I have an inherent issue with the trend of this gag in SPN. Because WHAT. GIRL. Has a one-night stand, and manages to remember everything BUT her bra?!
Those things are expensive! And it’s not easy to find good ones. Not to mention how completely awkward and uncomfortable it is it be in public without one (for most girls.) I mean, I can understand if she forgot her jacket, or her phone, or her panties even - since they might presumably be….less than ship-shape.
BUT WHAT GIRL LEAVES HER BRA BEHIND?!
(Also, apparently sexy girls only wear pink and black bras?)
Actually, I think it’s a very subtle and very clever illumination of Dean’s character — because you’re right, it isn’t funny. And it’s not supposed to be. Only Dean thinks it’s funny; the rest of us, including Sammy, think it’s obnoxious and actually kind of sad.
Particularly in the first five seasons, Dean is obsessed with proving how manly he is — which, due to how his father raised him, he associates with displays of machismo and hyper-masculinity. He derides any conversation that’s too emotional as “chick flick moments”, he obsesses over classic rock and fast cars (classic symbols of masculinity), and, most importantly, he chases lady-tail like it’s his job. It only makes sense that Dean would keep “mementos” of his one-night stands. They’re like trophies: tangible proof that he can point to and remind himself of just how masculine he really is.
All of this behavior conceals that Dean, as a character, actually follows a fairly feminine literary archetype, that of the Nurturer. His entire goal in life has always been to protect Sammy; he sublimates his own needs to help Sam become the man that Sam wants to be. (This culminates in “Swan Song”, when Dean was willing to sacrifice his own life just so Sammy wouldn’t have to “die alone”.) And unlike his brother, Dean is quick to cry, quick to anger, quick to reassure — always quick to display an emotional response rather than a rational one. For all his poor attempts at machismo, Dean actually displays many stereotypically feminine behaviors.
Why he does comes back, of course, as all things do, to John Winchester. On the one hand, John — a former marine forever stuck in 1979 — raised Dean in the hyper-machismic world of Hunting, and taught his son that a man never expressed his emotions or cared too deeply about anything. But on the other hand, John continuously reinforced Dean’s love for his brother and his nurturing characteristics until they became like instincts. In attempting to make himself a soldier, John actually inadvertently made Dean a mother figure too.
Thus, Dean is a man at war with himself, unable to reconcile what he’s always been told a man should be with what comes naturally to him. When you add his feelings for Castiel into the mix (which, no matter how you slice them, would be something John Winchester would definitely disapprove of), you get Dean’s major conflict of Supernatural’s later seasons: What exactly does it mean to be a man? (And as much as I love Sam Winchester, I find this conflict far more interesting and relevant than Sam’s, which is: What exactly does it mean to become a hero?)
When it comes down to it, Team Free Will is more than just a theological exercise. It’s Sam and Dean (and Cas, too) shrugging off of all the things they were taught, and learning that a man is not his past but his choices. That’s why Dean gives up John’s coat at the end of Season 5; why he forgives his own father and in turn becomes a father himself. It’s because Dean learns that a man is not who he is told to be, but who he decides to become.
Fucking hell. I was going to agree with the overuse of the gag… then THAT META. Fucking PERFECT. Highlights Dean’s problems with the masculine/feminine issue PERFECTLY.
Dean is so HYPER-aware of his tendency to be less than masculine that he overcompensates like WHOA. To the point where in S07, when he just wasn’t feeling the need to ‘chase tail,’ he had to literally stop and remind himself ‘you are Dean Winchester - this is what you do’ - like it’s a mantra he’s been living by all his life. ‘Act like THIS, this is how you are SUPPOSE TO BE.’
My only contention is of the last part - “That’s why Dean gives up John’s coat at the end of Season 5; why he forgives his own father and in turn becomes a father himself. It’s because Dean learns that a man is not who he is told to be, but who he decides to become.”
Because I think that’s being too kind to Dean. I don’t think he has learnt that lesson, not at all. He is still struggling with the concept of who and what a man should be.
I agree he’s moved on from John (for the most part) and realised he can’t live his life forever by John’s rules (although I doubt ditching the jacket was symbolic of that - we know that the jacket itself was simply stolen during transit from set to a photo shoot, so I doubt the writers actually made any in-show use of its absence).
But he is STILL being, well, enslaved in a way by a continuing, personal and overriding idea that to be a ‘real’ man he mustn’t cry, he mustn’t feel emotions, he mustn’t SHOW emotions, he mustn’t TALK about emotions, he must lust after women, like ‘manly’ things such as fast cars (as stated above) etc etc. These are all things not necessarily inspired by John but concepts Dean himself has built up and expanded upon, based on John’s personality, based on TV representations of men, based on the media, based on society, based on personal interactions, based on many many things. All of these factors have culminated in a (in my opinion fairly unrealistic and unobtainable) concept of ‘man’ and ‘self’ that Dean has conditioned himself to live up to and he is still feeling obligated to do that. Although, since Cas, I think he IS starting to re-evaluate this somewhat, even if only subconsciously…
I don’t disagree that Dean still struggles with his own masculinity — particularly in Season 7, the plot of which is driven by his very “unmanly” grief over losing Cas — but his motivations, like you said, are different. Whereas in Seasons 1-5, the context for his conflict came from what his father taught him vs. what his nature was (a struggle reflected many different ways through the show: destiny vs. choice, angelic vs. human nature, what one owes an absent father, etc.), in Seasons 6 and 7, that conflict arises from what Dean thinks a hunter should be vs. what he actually wants to be. It’s a subtle difference, but one more characteristic of an adult — because “Swan Song” was as much a passage into adulthood for Dean as it was for Sam.
I do, however, think the jacket is extremely important — because all the wardrobe choices on this show are extremely important. Sometimes the clothing is specifically referenced within the show — the Samulet, the trenchcoat, Rhonda Hurley’s panties — but sometimes it’s there just to imply a wealth of backstory that, for whatever reason, the show just can’t get into. Take the similarity between Azazel’s and John Winchester’s overcoats, for example, or End!verse Cas’s Buddhist-style linen shirt. Or, of course, Dean’s unexplained new red leather bomber jacket, the one he only started wearing after Cas reappeared in Season 7.
I’ve written in great detail about the Season 1-5 leather jacket elsewhere, but basically, the Reader’s Digest version is that, within the universe itself, the jacket probably used to be John’s. After all, the jacket’s clearly very old and weathered, in an out-dated (1970s) style. It’s also far too big for Dean, makes him look like a boy wearing daddy’s clothes. All of this implies that this was a hand-me-down jacket given to Dean by John, and that it symbolizes what a giant of a man John Winchester is to his son, and all the rules and complexes and burdens that John ever laid on his son’s shoulders.
The coat’s last appearance in the show is “Swan Song”, after which we know Dean goes to live with Lisa and Ben. By Dean not wearing the coat again, the wardrobe department is telling us that Dean has, for the most part, moved past what his father gave him in order to forge his own path. He has let go of his anger toward his father, and become a father himself.
It doesn’t last, of course, and that’s one of the great tragedies of Season 6, in that Dean becomes like John Winchester in all the worst ways. He desperately wants to be a better father than his was, but he doesn’t know how, and in the end, he slaps Ben across the mouth and becomes just like John anyway.
I’m getting off-topic (uh, okay, the entire thing is off topic, because: BRAS. But whatever, we’re on a roll here) but yes, I do think since “Swan Song” Dean has realized that a man isn’t what he’s born with or what he’s given, but what he chooses to be. The problem is, like you said, he’s still choosing unreasonable and unattainable standards of what a “man” is. And those standards are being reinforced everywhere, most of all by the Hunter culture itself. Note that while Dean struggles with his grief in Season 7, every single Hunter he encounters — even Bobby — tells him to buck up, swallow his feelings and just do his job (“because that’s what a man does” is left unspoken). Even Sam can’t seem to understand what he’s going through. The only person who doesn’t tell him to shove those feelings down, the only one who tells him it’s okay to be angry, it’s okay to feel, because “you’re only human”, is Cas, during the car ride in 7x17. In fact, that conversation is one of my favorite moments in the series, because it demonstrates that Cas doesn’t expect Dean to be a “man” or a hero or to behave in any certain way; he just accepts Dean as he is, for who he is—and if you’re a Destiel shipper like me, that’s as good as an “I love you”.
I can’t believe all this conversation came out from Dean’s stupid jokes about women’s bras, but I’m really glad it did. :)
(PS: To the OP — I don’t know if I made this clear enough in my original reply, but I don’t think the girls are leaving behind their bras. I think Dean is stealing them, to keep as trophies.)