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Supernatural is truth
Gender Bias in Supernatural: The Cold Hard Stats. 
11th-Jun-2011 04:02 pm
Thinky thougts

Supernatural? Yeah. You know, the one where female characters go to die?

Um, wait.

Okay, everyone knows that Supernatural has stirred up a lot of talk about gender roles, biases, and plain ol’ woman-hating, and often one of the central arguments to this is: but they keep killing off the women! Some people agree, some don’t, but when ash48 went in search of some solid facts, as cold and hard as anything in the Impala’s trunk, she came up with zilch. Nada. Squat. That’s when she and bythedamned teamed up to log the hours, tally the numbers and settle, if not years of debate, then at least their own curiosities.

First off, disclaimers:

1) We did this for fun, guys, not to offend or undermine anyone who has a personal interest in the treatment of genders on Supernatural.

2) This is a post about who survives and who dies a horrible, bloody, memorable death on Supernatural. If you’re not done with Season 6, please don’t let us spoil the fun for you, and stop reading now.

3) Holy crap this was hard! Seriously! Do you have any idea how many people die, and then come back, but possibly not for real/in a different body/only temporarily, only to die again? Okay, yes, yes you do. And since we had to draw some lines in the sand just to get this done at all, here are the guidelines we followed:

    a). We only counted true deaths. People and entities who were gone for good once they were killed, not resurrected, or just stuck hanging out in Heaven or Hell for a while. This means that the deaths of Cas, Bobby, Crowley, and (most importantly) Sam and Dean were not counted. That’s right. Cold Oaks? Mystery Spot? Every time Cas’s head exploded? None of them counted, ‘cause we all knew they were coming back. The one exception: Grandpa Samuel. His 1979 death and his 2011 were separate, legitimate events, and were both counted.

    b). Only people who died in the episodes made the list. That means when the boys intimidate a two-sentence-Sheriff into telling them that 3 people have died in this county alone, if we only saw 1 of them bite it, only 1 was counted.

    c). Children are included in the counts, by gender.

    d). Demon and angel vessels were counted, too, and boy did they go through those like cheap toilet paper. That means that Meg’s death was counted in season 1, when she was seen to die in Devil's Trap.

    e). We’ve also got a separate tally for people who died in the pre-title shot sequences, ‘cause we all know that’s just a warm up anyway.

    f). We didn’t count the monsters of the week deaths, because they were (generally) supposed to die. We do have a tally of their genders, though.

Yeah. Rules, rules rules. They seemed like the only way to do this fairly. But now, onto the good stuff.

So, did the show kill way more women than men? Not really, no.

Okay, but it’s still a few more women, right? Actually… still no.

In every single season, there were notably (overwhelmingly) more men killed. The number of women killed was never more than 2/3 that of the men, and usually more like 1/2. In the entire show, all seasons combined, there were 178 men and 86 women killed.

And you can see that this dynamic held true for every season, so when we talk about blanket statistics, it applies to the whole run of the show. There was a bit more variability in the pre-title openers, especially when in s4 they up and blasted 8 nuns in the name of Lucifer, but the overall trend still holds.

What’s interesting is that if you look at the survival rate – not just people who ambled by a demon and, by some grace, were left with their ribcages intact, but people Sam, Dean and Co. actually saved – there were actually around 60% more females.

So really, instead of running around with their violent misogyny unchecked, it actually seems like Supernatural’s guilty of the same stereotypical pitfall that lots of shows are. The women are more likely to be rescued than be the rescuer, and more of them make it out alive, because who wants to see pretty girly guts all over the ceiling fan? This is something else the show gets a lot of flak for, but it does pass the Bechdel test at least some of the time, which gives it a leg up over many other shows in terms of political correctness. Go Show!

But this raises the question: Why, why, why, does it seem like they’re offing women left and right? Especially if the stats so blatantly state the opposite?

Well, (and beware, personal opinion ahead) if you take a look at the notable deaths, the numbers are actually perfectly equal but if you look at the short list of the most important people in the boys’ lives, who’ve been as close to the Winchester inner circle as anyone ever gets, you’ve got: John and Mary, Jess, their surrogate parental figures Bobby and Ellen, and Jo. Mary and Jess were gone in the pilot, the catalysts for their devotion to their entire lifestyle, and John was gone by the start of Season 2. That’s their whole family, and the woman we know Sam wanted to make family, had she survived long enough to slip that shiny little ring on her finger. Bam, bam, bam, all gone. Two women, one man.

Then Bobby and Ellen stepped in where John and Mary no longer could, and Jo became part of the package by virtue of being Ellen’s daughter and, for you shippers out there, the only viable love interest Dean really had. Another two women + one man, but this time the guy survived, leaving the death tally of most notable losses to 4 women : 1 man. That alone might be an answer, but it’s not the only one.

After that, the show really failed to bring in new female characters that were as important to the boys. The only women really worth remembering that were introduced after s2 are the Big Bads of seasons 4 and 6, Lilith and Eve, and two once-allies(ish)-turned-enemies, Ruby and Anna. Oh, plus the other love-to-hate-her girl of the hour, Bela, and then Pamela. All strong women, all dead. But it’s important to remember: Ruby and Anna both shared beds (cough, ahem, backseats) with the boys, making them each another woman that got close and then bit the dust.

And that seems to be the trend. It’s not quite horror-movie-logic where anyone who sleeps with a Winchester dies, but it’s those pesky feelings that seem to do them in. If you sleep with a brother because you care? That’s your death warrant, don’t let the reaper’s scythe nick you on the way out. Honestly, Madison, anyone? All Pamela did was invite them to bed and she only made 3 more appearances before dying in a pool of her own blood. And Bela, well, she was doing fine until Sam had to go dream about her naked. Then we got the lacey-bra shot of an unsigned contract renewal and there she went.


But Missouri? Who’d smack their knuckles with a spoon soon as they thought about snacking before dinner? Yup, still a healthy, breathing resident of Lawrence, Kansas.

It’s not that all sexualized women are goners – there are exceptions, of course, because what is Supernatural if not a series of special circumstances? Cassie was allowed to live long enough to show Dean the door and Lisa, who has lasted an entirely unprecedented 3 post-coital years (or should we call that 11?) may now finally be in the clear.

…Yeah, okay, probably not. But we’ll see what s7 has to offer.

That all leads to another round of ‘why’s and, really, that answer might lie with us. Who’s really going to be good enough for our boys? Jensen, Jared and Misha all pretty much agree that the fans aren’t very tolerant of female characters, and we all know what happens to unpopular characters, don’t we? Yup – the axe.

Sure, there are Jo/Dean shippers, and there’s plenty of Sam/Jess fic to go around, but what really dominates the fandom is either illegal or giving the finger to so many taboos (a gay angel? I’d like to see Sera try to pitch that one) that it’s never going to see the light of a CW Friday night spot. No matter how supportive the fandom may be, those aren't directions the canon will ever go.

Now, not only did Bobby dodge the bullet of lethal unpopularity, but so did Cas, making them the two most important non-family (but basically family) characters that survived, and they’re both male.

We’ve bid farewell to plenty of other notable men; Ash, Gordon, Uriel, Zachariah, Gabriel – good or bad, they played their part and were killed. Rufus was gone as soon as he started to seem significant. Poor Adam Mulligan was only important posthumously, and Grandpa Samuel had just enough time to change the definition of family before he was killed, for real, again. And these guys were important, they mattered, they were hinges in crucial plotlines, but they never got as close as the women did. And maybe, just maybe, we didn’t care as much.

But if the numbers tell us anything it’s that, across the board, there are more men on this set than women. More men die, and so many more that it doesn’t even make up for how many more women survive. The MOTWs are also more likely to be male than female, or even than of indeterminate gender like shifters or un-gendered evils, like curse-driven swarms of bugs. So six men, in the scheme of things, don’t really make a blip in the gender ratio we see. Six women, on the other hand? The show’s become a sausage fest.

Okay, so that was a few cold, hard numbers (the weapons trunk would be proud) and a lot of speculation that is by no means representative of anyone affiliated with the show Supernatural or the CW. If you want to take a look at the stats and decide for yourself, go ahead:

Again, this was just for a little self-indulgent fun. You can ping ash48 or bythedamned if you’ve really got a beef with this, or if something looks off. We're open to discussion of course, but remember this was done for fun.

And massive thanks to el1ie, for her artistic talent and fantastic ideas. We couldn’t have done it without you! <33

Other than that, hope you guys enjoy,

bythedamned and ash48


Data gathering: bythedamned and ash48
Meta and graphs: bythedamned
Banner and graphics: el1ie


8/11/11 Update from the Authors:

Hi guys - just popping back in here to answer a question that keeps coming up in the comments. A lot of you have (rightly) pointed out that a better representation of the deaths for each gender would be a ratio of (# gender killed)/( gender total). We totally agree. The only problem is that knowing what we know now, after just doing these numbers, we're 100% certain it would actually be a huge undertaking. There have been several helpful comments about where to pull numbers from - supernaturalwiki.com being the most obvious - but the problem with that is the extras. It's our fault for not making this clear from the get-go: our death total includes every extra we could possibly count. Remember in Mommy Dearest (6x19) when Eve incites a whole bar to kill each other? And later when Castiel tells the boys to shut their eyes and smokes every demon in the diner? Check, those made the tally. That's because we believed the deaths you see, even if they're not singled out as significant, affect your perception of the show, and also why we gave a separate count for notable deaths.

A good example is the episode 99 Problems (5x17) where there's a mass killing of demons. Supernaturalwiki lists 8 non-resurrected characters for our tally, and IMDB gives us 9.  Problem is? We counted 16 deaths. There's a whole church full of men and women that would need to be counted for our numbers to even be remotely accurate. So the dilemma becomes finding a count of each gender that involves every extra that made it onto aired footage, and we have no idea where to get those numbers. The only option is watching every episode and handcounting all the faces we see and, I think we can all agree, that would take ages. Would it be fun? Hell yeah. But massively time consuming too. If anyone knows where we might get a set of numbers that comprehensive, by all means tell us and we'll be happy to crunch the data.

So after that little explanation, we hope you can all understand and forgive us for not delivering those numbers. If any other brave soul wants to give it a shot, we will happily give you our spreadsheets/strategy/red bull/back massages and anything else you might need to fuel you along. And in the meantime, word has it that ash48 has devoted her time to a meta a little (hell, a lot) sexier, complete with shirtless pictures of everyone's favorite little brother. 

bythedamned and ash48
11th-Jun-2011 08:36 am (UTC)
quick question. I haven't gotten a chance to finish reading all of this but I know I'll forget the question if I don't comment now lol. When you did totals of male vs female deaths, did you tally the ratio of one to the other. What I mean is, for example, if there are overall more male characters on the show then yes there will be more males in the death totals and vice versa for females. So you need to find out which gender has the most characters over all then use that to make a ratio of gender deaths per that gender - i.e. [(male deaths - number of male characters) divided by number of male characters] multiplied by 100.

Sorry, just a geeky science major adding their two cents XD
11th-Jun-2011 08:50 am (UTC)
Ah yes... good question. Didn't do that but we can. Let us get back to you.

11th-Jun-2011 08:51 am (UTC)
Thank you for these numbers!

Are there any instances of Show passing the Bechdel test that don't involve Ellen and Jo talking to each other?

I was wondering what your qualifications for notable deaths were? If they're people who have had a profound impact on the boys, would Pastor Jim be included? But if you base it on the amount of episodes they appeared in, why are the psychic kids, Andy and Ava in particular, not notable deaths?

Are Lucifer and Michael considered deaths, or just hanging out in hell for a while? If they are hanging out, why is Adam not also considered hanging out in hell? If they are dead, why are they not notable deaths?
11th-Jun-2011 08:58 am (UTC)
In short we had a combination of characters who had an impact on the boys and those who appeared in more than one episode.

Pastor Jim and Caleb caused us some problems. Initially we had them in and then thought that fandom has made more out of the characters than the show did. Caleb hardly appeared at all. We know he was a family friend (like Jim) but had no screen time. We counted the death, but didn't consider him notable.

But we realise that others might. We had to make a judgement call on that one.

Edited at 2011-06-11 08:59 am (UTC)
11th-Jun-2011 08:57 am (UTC)
Interesting .Honestly I don't care about the gender on the person who is evil or what gender,color and religion it is on the person who dies in a TV show . Evil is evil and death is a death. I never understood why a death of a women is so more important then over a man .Do i get upset and sad then women and children getting killed,raped ,beaten or treated unfairly just because they are seen as the “weak” in real life, of course it make me see red . But it also make me sad then men is the victim too.

yes sometimes innocent women dies but so does the men and the children too in TV shows ,so this just confirmed what I suspected: it's more men who dies then women .
11th-Jun-2011 09:20 am (UTC)
Yes. This was mostly for interest sake. We are not making any judgment on the show. The show deals with a lot of death - in fact bases most episodes around someone dying.

Agreed though.. all death is sad. No matter the gender.

Thanks for dropping by. :)
11th-Jun-2011 09:25 am (UTC)
I love you guys for putting this together and posting it. It's obvious that a lot of hard and tedious work went into this, and even if ya'll did it just for fun, hard statistics are a great thing to have on hand! And it's personally annoying to have so many opinions going around on your favorite show that conflict with your own, so it's nice to have some cold hard facts to fall back on when you're not in the mood for opinions. Props to you guys for your hard and creative work. :)
11th-Jun-2011 09:26 am (UTC)
P.S. I love that your notable deaths are perfectly equal in gender. :)
11th-Jun-2011 09:25 am (UTC)
Wow, looks amazing, you guys! Congratulations on your brilliant hard work!

The graphics are super pretty!
11th-Jun-2011 10:02 am (UTC)
Thanks sweetie. (A wee bit of madness just might have come into it. /o\ :D)

And yay! el1ie is awesome. Gave us some pretty pics... and was patient with all our demands.. *hugs*
11th-Jun-2011 09:27 am (UTC)
Thank you for all the hard work and research hours that went into this. It's what makes Supernatural fandom stand out - even our math geeks are super-cool.
11th-Jun-2011 11:40 am (UTC)
Thanks hun!

It's amazing what fanning a show like this can bring out it us. Maths and me are far from close. Though I suspect bythedamned might be closer... she's certainly responsible for organising and making sense of all this. :)

yay! icon... I'm feeling it. :)
11th-Jun-2011 09:45 am (UTC)
This was really interesting and provides an amazing fact of trivia and quite the good death-count overview (if you look at the absolute numbers instead of the ratio, due to the point strgazr04 mentioned in a comment above). Thanks so much for taking the time to do this and sharing, it is highly appreciated :)
11th-Jun-2011 04:40 pm (UTC)
Yeah, it really would be nice to have the ratio. I'm glad you still found it interesting though :)
11th-Jun-2011 09:48 am (UTC)
I think it's very cool that you did this. Even the thought of trying to decide on the rules when half the people in the show seem to treat death like a vacation is overwhelming to me!

I have to say that I'm not surprised by the results. I'm one of the (probably unpopular) few who doesn't find the show misogynistic. It's a show with more men in it, focussed on their relationships with other male characters, notably their extended family - get over it, you know? I am personally refreshed by a show where romantic interests are neither the focus nor the point. But anyway, that's another story.

(And, really, anyone looking for social commentary in a show focussed on monsters, demons and killer trucks is likely to be disappointed...)

More men are in the show, so more men die. Seems fair. It's probably less fair that Sam seems to have the cock of death and Dean appears to be catching it off him (heh, I wonder how? *dirty laugh*), but still...The simple fact is that a lot of fans bitch when the boys' focus wavers from one another and onto a viable love interest for more than half an episode.

Great work, guys. And I love the tongue in cheek meta.
11th-Jun-2011 04:51 pm (UTC)
Ugh, the rules. Yeah, they took some doing :P

I never really thought the show was misogynistic either, until everyone made a ruckus over it. And then I thought, well, they do have a point. They could work in a few more women if they tried. Honestly, sometimes I think this would all be less of an issue if Buffy hadn't come along first. People would probably chalk it up a lot more to just being the genre, but Joss just set the bar for a fantasy/horror bechdel test so high it's hard to compete. (I probably shouldn't even say that though because, damn, that's an even bigger discussion than Supernatural's treatment of women).

I like your way of looking at it, that it's a show about men and how they interact with other men. It's not that they can't add women, it's just that it's not the point.

Glad you liked the meta!

Edited at 2011-06-11 05:16 pm (UTC)
11th-Jun-2011 09:50 am (UTC)
that was very interesting!

its really nice to see some hard numbers once in a while. It is true that as far as significant characters that connect with the boys go the guys survive, but I would agree with you that its not mysoginistic tendencies that are to blame for that but the fans themselves.

While it is true that women get often portrayed as victims more often than men and are more likely to be sympathetic characters, I think Supernatural has the biggest pool of legitemite active, dominant women than most shows put together (even if they die^^)

So maybe its time to also talk about the horrible anti-feminist, mysoginistic tendencies in fandom, because honestly? the amount of hate that comes out of it seems to me way more destructive than anything else.

thank you again for taking so much time to work all of this out *hug*
11th-Jun-2011 04:54 pm (UTC)
Yeah, for a fandom full of women...

And, yeah, there have been some kick-ass women! At least we have some to mourn. It's a good point that the significant women who've died haven't been weaklings because a) our Winchester boys just don't go for that type :P and b) most of them have been in the fight. That's actually a really good point, that the bulk of them women on the show can hold their own.

Except... then they die. hrmm.

Anyway, glad you liked it! :) :)

Edited at 2011-06-11 04:59 pm (UTC)
11th-Jun-2011 10:09 am (UTC)
Wow... you've done an absolutely amazing job and shown us at least one scientific fact: Supernatural fandom is batshit crazy *lol* because only we fans would undertake to go through six seasons worth of deaths to scratch an itch. And yes, very interesting statistics you've put together there.

Thinking about it, I realize how many of the minor demons on the show are male for example... Dean needs to torture stuff for info? Male... Sam needs target practice? Male... Famine needs protective detail? Well, mostly male. Sam needs to drink a body pint of demon blood? yeah, WO-MAN.

I think it lies in the inherent mechanics of dramatic storytelling, plain and simple. That goes way beyond our show or even television, it's about the effects that a narrative can create in a receptor. But it's really great to have some tru fax about supernatural.
11th-Jun-2011 05:03 pm (UTC)
You raise a good point, and one I actually kind of wanted to put into the meta but forgot. Do you think more men audition to be extras? Maybe playing a demon or taking on a brief role where all you do is scream, hemorrhage and die is less appealing to female actors? Do you think the casting director says 'okay, we have 10 demons, and 8 of them should be male'? I kind of doubt it, cuz if they were paying that much attention they'd probably think to switch it up a bit. Maybe it's actually indicative of female tendencies in real life not to get involved with so much violence and... damn, but isn't that a thought?

Anyway, so glad you liked it!
11th-Jun-2011 10:37 am (UTC)
Thanks so much for doing this work. I'd love to do a huge meta in response to it, so I hope I have the time in the next few days!

I just picked up a copy of Backlash (1991)-- Faludi was looking at the culture of the late eighties and she pointed out how many shows were predicated on the deaths of women. Obviously, yes, Supernatural is predicated on the deaths of Mary and Jess -- but for me, the whole is built on trying to understand what happens to men (individually and culturally) when women are removed from the equation. It is a story about men, and as such, I'm frankly very impressed by the amazing women characters who are introduced on the show and who we grow to love, whether they die or not.

12th-Jun-2011 03:12 am (UTC)
Hi. Thanks so much. I would love to read a huge meta response to it! That would be awesome. I know we touched on a few things here but I think it opens up so thinky thoughts for other angles also.

I think acknowledging that SPN is a story about men is very interesting. I think we forget that sometimes. We can look at the world through the eyes of men - and that's OK. In fact, it's what I particularly love about the show.

The women who come in and out of their lives are amazing. And.. they don't always die. Some do... but then men do to.

We we look back over the seasons I think the women are particularly memorable.

Thanks for your feedback. (I look forward to reading your thinky thoughts).

11th-Jun-2011 10:59 am (UTC)
Wow that is awesome. It's not something I ever thought about but I was intrigued when I heard the topic. Good job guys. So are either of you statisticians in real life?
11th-Jun-2011 05:06 pm (UTC)
lol, no :P which is why there are actually very few statistics in it, just numbers. I, for one, couldn't even bear the thought of doing a p-test on any of this ;)

Glad you found it interesting, though! We definitely thought it was some fun food for thought.
12th-Jun-2011 03:16 am (UTC)
Yeah. Good point!

And I think actually working out this actual post took longer than gathering the figures. On reflection that was the easy part.

(though working out how some characters should be counted was tricky...)

Thanks hun! <3
11th-Jun-2011 11:52 am (UTC)
I love this fandom for it's OCD!
12th-Jun-2011 03:16 am (UTC)
HA! Ahhh.. yes. The thing Show makes us do. Well, some of us.../o\
11th-Jun-2011 12:00 pm (UTC)
This was a very interesting analysis and I'm impressed that you did it. I'm one of those that does not think the show is misogynistic - or, at least, not especially misogynistic (i.e. it is a product of a culture which is itself inherently misogynistic, so it will suffer from cultural misogyny as well, but it's not more misogynistic than any other show). I doubt it will settle any aruguments as the show has been slapped with the woman-hating label and that's stuck - so, many just accept it as a given at this point and it has has become the go-to criticism, whether warranted or not. But, know that your efforts are appreciated and I'm sure will be quoted in the future.
12th-Jun-2011 05:40 am (UTC)
Yeah, we had no illusions of grandeur where this would settle any debates :) More just that it was interesting to enter into the debates with some numbers under our belts. I honestly didn't know which way some of the counts would go when we started. I had a write up addressing why there were more female notable deaths until we added the numbers from the later seasons and realized they were perfectly even!

But anyway, glad you thought this was worth a post :)
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