Alright, ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to discuss whether or not Supernatural is sexist. I meant to have this written ages ago, but I have been having a hard time writing this particular post, because there are just so many factors to consider. Sexism is probably one of the most predominant criticisms of the show. Why? Because the women of Supernatural are often killed, portrayed as evil, or written off the show. Almost all of them are sexualized.
This is also because almost every female character on the show sleeps with either Dean or Sam, putting them squarely in the girlfriend category and thus, usually in the damsel-in-distress category. It’s true that the women Dean sleeps with have a higher survival rate, but they still tend to not do much and are often written off the show, though there are a few notable exceptions.
I used to think the survival rate of women on Supernatural was pretty low compared to the men, but one article has shown me that’s actually not the case. Gender Bias in Supernatural: The Cold Hard Stats goes through the meticulous effort to calculate how many women in the show have died, versus how many men in the show have died. Separate charts were used to show the difference between major and minor characters, and surprisingly more women survive then men.
The reason that so many other female characters live is for several reasons. Seeing the hot girl die doesn’t really help ratings, and furthermore, as I pointed out, most women in the show fulfill the role of the damsel in distress. So it’s important for Sam and Dean to save the girl and be the hero, and thus fewer women on the show die.
As far as notable deaths, the stats actually show that things are pretty equal as far as deaths of female characters versus male characters.
Given these statistics, why does it always seem as if more women die on the show? Well, it’s because of Sam, Dean, and Cas (and Bobby to some degree). First of all, there are always more male characters than female characters. Because of this, even if fewer female characters die, there are so few already on the show that a loss of any of them makes it seem as if there are no women. Second of all, Sam and Dean will never die—they are the main characters and that’s just how TV shows work. So you already have two male characters that will always be on the show and never die. Castiel, Bobby, and Crowley also kind of fall into this problem. Cas hasn’t died and probably won’t. Crowley has been around for a while (though admittedly since he is a demon, there is more chance he will die). And even though Bobby died last season he has still been around longer than most other female characters. So already we have five male characters that have been around for a long time and at least three that are likely to never die.
But it’s not just the death of female characters that have caused problems for the show but also how women are portrayed. Most women are girlfriends/damsels in distress or evil, with a few notable exceptions.
Lilith, Ruby, Meg, Eve, Bela, and Anna are all evil or end up being evil before they were killed off. The newest female angel in this season of Supernatural is also being portrayed as evil. Even though we know very little about her right now, she’s basically mind-raping Cas, so that equals evil in my book.
Compare this to the good female characters: Jo, Ellen, Mary, Pamela, Becky and now Mrs. Tran. There have been other good female characters like Charlie, Madison, Cassie, Sarah, and Jess, but I don’t include them because they have been in only one episode each. In fact, I bet only devoted fans of Supernatural remember some of these women.
Even the women who are labeled “good” are problematic. Becky is the worst. She represents the worst of fandom as an insane fangirl, and though that could be “acceptable”, in season seven she mind-rapes Sam by drugging him and then tying him up when the potion she uses to control him wears off. Mary is largely portrayed as a mother figure and fills this role as a perfect unattainable woman, though her character later develops throughout the series into a more in-depth role. Jess, however, never develops—she is shown only as Sam’s perfect girlfriend. Cassie, Madison, and Sarah are all interesting characters but only last in the show for one episode before being killed or written off.
When we look at the villainous women, the same thing happens. Anna was an interesting character, but eventually her mind is broken and she becomes evil. Lilith and Eve have no development other than that they are evil. Ruby, like Anna, was interesting, but eventually devolved into any other evil female character.
But I could forgive all of this. Yes, I could forgive every poor portrayal of a female character in Supernatural, if it wasn’t for Bela!
The handling of Bela’s character just makes my skin crawl. She was considered a villain or at least morally ambivalent, but she was so interesting and complex. I loved her! Eventually it was revealed that Bela was being molested by her father. Sexual assault is an overused plot device for women, but we’ll ignore that for now. A young Bela is then tricked by Lilith disguised as a child into selling her soul in order to stop her father. The show gives you the impression that Bela didn’t really realize that she was selling her soul or that she was making a deal to kill her father. Though the writing and acting leads people to sympathize with Bela, throughout the show Bela is shamed and demeaned and eventually killed.
Dean constantly asks Bela questions like “what, didn’t daddy love you enough,” then shames her again right before she is killed and dragged to hell. Dean never knows why Bela made her deal with Lilith, but Dean’s constant shaming of Bela combined with her death was terrible. Bela never gets justice. Dean and Sam don’t even find out about what she went through after the fact.
So Bela is repeatedly shamed for her abuse, then killed, and sent to hell. On top of that, no one even remembers her or even gives a shit when she dies. Thanks, Supernatural!
But I don’t entirely blame the writers of Supernatural for the constant dismissal of female characters. You know who I blame—you!
…Well, not you, but the fans of Supernatural. Now, I know it’s not all of the fans and can I just say that I love Supernatural and I love the fandom, but there are some that need to ease up on the female characters.
When you have a fandom that is “so devoted” that female characters die, that’s a problem. I don’t care if you ship Sam/Dean, or Dean/Cas, or that you think Dean or Jensen is meant to marry you. Constantly hating on female characters because they might break up your OTP or destroy your imaginary relationship is ridiculous, and it is one of the main reason that female characters are written off or killed on the show: because the fans don’t like them.
I already hear the same chatter about the newest female character, Amelia. She has barely been introduced in the show and already fans say that they hate her. Really? Hate? I’d understand skeptical or even not interested, but hate?
I remember hearing some fans say that Bela’s days were numbered after both Sam and Dean started being attracted to her.
My fellow fangirls, there is enough girl-on-girl hate in the world and there are so few good female characters out there. We all love Sam, Dean, and Cas, but I shouldn’t have to be worried that because Cas and Meg made out that she’ll never show up again. Don’t you want well-developed and interesting female characters that you can relate to personally interacting with the male characters you love?
Recently the Supernatural writers have given us some good female characters like Mrs. Tran and Charlie, but we’ll never get to see more. Hell, we might not even have those characters for very long if we don’t show the writers that we love those characters just as much as we love Sam, Dean, and Cas.
Show some SPN ladies some love and promote strong female characters.
So is Supernatural sexist? My answer is—it’s complicated, but the show certainly has a history of not treating female characters very well.
Do you think Supernatural is sexist? Let me know in the comments section.