When Eric Kripke pitched Supernatural, it was aimed like a laser beam at a young male demographic. So, how come, when I attended the Supernatural Convention in Washington, DC this past weekend, the ratio of women to men was, by my guesstimate, 80-20?
In fact, one attendee actually thanked me for showing up and demonstrating that the show does indeed have a contingent of viewers who are guys. (Apparently, I'm a credit to my gender.) I know there are a lot of other male Supernatural viewers out there.
So where were they?
Fortunately, while at the convention, I had an opportunity to speak about that, and other gender-related topics, with the authors of Fangasm: Supernatural Fangirls. The writers, Katherine Larsen (a literary scholar at George Washington University) and Lynn S. Zubernis (a psychologist and associate professor at West Chester University of Pennsylvania) were on hand to sign their book, which is part personal memoir, part exploration of Supernatural fandom.
"For the first year or so, they didn't even realize that so many people who were watching the show were women," says Larsen. "They were surprised, because they had guns and a cool car and classic rock— all of that was meant to bring in a male audience. So, surprise, surprise, it was women who were watching."
But, why weren't men watching the show?
"I think the show did get a reputation early on as sort of a chick show because so many women were watching," says Zubernis. "But I also think that, especially in the beginning of the show, there weren't many female characters on. And its not like guys don't watch shows where the main characters are male, but there's usually some female characters too. And there really weren't any for the first couple of seasons."
But Larsen also says that "the fan base has changed enormously over the last seven years" because of Netflix. "People can binge-watch the show, they can sit down and watch the episodes and pull other people into it." Adds Zubernis, "A lot of people will say they watch with their husband, they watch with their son. The whole family watches."
Yet, Zubernis notes, Supernatural still has a reputation for having a passionate female fanbase. "I think that sometimes keeps guys away from the conventions," she says, then jokes, "Although you might think with an 80-20 ratio, guys, maybe you should come."
And, what about the show's portrayal of female characters? The perception that women on Supernatural are two-dimensional characters that have the lifespan of a Redshirt on Star Trek?
I think they've made huge progress actually, in having fully rendered, fleshed-out female characters who stay [on the show], partly because [the writers] finally understood that fans didn't want…. Supernatural to become a soap opera kind of romance. The first female characters they brought in were your stereotypical, "let's sex this up and maybe we'll pull in that demographic we're still looking for" characters… So yeah, fans didn't like them and they went away.
But now they have characters who are not just there to be romantic interests for the Winchesters. They've got a back story… This current crop of writers is very aware what the fans' views have been in the past, and most of them are feminist leaning writers, so, I think it's a little different nine seasons down the road. Better late than never.
We've never seen Supernatural introduce a familiar plot trope, about two brothers vying for the same woman. Why not?
"Fans would hate that, and it's not in character " says Larsen. "Each of the brothers has so much invested in the happiness of the other. They've died for each other; they've gone to Hell for each other. They're not going to poach each other's women."
"What really makes people passionate about the show is the relationship between the brothers," agrees Zubernis. "So, it's hard for fans when they pull them apart for any reason. And when they're being pulled apart because of Heaven and Hell epic reasons, we still have a hard time. Being pulled apart over a woman? I think fandom would have a really hard time with that."