Hell's Half Acre (hells_half_acre) wrote,
Hell's Half Acre

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Feminism, Sexism, and the Unnecessary Politics of Telling Stories

A couple of days ago, I linked to a meta on S1 that I thought was great, save for the unnecessary bit at the end when the author goes on about whether or not the show passes the test on feminism. I stated the following:

Naturally, I like the first part of the meta - because I don't tend to see sexism where others see it, so I tend to be far easier on shows than most feminists. (My general rule is that if I can replace the female character with a male character (and vice versa) in my brain, and still believe their motivations/characterization, then the role isn't sexist. I'm well aware that all this exercise might prove is that I think men are "girly".) In terms of the complaint that women are marginalized on the show - "women exist only to serve the mens’ story" complaint - I disregard it completely, since every single character other than Sam and Dean exist only to serve Sam and Dean's story. (Notable exceptions: Castiel, Bobby, Ellen, and Jo in S5). Even John only existed to serve Sam and Dean's story. Again, I may just have a completely different view on what is sexist/misogynistic...and that's either a post I've already done, or one I should do in the future (which will no doubt alienate me from my entire flist, so maybe I won't at all.)

A couple of you expressed interest in hearing more of my thoughts on this subject. So, here goes. This is going to be flocked, because I don't really want to be alienated by everyone.

The Gender-Switch Test
In my opinion, a character isn't sexist if I can imagine it as a guy and still believe its motivations. Let's take Ruby for example:

Ruby - I've seen people complain about Ruby being anti-feminist (or sexist) and basically a negative view of women, and detrimental to the cause of feminism or whatever...because she is a WOMAN trying to come between two MEN. Classic evil-woman representing how all women are evil, right? Wrong. 

What if Supernatural wasn't a story about two brothers, but a story about two sisters. Ruby becomes Rubius....is that role sexist?

Zachariah had a very similar role to Ruby, the only difference was that he was less seducing, and more commanding...this is because, much to the dismay of many of the fans, Sam and Dean are straight - there is no one to seduce. That being said, he DID have the advantage of representing the supposedly "good guys" - and Zachariah DOES manage to come between ADAM and the Winchesters. If Zachariah was a female would we complain about the role being sexist? 

Same goes for Meg - conniving bitch that is walking the feminist movement two steps backward? Or serving a function in a story? If Sam and Dean were girls, and Meg was Mark? 

How about all those girls that Sam and Dean have to rescue every week...or at least often? You know, the ones that scream pretty? Typical women are powerless and need big strong men to protect them, right? I don't think so...because what about all those poor guys that Sam and Dean have to save every week? Are the male victims of the Woman in White less victimized then the petite blonde females that the male serial killer's spirit went after in No Exit? I'd like to point out that BOTH gendered victims were molested before they were killed - some of the men willingly, but certainly Sam wasn't willing.

Which takes me to my next point...

Sexualized Violence in Supernatural
This is a Supernatural specific catagory, mainly because I don't watch many horror movies so I don't know if this trend is backed up elsewhere.

The Damsel-in-Distress-Complaint
'The only role for a woman on Supernatural is that of the damsel in distress'
No. I don't think so. I could list the NON-damsel in distress characters, but instead I'm going to point out that Sam and Dean take turns being the "damsel in distress" too.

Your typical Damsel in Distress is a woman with nice boobs, maybe a low-cut or a thin white shirt...her hair messed up and sweat or tears or blood in all the right places. Mmm...it's so we can want her sexually, even while she is screaming in terror...Violence against women is always sexualized right? It's horrible...violence against women shouldn't be sexy!

So, what about when they tie up Sam, choke him...god, you get that beautiful neck all exposed, you get him panting - close your eyes and pretend he's doing something else, I dare you....you get ropes in all the right places. Maybe Dean's tied up this week - maybe he can't move his hands...maybe his beautiful eyes are all huge with terror because Gordon's about to kill Sammy...You could walk in and do whatever you want to him. Hell, that's what Meg did in Shadow - tied up our boys when they had beautiful scratch marks on their faces, blood pooling in the hollow of their collar bone...they couldn't resist, she could straddle them, and kiss them, and rub herself against them....

Ok - so, maybe what we should agree on is that sexual violence is wrong for either gender - don't just complain about the women.

But while we're talking about sex - let's talk about rape.

A running theme in horror movies is rape. Why? Because RAPE IS SCARY. So, there's a sexual component to Shifter!Dean's attacks on women...there's a sexual component to the way Vampires turn the girl in Dead Man's Blood...are these acts statements of Supernatural's horrible treatment of women? No...

Because there's the Woman in White molesting Sam against his will - hell, there's Ruby basically raping Sam in S4 and making him believe that it was his decision - news flash, it wasn't his decision. It's a VERY good case for Dubious Consent. Even Dean understood this, and he's usually the one that's happiest when Sam gets laid. Sam was not in the right emotional state to give consent to anything, and Ruby took full advantaged.

(Here's a tangent: Where were the scores of anti-rape activists for that scene? I believe they were up in arms about Sam sleeping with dead body when the dead person didn't give their consent. It's a SOULLESS DEAD BODY! Hell, if someone wants to rape my dead body, I'll think they're disgusting, but I won't really care - I'm dead. It kind of pisses me off that people were more concerned with a dead person's consent than they were with someone who actually had to live with the emotional consequences of being manipulated into doing something that he DID NOT WANT TO DO.)

Futhermore, rape of males is actually a frickin' THEME of Supernatural (which, I believe, is actually a horror movie thing as well - I'm specifically thinking of Deliverance here). You want to know the only male on Supernatural that hasn't been the-Supernatural-equivalent-of raped? Dean...though, after Hell, that's probably not true anymore. Think of the language they use for possession: "angel condom" "waiting for me to drop the soap" "you had a girl inside you for a week...that's kinda dirty" "jump my bones"...the list goes on.

In Supernatural possession is a rape of the body as well. John, Sam, Bobby...Meg, Ruby1, the dead body Ruby2 used...these were all instances of a form of rape. The demon is using the person's body without their permission. Hell, even Castiel can only claim dubious consent from Jimmy - who consented willingly at the beginning, was disillusioned by the "relationship" but then coerced into remaining in the "relationship" if only to save his daughter from the same abusive fate. Sometimes, the demons even have sex while they are wearing the other person...it's like a double rape.

And hey, it was played for comedy, but Sam did not give Gary permission to use his body for sex - especially sex involving a riding crop.

ETA: Also note the frat boy in S2's Tall Tales - also played for laughs, but was actually a case of anal rape with an object.

So, is Supernatural wrong its sexualized violence and using rape the way it does? I don't know, maybe? But if you are going to make a case for it, you should make a case for the men as well as the women. Personally, I think rape is scary - I thankfully have never been raped myself, but I've come pretty fuckin' close and I can tell you, it was VERY scary. So, hell, if I were writing a horror movie/show and I wanted to scare people, I think I'd put it in, so I can't really blame Supernatural for doing the same.

Marginalization of Female Characters
The author of the meta used the Bechdel test for EACH EPISODE, which is:

The Bechdel test (whether a story contains
1) at least two women who
2) talk to each other
3) about something other than a man

Which is supposed to be "pretty good shorthand for getting a quick read on how much the story marginalizes its female characters (portrays them as relevant only in relation to men)."

Now, I take issue with this. Let's take it one point at a time:

1)at least two women
Why? This is a story about two men and their daddy-issues. I think it's amazing we see as many females as we do! Why do we have to see at least two females in every episode?

My novel only has 1 female character in it. Out of 6 main characters, only 1 of them is female. Why? Because being surrounded by males informs WHO that character is. It has SHAPED her. Do I really need another female character in the novel to not be considered sexist? Even when that one woman is strong, capable, intelligent, and owns her own body? Even when I use her to explore gender issues? That seems ridiculous. Which takes me to the second point...

2)at least two female characters WHO TALK TO EACH OTHER
Why? Why would we care what these ancillary characters have to say? Why would they need to talk to each other? When Sam and Dean go see the publisher of Chuck's books - why would we see her talk to another woman in that scene? That scene is about Sam and Dean getting information from her. In The Usual Suspects, we never see Detective Ballard talk to another woman, does this make the fact that she is a capable police officer not matter? She's working in a male-dominated profession dealing with two suspects who are both male....she sort of talks to the Death Omen, does this count? What does it matter? In Asylum, Kat never talks to another girl, does this make her less awesome? Hell...when Ruby talks to another woman in Mallus Malificarum (or whatever it's called) its possibly the most sexist episode Supernatural has ever made! In 99 Problems the Whore of Babylon talks to another woman...doesn't take away Dean saying "On a good day, you get to kill a Whore"

Let's go back to my novel...my one female character never talks to another female. This is because for the majority of the novel she is isolated with one guy. Does this "marginalize" her somehow? No. She's an integral part of the story...and not because she's in service to men. I could, if I wanted, preform the gender-switch on all the characters in my novel. Have it be a story about 5 girls and 1 guy. I could still tell the EXACT SAME STORY with the EXACT SAME CHARACTER REVELATIONS. Why, because THAT'S what equality looks like. 

What equality DOESN'T look like is authors feeling the need to throw in scenes where females talk to each other for no reason in stories ABOUT MEN, just so that feminists don't complain about women being marginalized.

And yes, I suppose that takes us to....

3)they talk about something OTHER than men
Again, why?! Supernatural is a story ABOUT TWO MEN. Are people not allowed to write stories about men anymore? Don't men deserve the same explorations of character and culture that women do? In The Devil Wears Prada did we ever complain that we never saw her boyfriend talk to another man? Did we complain that the only time her boyfriend did talk it was about her? No, because the story wasn't about him. It was about her. (and yes, you could complain that she chose a man over a career and it was glorified...but she didn't really, because it wasn't really ABOUT him, she chose the career she wanted over the career that brought success. The movie wasn't about giving up your dreams to stay with your man, it was about not giving up your dreams in order to conform to society...and I swear to god, I never thought I'd ever be defending this movie, I didn't even like it that much.)

My point is that WHY should we be forced to watch characters that don't matter converse with each other when it doesn't forward the plot? We shouldn't.

Like it or not, Supernatural is about two men, and EVERYONE else is marginalized. Everyone except for Sam and Dean are fairly one-dimensional characters there solely to a)give information, b)be an enemy, c)provide unexpected help in a crisis, or d)provide insight into SAM or DEAN's characters, not their own.

The exceptions to this are:
Bobby - who started off as a one dimensional character, but was played by such a good actor and was received so well that they made him two dimensional - albeit very slowly. We really didn't start seeing Bobby as more than a "go to guy" until S3's Dream A Little Dream of Me...and it's not really until S5 that he gets his own story-arc.

Castiel - again, started off as a one-dimensional angel, but quickly developed his own story-arc. Though, I should point out, that Castiel's story-arc mirrors Sam and Dean's GREATLY. So, he is still providing insight into Sam and Dean's story, even though he has his own.

Ellen - One dimensional "go to guy/overprotective mom"? Maybe...but she loves her daughter, she's tough as nails, she's intelligent...and her character evolves. She's only in a handful of episodes, but it's enough to explore the path of a parent trying to allow their kid to be an adult while wanting to keep them safe. And well, again, that could also be a mirror for Dean and Sam...but she still gets her own storyline.

Jo - failed love interest? The only girl to turn Dean Winchester down? The victim of an attempted rape/murder by a possessed Sam? Maybe...but she's also a character who went after and achieved her dreams, and died in battle like the soldier that she always wanted to be. And she was certainly respected in the end.

And yes...that means that even John Winchester is marginalized in order to serve the story that is Sam and Dean. So is Mary. They have their own little part to play, but their story-arcs and characters aren't about them - they are about what they did to Sam and Dean. We only see their stories and their characters when something about Dean or Sam's characters have to be explained...why Dean always obeys...the fact that Sam has come to understand his father and regrets not being able to have that final conversation before he died...the fact that Mary got the ball rolling by not being able to give up John, and John couldn't give up Dean...and therefore Dean couldn't give up Sam, nor Sam give up Dean....

The story ALWAYS comes down to Sam and Dean. It's what Supernatural is about and it's why we watch. Why the hell would I care if there's a single woman on this show?

I'm not saying Supernatural is NEVER sexist. I'm just saying that I really don't think it's as bad as people make it out to be...and I'm also saying that even when it is sexist, quite frankly, I don't give a damn.
Tags: crazy rant

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