents a desire on the part of fandom to create a deeper sense of home for the boys by uniting them into romantic love, since they have denied all attachments to anyone but each other.  The world of love, home and safety has been assigned to women in our patriarchal society, but that world also serves as a utopian model of perfected society if women are allowed to be fully human and men are not always excluded from it by their status as warriors.  In my opinion, the narrative desire of the Winchesters, constantly deferred by the generic demands of serial television, is to fight their way through all the evil of the supernatural and finally win a place in the sunlit home.
Comments 
26th-Feb-2008 12:30 am (UTC)
Thank you for this insightful and thought provoking meta. While I think Spn, along with most prime time tv, can fall into gender stereotyping, it does achieve a lot that is good with its female chacrters - particularly within a horror genre, where I think the violence inherent in the genre is often going to be problematic when it occurs against women.

For me the stand out acheivement is that the four recurring female characters - Jo, Ellen, Ruby, and Bela - are almost unique on TV in that none of them are defined (or even involved) in a romantic relationship with another character, while at the same time certainly not being portrayed as non-sexual, or incapable of love.



26th-Feb-2008 07:20 pm (UTC) - Ruby and Bela
Thanks for your response! I do think that while Ruby and Bela are sexy, and not unaware of their sexual attractiveness, it is a strength of the show that they don't deal with Sam and Deal on that level. They are characters rife with their own hidden motivations that are not defined by gender roles.

I did like Sam's "wet dream" about Bela and how disturbing he found it, that his unconscious mind went there with her! His reaction was so embarrassed 12 year old boy! It's an interesting contrast to the dreamroot vision Dean, our supposed horndog, has of Lisa...
26th-Feb-2008 12:45 am (UTC)
Awesome meta.
I've never accepted the theory that Supernatural exercises any sort of mysogeny, purposeful or accidental.

I do accept that it has to bow to certain requirements put upon it by the number crunching PTB, (stereotyping, a jiggle of the T&A, overabundance of pretty face) but it finds what ways it can to equalize.

Dean's- Don't objectify me! statement, for one.

It is silly to think that only men would be put into danger by the Supernatural, or that they would be the only ones forced to be violated by aliens and then slow dance with their freaky, big headed captors... oh, wait.

No woman character has ever had to go through that on this show... anyhow.

Though they have yet to really make a female character that makes me say YES!, they've put out a large share of above average characters for the Winchesters to play off.

Thanks again for positing, and being very thorough in explaining why you feel the way you do.
26th-Feb-2008 07:48 pm (UTC)
Thanks so much for your response. I hope it provided a bit of another way to look at things!
(Deleted comment)
26th-Feb-2008 07:23 pm (UTC)
Thanks for your response. I'm not sure I fully agree with all of it myself! I never really commit to just one argument... but I wanted to post this side of things to see if people find it convincing...
26th-Feb-2008 02:33 am (UTC)
This a very coherent, well-written essay, and I appreciate have a background in literary and feminist theory. The caliber of the essay shows your skill.

I find your claim facinating and I especially how succinct it is. Your examples are very carefully considered, as well.

I wrote a similar type of meta (a feminist view on how some aspects of Malleus Maleficarum might not be "misogynistic"), but it is not as nearly concise, well-thought out, or tightly-woven as this. If you'd like a read (and could offer some suggestions for better coherency), this is the link: http://crossroads-lore.livejournal.com/1789.html

As I am still an undergraduate (in classics, not english, women's studies, or literary theory), so I can't compare to the quality of work you have here, but I'd love any constructive criticism.

Again, I enjoyed this and I hope to make time to re-read this soon!
26th-Feb-2008 02:34 am (UTC)
Sorry, I don't have the option to edit. I meant to say: and I appreciate that you have a background in literary and feminist theory.
26th-Feb-2008 03:33 am (UTC)
Okay, this is in no way a complete response and doesn't negate the point of your post (I do think you make some good points here, and I agree there are some good female characters on the show), but I just gotta tell you what I find troubling about Madison.

When Sam meets her she seems to be a very empowered woman. She was a victim, but she took control of her life and dumped her loser/abusive boyfriend. We later find out that the werewolf bite (what she took to be a mugging) gave her the oomph to do it. I don't think it's ever made completely clear if her transformation in a stronger person was physically a result of the bite, but that was definitely hinted at. It felt to me like, upon that reveal, the power to make those positive life changes came from something supernatural, not from her own abilities. This is problem #1 for me because the strong woman is not really a strong woman––she's a werewolf. I would very much like to believe that it was only the shock of almost losing her life that caused her to enact those changes, but I'm not convinced that's what the writers had in mind.

My second problem with her is a larger one. You said:

She does die a noble death – facing her death without complaint when she realizes that she is doomed – so that can be admired. The equation of the sexy woman with the destructive animal – a step toward misogyny – is mitigated by her bravery and humanity when she accepts death as a way to keep from becoming a beast and killing again.

True, she opts for the noble self sacrifice rather than live as a monster. But when it comes down to it she puts the gun in Sam's hand. She doesn't even retain the power to off herself, it's all placed on him––I'll be honest, I just don't like the image of a woman begging a man (especially one she was intimate with) to shoot and kill her. It may be her sacrifice but it's ultimately Sam who pulls the trigger. Compare this to Sam in Croatoan telling Dean to hand him the gun, "I'll do it myself" when he believed himself to be in a similar situation. Madison basically says to Sam, "I need you to save me." For whatever reason, she's incapable of saving herself.

And at the end of the show we're feeling Sam's pain, not Madison's. I totally understand that Sam's the main character and we are suppose to focus on him...but do you see where I'm getting the misogynistic vibe from? I don't think it was intentional on the part of the writers/crew/cast but I still feel it. I'm definitely not saying you have to feel it too, I just wanted to share so you'd understand why some of us have a problem with that character/episode.

On a lighter note, I agree 100% with what you said at the end about Wincest as a desire in fandom to create a deeper sense of home. I'm not someone who sees evidence of Wincest in canon, but boy, after some of these episodes I just want those two to curl up and be safe and cuddle or something...
26th-Feb-2008 08:09 pm (UTC)
OK, now I'm going to have to go back and watch Heart again! It's one that I've watched fewer times than most...

I can't come down on the issue of whether or now Madison should take responsibility for pulling the trigger herself. To me, she takes responsibility for her own death by making the decision. And I do think the issue is clouded because we are watching Sam and Dean's emotional response to the situation -- she is not the focus. With vampires and werewolves Show has been trying to confuse the issue with how human they remain, whether or not someone is a "monster" (this clearly is meant to parallel psychic!Sammy with the demonblood and the mysterious destiny) -- I think it has to come down to the choices they make. To me, ethics is paramount, and Madison makes the ethical decision in the end -- whereas I think her werewolfiness might have had some impact on her actions when she didn't even realize it.

I don't think that Sammy pulling the trigger should be construed as misogynistic -- I support the "right to die" in real life cases, and I see Sam as empowering Madison's decision. It's possible the werewolf side of her might try to protect itself somehow and screw up a suicide attempt; also there's a right and a wrong way to pull the trigger and sadly Sam is a professional....
26th-Feb-2008 03:35 am (UTC)
Thank you very much for this very thoughtful and well expressed analysis of gender issues on the show. There are so many fans out there who compare Supernatural to Buffy and question why there aren't more empowered women fighting the supernatural on this show. I think your essay gets at the heart of why Supernatural isn't Buffy. The central focus of Buffy is of a girl becoming a woman through her fight against the dark, so empowered women warriors is sort of the point. Supernatural, on the other hand, is a tragic tale about two lost boys looking for the home they lost and really never finding it. Therefore, the focus is rightly not on empowered female side characters, but rather the boys and their issues. In essence, I agree with you completely and applaud your ability to express that in a way that is far more literary and intelligent sounding than what I just said.
26th-Feb-2008 08:15 pm (UTC)
Thanks so much for your kind comment. I was a huge Buffy fan, and also a firefly fan, and I do find Joss's exploration of the strangely powerful teenage girl to be a compelling one. It does puzzle me why people didn't like Jo -- as far as we know, she's still out there Hunting evil just like the Winchesters, except all on her own! so I've always liked her just fine.

In terms of Jo as a love interest for Dean I've also felt sympathetic to her. Who can honestly say that in her position they would not have a crush on Dean? She gets over it! Maybe someday we'll be watching the Jo Harvelle Chronicles -- a lone woman Hunter could make for some pretty interesting viewing...
26th-Feb-2008 03:41 am (UTC)
I just wanted to comment and say how much I enjoyed your essay, and how right on the money I thought it was. Thank you for posting this!
26th-Feb-2008 08:16 pm (UTC)
Well thanks! I really appreciate your taking time to comment!
26th-Feb-2008 10:47 pm (UTC)
I'm behind on all things fandom, but I really wanted to stop by and say how much I appreciate your essay and the different angle it brings to the discussion. As you, I do believe that a text/show can portray more than just one side of an argument at the very same time, and that is important to keep an eye on all of it, in order to see what you have eloquently expressed above.

Thanks :)
27th-Feb-2008 11:24 am (UTC)
Thanks for your kind response. Just as you say, I just wanted to contribute another viewpoint to the discussion. As a utopianist, I tend to look at the bright side of texts -- that is, what progressive direction they might support -- but I also feel like a person should speak out she is offended -- otherwise, how will the offenders know they are being offensive?
27th-Feb-2008 04:40 am (UTC)
I really appreciate your take on the featured female characters depicted in SPN and you have voiced so much of what has been on my mind but I have not been able to articulate nearly as well or comprehensively.

I would debate [probably pedantically] with you over Dean's sex life. I think he is quite specific about his choice of partners and that is reflected in his comments about women (especially this season ie Lisa and her "bendability", Casey and her "nickel" arse and the slim pickings of Sam's afternoon bar hop), so the term "any willing partner" is a little misleading. Dean likes "hot" or very attractive women and makes no apologies for it. In one sense I can see where comments like these may have caused some of the comments about SPN being sexist or misogynistic. Given that, I don't doubt that he would be "enthusiastic, attentive, and respectful partner".
27th-Feb-2008 11:57 am (UTC)
Hey, thanks for your comment. You know, it didn't really occur to me that all Dean's partners are "hot" ... I didn't get the nickel comment and still haven't figured it out! The bendiness of Lisa is more of a skill than an innate hotness -- but I'm not really arguing with you. In terms of actors on the CW, we certainly see a very narrow range of the potentially "hot" folks of the world; my sister actually has trouble watching Supernatural due to this very complaint; and this is a charge that feminists have rightly levelled against media for a long time with limited success -- the damage caused by the very narrow conception of physical beauty, and the linkage between female appearance and worth.

I kind of liked the scene in Tall Tales where we view Dean's bar friend through the eyes of both brothers -- she was undeniably "hot" yet while she looked drunk and "trashy" to Sam, Dean described her defensively as "classy" and an anthropology student (I think) -- I also liked how Dean was actually a big fan of the actor in Hollywood Babylon that he ends up having sex with, knows a lot about her career and is very respectful to her.

Since this is my little mini-essay on Dean and sex! I have a question. Why is Dean asleep in the car in the morning after his "good times" in the haunted painting episode? don't he and Sam have a room? That is the sexual encounter (if it occurred) that seems the most offensive to me, since he tells the two women that he is a Hollywood guy scouting for talent, and obviously can't deliver on that.... but I'm just not sure it actually happened!

One more! I actually feel like his escapade with the Twins at the beginning of Season 3 is a sign of the bad place he is in post-Deal, like the poor eating habits that he ramps up as well.

I do think I see a lot of extrapolation in my own thinking that's not supported by Show in this regard. As a person who's been in a monogamous relationship for the past 15 years, I'm kind of fascinated by Dean and his attitude toward sex so radically different from my own life experience! I love Dean and probably defend him too much.

Finally, I'm so proud of Nancy for defending her status as a virgin -- It's a choice!
27th-Feb-2008 10:49 pm (UTC) - Dean Lisa and Cassie
I was surprised in Dream a Little Dream of Me when Lisa was there as Dean's ideal women,and I started to think that maybe he loved her like he did Cassie. But then I realized no he didn't love her he loved what she represented a nice house, a safe life, a great son someone to love him. He didn't particularly love her, but I think he would've liked to if he got the chance. Now Cassie I honeslty think, from what we know of so far,that she was probably the only woman besides his mother that he has ever loved.
28th-Feb-2008 02:38 pm (UTC) - Re: Dean Lisa and Cassie
Thanks very much for commenting! I think that one thing is for sure about Dean: he has a HUGE capacity for love that has been largely untapped in his life, and has been focused entirely toward his dad and brother (I don't mean wincest here, but the soul-deep love that Dean has for Sammy in canon). I was discussing with someone once the idea of Dean as "cool" -- detached, nonchalant -- and as much as the image of his character is formed around the idea of cool, Dean is really NOT -- he is always passionately devoted to his mission, primarily protecting the innocent. I just LOVE how show has portrayed his relationship to children like Lucas, Michael, and not just Ben but the other changeling victims -- he really cares about them and he cuts through the adult/child difference to meet them on their level to talk about what really matters to them, and he always tells them the truth. So that capacity for love is directed not just toward Sammy, but also toward someone like Ben (who really might be his son, despite what Lisa said) and to Lisa, who I think Dean has latched onto in his mind not just because she's the mother of Ben (or hot in the sack as his fond memories suggest!) but because she has seen and acknowledged Dean's reality of Hunting, and has still extended an invitation to him to Stay. It's so heartbreaking how he has to deny that invitation, because of the impending doom! In all, the potential for a relationship with Cassie has played out -- they're just not right for each other -- whereas with Lisa that potential is still there. I think if he lives, he will definitely go back and look her up. And just think, if you were loved by Dean, what a love that would be!
5th-Mar-2008 05:41 pm (UTC)
I agree with Anonoymous
9th-Mar-2008 08:27 am (UTC)
I'm just catching up with fandom's thoughts now, but I wanted to say how much I enjoyed your meta.

I've always found it interesting that the vast majority of law-enforcement-related characters who the boys needed help from were women. Kathleen and Diana's involvements certainly weren't altruistic as they had vested interests in a favorable outcome for the boys (thus this could be used to support the "women in need/peril" argument to some degree), but Mara Daniels--the Public Defending in "FPB" (2x19)--didn't have anything at stake.

Considering her importance in the plot (hello, plot device), I wonder about her motivation and consequently why that character was made female. Perhaps a women would tend to be more susceptible to Dean's pleading looks and women-charming ways, making it more believable that she'd be sympathetic and put her job on the line to thwart the FBI (the boys aren't beyond using their sexual appeal to get what they want, take Sam being manhandled by a women in "RSaM" (3x06)). I'm not saying that this role couldn't have been fulfilled by a man, but I wonder if the Public Defender was deemed female because a women might've taken less set-up to be convincing (women are generally percieved to be more intuitive and empathetic than men right or wrong). Considering the little screen time she got and how generally flat her character was compared to the importance of her role, it seemed efficiency could've been a factor.

Anyway, it brings up an interesting question about why certain stock characters are made male or female. Random? Mytharc-related? Plot-driven? Genre-dictated? Or a result of societal-norms? Maybe a combination...

I might even posit that the wealth of wincest represents a desire on the part of fandom to create a deeper sense of home for the boys by uniting them into romantic love, since they have denied all attachments to anyone but each other.

Amen. I think you hit the nail on the head.
9th-Mar-2008 04:59 pm (UTC)
Thanks for your great comment! Thanks especially for bringing up Mara Daniels, and I agree with you. I do think that Dean relied on his ability to convince her by looking into her eyes! (Dean's enormous sincere green eyes = no possibility he's a psychopath --I also liked the way they parodied that somewhere in season three with his little "you're no killer" spiel-- I think in Bad Day at Black Rock?) He attributed her ability to judge his honesty to her skill and experience as an attorney, but I think as a viewer we are more likely to believe in a woman going on her intuition. (She is also supporting whether or not to help Dean with the seemingly random info by her knowledge of the discrepancies in his file.) I think another facet of her character is her contrast with Agent Henriksen, and he really comes off as a jerk when she approaches him with the things that don't add up in the boys' files and he dismisses her with a comment that seems to denigrate the quality of her work. In all I liked Henriksen as a foil for the Winchesters, but he is a jerk to Ms. Daniels! and it does seem to be a bit sexist on his part -- or maybe he just regards her as an impediment. I do think we are meant to believe she helped Dean at least in part to get at Henriksen for being so rude to her -- her little grin as she gets in her car in her last scene.

As for gendering of stock characters, it does bring up some cool questions, especially when they are cross cast. Wasn't Zoe on Firefly originally a guy's role? It works a lot better as a woman in my opinion.

Wouldn't it have been fascinating if the character of Jo had been a boy? and done all the exact same things, like hero worshipping the Winchesters and wanting to go on hunts with them?
10th-Mar-2010 01:12 am (UTC)
Hi! I found your essay when searching "supernatural feminism" on google! I just got into the show, and have got far too used to Whedon shows (Buffy, Firefly, Dollhouse) as he is a self proclaimed feminist and always has strong female leads. I felt that the writers of this show missed out on golden opportunities to bring in strong female characters.

I’ve never understood why there is so much animosity in fandom toward Jo.

I agree. Jo was a character that for me finally showed the women's role in this world. And they disposed of her after a few episodes.

I'm hoping for more strong female characters in the next seasons, or, more specifically, a strong recurring character. Because although the female characters Sam and Dean have encountered over the years (and for the most part I think they were written and acted well), I think the show is seriously lacking a vital component here!

Thanks for the essay btw. Very enjoyable and thought provoking read! :D
10th-Mar-2010 03:20 pm (UTC)
Thanks for your comment! This essay is getting a little old these days, but I'm glad you found it.

You might also enjoy my fic challenge that I posed for myself, to write about every female character that appears on the Show. So far, I've completed the first two seasons. :) You can find them using my tag Women of spn.

Cheers,
fannishliss
7th-Sep-2010 04:59 pm (UTC)
I just found this- I know, old news and stuff, but I wasn't in the fandom back in 2008- and I have nothing else to add except that this is brilliant and there's nothing I don't agree with.
I'd like to hear what you think about the females after the fourth and fifth season. And especially about Lisa, the hate she gets saddens me.

The pure hate in this fandom towards female characters- omg they get in the way!!11- just baffles me. No, I don't like all the female characters but it's not like I like all the guys either. :(

The recent animosity towards Lisa- wanting her to die because she let Dean in, really now fandom?- doesn't make sense to me, I personally find her a very good person and generally likable, but I guess that's just me. Just my two cents.
7th-Sep-2010 07:54 pm (UTC)
Well, thanks very much for your comment!

I am currently working on a series of codas to 5.22 which are Dean/Lisa positive :) so you might be interested.

You can also read about my fic into s3, featuring all women characters of Supernatural by episode. Use my tag women of spn to find them. :)

Now re Lisa. I really want fans to go back and take a long, hard look at Dean's interactions with Lisa -- not just Kids, which is really a wonderful portrait of the multifaceted person Lisa is, but the tiny snapshot we get of her at the end of 99 Problems, when Dean goes to tell her he's going to make arrangements for her and Ben. I mean he shows up out of the blue and she immediately understands that he's in trouble, that he needs help, and tries to stop him from doing anything rash. Moreover, have we ever heard Dean be this honest with anyone??
Lisa: Dean, you didn't come all the way here to talk about real estate. You all right?
Dean: No, not really.
Lisa: Well, what is it?
Dean: Look, I have no illusions. Okay, I know the life that I live, I know how that's gonna end for me. Whatever, I'm okay with that. But I wanted you to know, that when I do picture myself happy, it's with you. And the kid.
Lisa: well...
Dean: You don't have to say anything, uh.
Lisa: I mean, I know. I know. I want to. Come inside let me get you a beer.
I love the energy, the connection, that flows between Dean and Lisa in this scene. I love the way that Dean opens up and trusts Lisa with his feelings, and the way she entirely understands where he's coming from without even knowing the situation. I adore her for the way she begs him to come inside just for an hour, the way she insists he has a choice.
You can see Lisa's real strength of character in this scene -- but also, her acknowledgment of whatever it is that's between them. I'm sorry, call me a hopeless romantic, but sometimes two people just get each other --- the way very few people have ever really gotten Dean.

You know, I could turn around and levy a feminist critique at the narrative, that Lisa is a convenient haven for Dean in a retro way, but I don't think that's really accurate. I actually believe that women are held up as role models on Supernatural -- positive role models for family and stability, everything the rogue Winchester lifestyle is explicitly not. And Lisa represents the side of life where she made a real and conscious choice between the Wild Side she walked on as a young woman, and the woman of responsibility she is now. I like her a lot.
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