Is Supernatural: Sexist?

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.

32 thoughts on “Is Supernatural: Sexist?

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  4. I think you’re missing the biggest factor here. In Supernatural, literally everyone dies. Including the main characters. Though, I will say Supernatural has a knack of writing off or killing off minor characters, I don’t necessarily feel they are sexist. Many of these “evil” characters aren’t really all that bad, either. Anna, for instance, was just doing what she felt was right, even if it did go against Heaven’s orders. Bela, she was a BAMF, but at the same time, she was constantly cheating the boys and pulling apart their relationship. It’s no wonder Dean didn’t care if she died in the end. Ruby, she actually tried to help the boys and might have possibly been the only “good” demon to date. Meg, she often uses her more effeminate side to get to guys because she knows it’ll have an effect on them, but it’s not because she’s a woman, it’s because Meg knows when to use what she has to her advantage. Meg!Sam did the same thing to get close to the ones that cared for the Winchesters. Becky, she was misunderstood. All she wanted was to be normal and it brought her almost to a desperate state – Like Loki, in the Avengers, if you will. On top of this, it’s not just the woman that Sam and Dean sleep with in the show that end up dying, it’s anyone who gets close to them. While Dean does have a longer track with one night stands that mean little to nothing, Sam has always cared deeply for the women he sleeps with and this, evidently, is what kills them. Finally, Supernatural is a show that often portrays the aspects of what’s actually going on in the world and, let’s face it, sexism does exist. Out of all the shows I see in today’s day and age, there are very few that show complete lack of sexism like Supernatural does. There will always be damsels in distress, so of course there will be a few in the show. There will always be woman dying, so of course they will have deaths of woman in the show. There will always be evil woman, so of course they will portray a few as demons. What makes a show sexist is it’s refusal to admit that a woman can become anything – Good or bad. What makes a person prejudice is their choice to “jump the gun” and forget to see more than just the outer layer.

  5. I’M FREAKING OUT. I FEEL EXACTLY THE SAME ABOUT BELA! Nothing makes my blood boil more than how they treated that character! She could have been something great but they quickly wrote her off as some evil figure, even though she was sassy and complex and had so much potential. I wanted to see so much more of her. It angers me that just because she didn’t bow down and kiss Dean’s ass and was challenging, he wrote her off as some evil bitch. AND SHE NEVER GOT JUSTICE! To this day, Sam and Dean probably still think Bela was a horrible person, when in fact she was molested and her conniving character was just her putting up walls so that no one would hurt her or use her again.

    • But Bela was pretty horrible to them She shot Sam, stole the colt even though it was the only weapon they had, and screwed Sam and Dean over plenty of times. She was selfish and only cared about herself and making money. So of course Sam and Dean didn’t really care when she went to hell. It was because she was terrible to them, not because ” she didn’t bow down and kiss Dean’s ass and was challenging”. And Dean even said that if Bela had come to them in the beginning for help in getting out of her contract, they would have helped her. But Bela treated the boys badly and was only out for herself, so Dean didn’t really care about her. Although I feel really bad for what happened to Bela and I wish she didn’t have to go to hell. And if Dean had figured out why she had sold her soul, then maybe je wouldv’e helped her. But he didn’t know , so you can’t really blame him. I do feel bad for Bela but she was terrible to the boys and just because she led a bad life dosen’t that she was justified in doing things like taking the colt and choosing to let people die so she could make money. She cared more about herself than people dying from the potential apocalypse.

  6. I think you have brought up some very interesting points- since November this we’ve seen Charlie more- but the closer she gets to them, the haters have started beating the drums. I think they made her gay to protect her from the fan fear (and therefore hate) that she will become involved with any of the guys, she has a great little sis chemistry. But she still ends up in the girl to take care of column- the writers have to be careful of this- so far they (and Felicia) are doing a great job.

    What you didn’t bring up is that we spend a lot of time giving Dean tons of latitude for sexualizing and objectifying women, going to strip clubs etc.It’s like he is that long time friend (or family member) that you love too much but realize he is an idiot about politics or women or whatever… you apologize to others, roll your eyes and like Sam, you say “DE-ean!”. I actually tried watching back when the show first premiered, looking for a new supernatural show to replace Buffy and Angel… there was no way I could go from Buffy to Dean calling women “That”- the testosterone in the show was so over the top… I tried again because my daughter discovered the show in the later seasons and asked me to watch. Dean grew up a little- i assume the writers adjusted him a little, maybe realizing he isn’t much of a hero if he is going to be a freaking neanderthal about women.

    I tend to think (to my daughters sagarin) that most of the Dean/Sam and Dean/Cas shipping stems from this weird girl on girl hate you mentioned. Somehow it’s not sexually frustrating for fangirls to imagine a gay relationship (even an incestuous one- ew :s) than the “competition” of another women.

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  9. While I agree with most of what you’ve said here, I don’t think you’ve really acknowledged the positive female characters as much as they deserve. Ellen and Jo were only mentioned once, and although they died, I don’t think that takes away from their value as positive characters. I’m a big fan of Jo especially, because even though she was somewhat of a love interest for Dean, there were many more facets to her character and she’s one of the few who doesn’t actually end up sleeping with Dean. I don’t know… While on the whole I definitely wouldn’t consider Supernatural the pinnacle of feminist television, I don’t think it’s quite as bad as you make it out to be either.

  10. The fact that 80% of the main recurrent cast is male says enough. A lot of these characters didn’t have to be male and there’s no reason to not introduce a woman. You can make that excuse for maybe Breaking Bad, but not for Supernatural. Just compare it to American Horror Story. In the latter, the Devil – Female. The Angel of Death – Female. Heroine – Female. A lot of the characters Supernatural has introduce have been played by women in the past and yet it always chooses to make the recurrent ones male and the ones who always die at the end, female. I also just started watching it again, this time with my sister, and I cannot BELIEVE the misogyny in the first episode. A crazy evil woman who killed herself and her children because her husband freaking CHEATED on her and now haunts the roads killing innocent men who were unfaithful once in their life. And then Bela happened. I can’t even put into words how wrong these two cases are.

  11. I hardly think this case warrants any statistics. In fact I think inequality is very hard to prove with statistics alone. Of course they help. But sometimes they point in the opposite direction while the truth is a whole other. The portrayal of women, and men, on this show is incredibly sexist. Women are constantly either victimized or sexualized and sometimes both.

    In the very first season Meg is such a prime example of this. She does play on her sexuality to snare Sam. In all fairness we know a sexual encounter would eventually be a bad thing. Which also seems rather thematic for the show. It then turns out that she is some sort of witch. Even later on it’s revealed that she’s actually possessed and that she is just a victim in it all. What bothers me even more is that the show more or less talked about her body. The said she suffered a seven story fall and broke every bone in her body. An exorcism would apparently kill her. Later on though Dean doesn’t hesitate to show another possessed person in the head. I’m not really sure where I’m getting with this. But the writers seemed to have a profound respect for the woman’s body. More so than the actual character it seemed. It was revisited in Season Four but, hey, better late than never, eh? And her male counterpart was as aforementioned treated as a disposable meat bag. To be fair it’s this kind of treatment as women and their bodes as fragile and delicate that lends to it’s sexism as well.

    Dean quite often makes derogatory remarks about females in general it seems. I remember one episode where the temporarily end up driving a mini-van when he claims he feels like a soccer-mom. He also refers to a woman as doctor-lady as if she can not be referred to as either. They are unnecessary and doesn’t contribute to anything.

    Even the very premise of the show deserves a close look. John seems to believe it his husbandly duty to not only protect his family but avenges the loss of his wife. I’m not at all questioning the desire for vengeance but in all fairness. This is such an overused trope that it’s not even funny and that it, yet again, is the husband’s duty to lay rest to his wife’s tormented soul. Well, you can’t really blame a show for not being original. But it is a pretty sexist trope and it would be more passable if only more of the female characters were better treated.

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  13. Upon watching the 6th season I could notice an episode that pretty much explains the entire show: Sam, Dean, Bobby and Gordon, along with Grandpa – go around hunting an insect that enters people’s body. A female character (the cousin) is seen for the first 2 minutes and she’s the first one to get killed off, before doing anything, really. Castiel is out there somewhere being important in a war. So we had an entire episode of male characters hunting things. It’s even disconcerting how much of a sausage fest this show is, it needs some female presence to balance things out, come on. In S3 at least we had cool, kickass Ruby and Bela. Anna could be alive helping them along with Castiel. Where was Meg? TOO MUCH TESTOSTERONE.

  14. I really can’t stress this enough- Sam and Dean can’t get close to ANYONE because it’s too dangerous. John was the same way. Because of the number of demons and shifters and gods and just evil characters they’ve killed, they can’t get close to anyone because they will end up getting captured and tortured and possibly killed as a warning to the boys. The show’s not sexist.

    • I don’t. Know if you have seen any of my past posts on this thread, but the long and short of it, I have very mixed feelings about how the female population of the SPN universe are treated. Its not about getting romantically involved, or not that is an issue. It’s that they have a very hard time keeping regular females good bad or other alive on the show. And Dean liberal use of bitch, and sexually degrading terminology with evil females wears thin on me. Even when he is insulting male baddies, its really a slight on their mothers, son of a bitch or bastard. The only reason Jodie is still in the picture is because she is only in a handful of eps each season, and she poses as a maternal figure for the boys, she was more of a possible love interest for Bobby (before he was snatched away from us!).

  15. Don’t forget in the first Trickster episode, the Trickster tries to trade women to Dean in exchange for him giving up the chase. Treating women like commodities bothers me the most about the representation of women in this show.

  16. I am disappointed to learn that according to SPN Wikki, out of 195 episodes only 33 writers were FEMALE (including some episodes which were co written with males)…..
    Only one female directed: Rachel Talalay, in Season Two. This might be part of the problem.
    Just saying.

  17. I think The writers of supernatural should take some knowledge from Joss Weldon, Joss knows how to write strong women.

  18. I don’t think that Anna was ever really evil. She was just trying to do what was right. While she was trying to kill Sam and Dean’s parents, it was only to prevent the apocalypse. And really, isn’t that the logical thing to do? If killing two innocent people prevents the deaths of millions, then that is the right course of action.

  19. I agree with allot of what you’re saying. I love Supernatural but it is damn sexist. I think my favorite female characters were Ellen, Anna and Jo, but just when their appearances starts adding up and we get to know and love them better, they’re killed off. Also, I can’t forgive how Jo became a “love interest” in the end. Dean kissing her on the forehead, beautiful. Goodbye little sister. Dean making passings at her and proceeding to kiss her on the lips in farewell? IS THAT THE ONLY WEALTH WOMEN HAVE? If they’re not a love interest, they don’t matter? THEY HAD TO GO THERE?

    Also, THEY ALL LOOK THE SAME TO ME. The stereotypical “beautiful woman.” To be honest, I think Supernatural probably has a large amount of women on the show. The problem is that they all blend into one another. Why? I think it all goes down to todays society. The model stereotype: thin, long hair, make-up, same facial structure, ecetera, ecetera. Every time I see a new one, I hate them too, because it’s just another look alike coming up to play the same god damned role as the one before them. I’m sick of it. Not to say I don’t like some of them despite this, as said above, but they are always killed off before we can get a good reading on them. At this stage, 10 seasons in, I just wanna say fuck trying to introduce new female characters and just get on with it, because anything more is just going to be the same, shallow bullshit.

  20. but what about Charlie. she is a strong female character who sleeps with neither of the two, has a wacky fun personality and is brought back to the show more than once. it has also been mentioned that out of her, Sam and Dean….she is the smartest one, Joe never slept with either of the two as well and her death was only because she saved Deans life. yes the show dose have a lot of female deaths but it keeps the good gals around. like Krissy who grows up to be a pretty awesome hunter, and who is super smart and saves Sam, Dean and her father when she is still just a kid.
    with the type of world we live in most women who get noticed are the thin, big breasted, flirty ones, the girls who are are not as open, are hiding out in the shadows preparing to shine and blow the world away are hard to find, and lets face it the Winchesters are fairly hot, so it makes sense that these flirty gals show up and try to get a piece of the action.
    if you watch close enough you can see how the really important, smart, manly girls stick around for a while and really make a big difference in the show.

  21. To be fair, both genders die frequently. It’s not like only the females die. Charlie and Kevin? Bobby? John? Benny? Azazel? Samuel? Raphael? Michael? Zachariah? In death distribution, it’s pretty equal. I agree they should put more important female characters, but it’s not only damsels in distress.

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  23. My friend and I were actually talking about Bela the other day. It’s been established that after a certain amount of time in hell being tortured, a human becomes a demon(at least that was my interpretation). Bela’s been in hell since season one, which in terms of hell-time, is probably centuries. That’s surely enough time for her to become a demon and find a way out of hell to wreak havoc on earth before Supernatural is eventually cancelled. While unlikely, I think it would be great to see demon!Bela back for revenge.

  24. I love Supernatural but I also soon made the notion that “Man, these guys can’t write female characters.” Of course, there are some delightful exceptions like Ellen, Jody, Charlie, Linda Tran and Jo (first disliked her, then ended up really liking her) BUT most of the female characters in the show… ughh. I don’t have a problem with the death rates (every character is in danger to die in this show) but I am bothered with the way they are written.

    There’s a pattern. Pretty much every attractive single woman in the show is destined to be a forced love interest (and/or a villain) as if there’s no other worth or purpose for them. That it’s impossible for there to be an attractive lady who’s just FRIENDS with the guys (I’m sure if Charlie wasn’t a lesbian she would have been paired up too and if Castiel had a female vessel, they would have made Destiel happen right away, not letting them gradually develop their relationship, and then likely ditch the character). There always needs to be a sexual agenda and I couldn’t give a rat’s ass about these “romances” since the show doesn’t even bother to BUILD UP the chemistry. They just introduce a female, make her have sex with Dean/Sam/whoever, then kill or write her off.

    After I noticed this, I pretty much disliked every new female character who fit the pattern (young, beautiful, single, straight). Because it’s as if I’m seeing the same character over and over again just wearing a different face. They just… blend together, like the show is just filling this certain quota by occasionally throwing in these women, while not bothering to make them actual compelling characters. It’s like “Right, now that the hetero manly man quota has been filled with this chick I had absolutely no chemistry with, let’s move on.” You know, Jo actually became interesting, developing and relatable character once they ditched the whole “love interest for Dean” -plan they had which is pretty much a testament of what is wrong here. All of this just might be the reason why I seem to like the older ladies. Because they are not just there for their sex appeal but are strong characters on their own. Come to think of it though, the females of this show can pretty much be put in one of the three categories: mom, bitch or love-interest. *sigh*

    • Just wanted to add: I think the source of this problem is that the narrative doesn’t treat females the way it treats its males (which sadly is a problem in many other popular culture as well). In other words: the boys don’t relate to female characters as an equal. Charlie was one exception but most others, they are either sexualized or moms or bitches. It’s pretty sad how people keep saying that if Castiel was female, Destiel would have already happened. And that has a VERY high chance of being true, given how female characters are written. I too am sure that Castiel and Dean’s relationship would never have been allowed to grow and develop like it has now because if Cas was a woman, he would not have been treated as an equal. What I also think is that, because of it, fem!Cas would not be such a fan favorite and would most likely been wrote off in S4 or S5 already. Also, I believe I personally would roll my eyes at their “forced romance” whereas now I thoroughly enjoy the character chemistry because their relationship has been allowed to grow and develop. It’s sad how I actually 100% believe this would not have been possible with a female character. Not with the way they keep writing them.

  25. The show’s main characters are all male. I think the writers were good enough to be able to easily write a female main character that adds more charm to the show. They simply didn’t want to do that, and i don’t think it has much to do with the fandom, because there was no need for her to be romantically involved with the boys, assuming that’s the real reason. But if you’re asking me, the real reason is misogyny through and through and that’ that. It simply doesn’t allow the existence of a main female character who is cool, witty and lovable like the boys and is not for them to fuck.

  26. Man do I agree with this post wholeheartedly. I just started watching Supernatural (thanks Netflix!) and I absolutely adore it. However, it is increasingly frustrating how there are no strong female characters on the show. I thought Jo’s character was great, she was tough and witty and she wanted to prove herself. Her dynamic with Dean was perfect, you could definitely sense there was this chemistry but also a feeling of sisterly affection because he knew he needed to protect her. Alas..that character was ruined. The same can be said for Bela and Ruby. Both strong, cool characters. I am just as annoyed as you are about how they treated Bela’s character. There was such good chemistry, she was conniving but also had this motivating backstory. Her character had great chemistry between both of the boys, and yet…once again…character was ruined and killed off. It’s like they get backlash from the audience and get scared instead of waiting it out for the character to develop.

    We’re already on Season 11, and from what I can tell there aren’t any major female characters being added to the roster (they’ve all been killed). If only the Supernatural writers and producers knew how badly the female viewers wanted a woman they could look up to and care about. For the love of television, just TRY and write a realistic, sane female character. And when you do…do not immediately make her have a fling with either brother. Instead…wait for it…have the character/relationships develop into something and don’t kill her off! As much as I love these Winchester boys, it’s a whole lot of testosterone.

  27. I think you forgot to mention that all (male?) characters call all female characters bitches and whores. In almost every episode. I generalize but u prob get my point.

  28. I started watching it on Netflix, got through 6 episodes and realized these female characters are garbage. I decided not to waste any of my time any further. Too bad. I like the whole the concept.

  29. It’s more than being the damsel or being evil or dying or personality or fucking and then being thrown away. On top of ALL that, the women in the series are HAPPY to be used. When random dudes burst into their life and terrible shit starts happening, or they’re told THEY are a monster, or whatever, they implicitly trust them, bring them closer, forgive violence and death and insult and oversexualization, and then hop into bed. And they’re super happy they got to have sex with that dude that one time, now they’re okay that he never talks to her again, or kills her, or whatever.

    The fundamental point is they have zero agency. They’re nothing except punchlines for sex jokes or to be rescued. Ugh. I dunno. I guess you said that in different words, but it was bugging me.

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