At my writing boot camp last weekend, another member of my writer’s group complained that The Big Bang Theory was somewhat sexist because of the way they portrayed women. She thought that the women in the show were all ditzy dingbats. I started thinking about the other female characters (in order of approximate number of appearances):
The goth girls from the goth club: Yes, we’re goth. And I’m here too, not that anybody cares.
Bernadette: Clueless about social protocols, naieve, but fiercely smart.
Leslie: Smart, emotional but wholly in control of her emotions in a Vulcan kind of way.
The goth girls (hell, I don’t even remember their names – oh wait, Bethany and Sarah) were stereotypical, though not in the way mentioned. They also fell completely flat as characters. The same thing (though to a lesser degree) goes for Bernadette and Leslie; their characters have the potential of being more, but have not been fully developed yet (Leslie moreso than Bernadette, though).
Then we get to the mothers:
Howard’s Mother: Domineering and omnipresent.
Leonard’s Mother: Domineering and distant and unaffectionate.
Raj’s Mother: Domineering and affectionate
Sheldon’s Mother: Fundamentally ignorant and determined to stay that way (but deeply affectionate).
Yes, they’re listed in order from “most annoying” to “least annoying”. We don’t see enough of Raj’s mother or Howard’s mother to really have much to say about them than the brief description above – they’re close to stereotypes, unfortunately. Leonard’s mother is fiercely intelligent – but also fiercely repressed, distant, and would be repellent in real life. Sheldon’s mother, on the other hand, we find is probably the most fiercely compassionate and caring of the four. She is not stupid, either – she has her beliefs and is determined to stick by them no matter what. And that brings us to…
Penny: She’s like most “normal” people; has no clue about the jargon and social protocols of geeks/nerds.
At the beginning of the series, Penny’s character was quite a bit more “flat”, though you can see glimmers of something more there. By this point (midway through season 3), Penny is clearly not stupid either. She’s not in the same intellectual class as the guys, but isn’t particularly bothered by that. She often sees their knowledge as being … well, useless or beside the point. She also (was) completely unaware of geek social protocol. That again doesn’t mean she’s stupid – the scenes where the four guys try to “fit in” with her parties and crowd are painfully familiar.
Which is probably why I see her as representing “everybody else”. I empathize and relate a lot with the four guys on the show (yes, I had a Howard phase, and god, I hope the pictures were burned).
So I don’t think that all the women are presented as stupid – though almost all of them are deeply flawed in some way or another. (The guys are as well, mind you, so I’m very hesitant to call that sexism.) If you disagree, let me know why in the comments.
“And I think it’s curious,” my fellow writer said, “that they’d make the most extreme person on the show the most effeminate,”
I looked at her and said “Who, Howard?”
And I just stared. I really don’t see Sheldon as being particularly extreme. Or effeminate. I just couldn’t get my head around either concept.
And that led to the impulse to blog about it. And that led to this little scene taking place in my head:
SHELDON: “That’s right, go scurry off to your little corner of the internet, where you can tell random strangers how much you don’t suck.”
HOWARD: “They are not random. I’ve used a lot of SEO techniques to make sure my followers are statistically optimized to be 18 to 24 year old attractive women.”
RAJ: “Single women?”
LEONARD: [Looking at the analytics report] “From Vatican City?”
[All rush to the computer, hilarity ensues.]
And from there, a list:
- If you spontaneously generate scenes for The Big Bang Theory, you might be a geek.
- If you think the characters don’t have quite a good enough grip on [Comics|collectibles|CCGs], you might be a geek.
- If you’ve ever wondered why they haven’t actually played [a port of Doom | D&D | Atari 2600 | Talisman | Any Steve Jackson Game] during the show yet, you might be a geek.
- If you understood the above notation, you might be a geek.
- If you felt the urge to insert wildcards in the above notation, you might be a geek.
- If you try to imitate Sheldon or Leonard, and nobody realizes you’re doing an impression until you say “Bazinga”, you might be a geek.
- If you had the impulse to recreate the whole bit with Howard and Raj in the “goth bar” locally, but can’t think of anyone who would be able to videotape it so it could be on YouTube, so didn’t bother, you might be a geek.
- If you hand-coded the HTML on your blog posts, you might be a geek.
- If you’ve ever caught yourself referring to Wil Wheaton as “that guy in the kilt in Season 3 of the Guild… oh, yeah, and Star Trek”, you might be a particular kind of geek. 🙂
- If you would choose a Ring of Power over a Victoria’s Secret bag in your significant other’s hands, you might be a geek.
Feel free to generate your own in the comments.
(Obviously, all of the above apply to me. You’ve Been Warned.)
I think that this show is great. I personally love it.
Oh, I do too. I do too. I'm especially looking forward to The Wheaton Recurrence…
It's interesting. If Penny wasn't in the show then the guys would be accused of being gay. I just think the show is hillarious.
I've even come up with some idea's of suitable canidates to play Penny's mother and Sheldon's Memaw. You'll find it on my blog.
Cute suggestions, Mike!
Whenever I see a screen shot of an American sitcom and it features four dudes and one busty blond I think, "sexist." It's a snap judgment, and it isn't always accurate, but it pretty often is. The best evaluation method is the Bechdel test:
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