For the past couple of months I have been entrenched in Supernatural, a show I was a full seven seasons behind in (only two now) and became very quickly obsessed with. The fact that I haven’t written about it on here yet is pretty remarkable, as its occupied so much of my brain, but the truth is there hasn’t been much point. Talking about gender issues in Supernatural is a bit like commenting that grass is green. It’s a sexist show. Period.
The problem isn’t only with Supernatural, of course, the issue of institutionalized, pervasive misogyny is latent in our cultural language. However, Supernatural, with its Americana Midwestern aesthetic and extravagantly butch dudebro emotionality is a glaring example. Female characters are relegated to either blonde waifish fridge stuffing or evil harpies in tight pants with their cleavage pushed up in their chins. To fully document the problem would fill up a dissertation, nevermind a blog post.
So, I decided to take a different approach to talking about this. If you have an imagination anything like mine, then you thrive on mashups and crossovers. For me, the best way to move along an idea is to take a character or element from someone else’s work, and see what happens. So with Supernatural’s serious lacking of impressive female characters, I keep finding myself inserting some of my favorites from other stories. So, I’d like to share my list of 6 (yes 6, because whatever) Bad Ass Females the Winchesters (and Cas) Should Meet.
Willow Rosenberg (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
Thankfully, there have not been many direct references to witchcraft so far in Supernatural. I say thankfully because the few times have been hella awkward. I thought as a society we were passed the whole witches are servants of the Devil thing?
Willow would provide a nice shake-up in the Winchester world not just because she’s a good witch who draws her power from the earth and positive forces rather than signing a pact with the devil, but she’s also a highly competent and intelligent leader. Something that I’ve noticed in comparing SPN and BtVS is there is a much stronger emphasis on strategy in the latter, whereas the Winchesters often rely on brute force. Willow’s approach to things would bring a more cerebral nuance to their story.
Not to mention, she’s cute and witty, as opposed to the SPN standard of aggressive and overtly sexy. Also she’s gay (or bisexual, depending on who you ask), and god knows SPN needs more positive portrayals of gay.
Miriam Black (Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig)
Miriam Black is the protagonist of the new series by Chuck Wendig, the first book dropping last month, Blackbirds (and the second, Mockingbird, will be out in August, holy crap). Imagine a foulmouthed drifter, picking the pockets of the dead, uninhibited and angry at the world. Got that image in your head? Crank that up to 11, stick a butterfly knife and grenade in her handbag, and you’ll be about where Miriam is.
Also, Miriam knows how you’re going to die. One touch, skin on skin, and she knows the date, time and place and there’s nothing you or anyone can do to stop it. Fate is a big theme in SPN, but so is the strength of free will. Miriam’s ability, as well as her acidic cynicism, would be a nice slap in the face for the Winchesters, not to mention her less than ladylike and unapologetic lifestyle. And her language would probably make Sam blush.
Irina Derevko (Alias)
J.J. Abrams’ scifi-ish spy drama is a wonderous source of amazing female characters that are both well-drawn and ferocious. But for me the standout will always be Mama Hari herself, Irina Derevko, Sydney Bristow’s mother and former KGB superspy. Thanks heavily to Lena Olin’s slow-burn portrayal, Derevko is both vicious and smooth; a lover, a professional and a mother, passionate but flawed in everything she does.
There have been few maternal figures in SPN – mainly, the Winchesters’ deified dead mother and the only-relevant-when-its-convenient Ellen Harvelle – however they still always seem to default to Sam and Dean’s tentative authority. Irina Derevko bows to no one. She’s also a terrible mother. And personally, I would love to see Dean go to pieces over an older woman. Not to mention, she’s got two sisters, and together they make a triumvirate of crazy Russian bad assery the likes of which television has yet to recover from. Whereas the Winchesters pride themselves on their rustic, seedy motel lifestyle, the Derevko sisters are polished, high class professionals and seeing how the other half lives and hunts would be an interesting twist for the Supernatural universe.
Goddamn, she is just so freaking cool. I need to watch this show again.
Tia Dalma (Pirates of the Caribbean)
There have been approximately two mystics in SPN (three if you count Chuck) and one disappeared after one episode despite being fabulous, and the other got three episodes but was blinded in her first episode and killed in the third. She was pretty great too. Dead, but great. Personally, it seems absolutely insane to me that a show that revolves around otherworldly creatures and occurrences rarely uses mediums or psychics. Maybe Kripke thought a seer would make things too easy? Too much of a girl thing? Who knows?
That’s why I think Tia Dalma would fit nicely. She knows magic, she knows fortune telling and she’s a great device for providing mystical exposition in a stylish way. Personally, I think she’s gorgeous, but obviously doesn’t fit a typical standard of beauty. Rather, she exudes and confidence and sensuality that most would find threatening due to her “ugliness.” Which is always fun. She also knows when to duck, so you won’t see her getting herself killed just so Sam and Dean (let’s face it, mostly Sam) can feel bad about themselves for a couple of episodes.
SPN use of pagan mythology (and by pagan I mean anything that’s not Christian) turns more and more handwavey as the series goes on (I mean, how else are you going to have a show where they fight both a djinn, but the big bad is still Lucifer?). It also, despite criss-crossing America several times over, seriously lacks in multiculturalism. Do you really think every town in the U.S. is small, dusty and predominantly white? Why not try a slightly soggier climate? Or are they afraid the humidity might give the Impala some rust?
Tallulah Demetriou (The Last Werewolf/Tallulah Rising by Glen Duncan)
SPN has featured some moral ambiguity. Some, but not much. Bad guys have become tentative allies, evil creatures have garnered some sympathy. But ultimately, in this show, righteousness is bank.
Which is why I’d love for the Winchesters to get a load of Tallulah Demetriou, the title character of the second novel in Glen Duncan’s The Last Werewolf series, and presumably the centerpoint as the series continues. Tallulah, as you might’ve guessed, is a werewolf, and she’s not like Remus Lupin who controls himself with a potion, or SPN’s take on them where they don’t remember what they do on a full moon. Tallulah knows what she’s doing and is in control. And she eats people anyway.
She’s still a person who loves her family, who is generous and kind, but make no mistake, she will tear you to pieces if you get in her way. She has no agenda other than protecting her family and surviving. So I like the idea of her as a tentative ally, particularly with the amount of firepower she’s got once a month. She’s also a pretty sexually powerful character, and not in a femme fatale vixeny way where she’s carrying around a ton of “damage”, but in a way that only someone who turns into a monster once a month can be. If you don’t know what I mean by that I suggest you just read the book.
Lisbeth Salander (Millennium Series by Stieg Larsson)
Pretty much every cocky male deserves a date with Stieg Larsson’s provocative scene-stealing character, and the Winchesters are no exception. SPN does reference her in “The Girl with the Dungeon and Dragons Tattoo,” but Lisbeth’s stand-in is an adorkable nerd, whereas Salander is anything but.
The thing that people often don’t get about Salander is what she’s supposed to represent. People take her as a cipher for survival or revenge. But what’s a far stronger part of her characterization is contrast to the culture at large. Her latent insurgency. She’s a hacker – meaning she bucks the system and turns it against itself. As opposed to her genre-savvy SPN counterpart, Salander is actually totally out of touch with pop culture (she’s described as having little interest in music, despite her punk rock look). And most importantly, she hates all authority figures, cops in particular, due to their corruption and complete inability to help her throughout her life. Like the Winchesters, she found her own way outside of the law and outside of the system.
This is an aspect of SPN that to me is a glaring hole. The Winchesters are more like Salander than I think SPN’s writers want to admit. They run credit card scams, impersonate government officials, have been on the run from the law numerous times. And yet, authority figures, particularly cops, are still portrayed as well-meaning, positive figures, when they have probably been a huge threat to the Winchesters throughout most of their lives. As far as I’m concerned, if you’re going to tell a story of a couple rebels on the road, you might as well go all out, and a character like Lisbeth would certainly take them there. Her perspective as a woman who has a lot more to lose with her defiance is a strong statement and would make the Winchesters’ own defiance of authority (both heavenly and earthly) into something a lot more real.
This list was surprisingly difficult to come with, particularly without raiding the Whedon archives. Originally I wanted to stick with sci-fi/fantasy, but that proved too limiting, and its not nearly as racially diverse as I would’ve liked. The truth is the problem is much bigger than one show. But when it comes to Sam and Dean, well I guess I just like the idea of seeing them squirm a little bit.
If you’ve got suggestions of your own, sound off in the comments.