There has been a lot of research done on the influence media can have on society, in particular the degrading images of women that are often seen in media. Since the second wave of the women’s rights movements these images were the object of scrutiny and an easy example of how women were viewed. In modern society where women have made many strides towards equality why are there still instances in popular media were women are negatively depicted? Have women come as far as they think?The popular sitcom The Big Bang Theory negatively depicts the female characters by reverting to a binary view of gender, in which the female characters are lacking, they can be beautiful or smart however they cannot be both. The Big Bang Theory premiered on CBS in 2003. When the show began it centered on five characters. Four of the five characters are genius young men whom all work at the same university as scientist, Leonard Hofstadter, Sheldon Cooper, Howard Wolowitz, and Raj Koothrappali.
With their love of comic books, role-playing games and individual quirkiness these characters are examples of “nerds”.The show begins when roommates Leonard and Sheldon meet their neighbor Penny, a beautiful all be it dumb blond whom is aspiring to become a actress, but works as a waitress at The Cheese Cake Factory. In 2011 Sheldon and Howards love interest, Amy and Bernadette, whom previously held supporting roles were promoted to full time members of the cast. This offered a new element to the show providing a contrast to the mainly male dominated show. The main female charter on the show The Big Bang Theory is Penny, whom interestingly does not have a last name.For the first 4 years of the show of the five main characters Penny is the only female.
The under representation of females seen in The Big Bang Theory is a common occurrence in media as discussed by Collins in the article “Content Analysis of Gender Roles in Media” Collins states that “television primetime males out number females by a ratio of 1. 2 to 1(males to females)”(Collins). Although this clearly demonstrates the preference of men over women in media the article also indicates “ how women and men are portrayed may be much more important then whether they are portrayed “(Collins).
Penny’s appearance is the first thing noticed.Sheldon and Lenard state that she is a significant improvement from their last neighbor, a 200-pound transvestite with a skin condition. Where as the introduction of Sheldon and Lenard clearly established their intellectual superiority. The article “” states that “gender identity is enacted through a variety of self-presentational strategies including attire, non-verbal and verbal behavior all of which interact with others per existing expectations”.
Penny dresses in clothing that show off her body. It is clear through her appearance and interactions with others that Penny is valued for her sexuality.Most of Penny’s interaction with the other main characters point out her lack of knowledge. Consisting of the men having to explain there conversations in the most simplistic way, or pointing our her community college education compared to their accelerated programs at MIT, and Cal Tec. Another indication that Penny lacks talent and intelligence is the fact that although she aspires to be an actress in the six seasons The Big Bang Theory has aired Penny has been working as a waitress at The Cheese Cake Factory, and on multiple occasion the characters have made comments indicating that she is a bad waitress.The only advancement made to her career was when she started tending bar at the same establishment she waitressed at. Penny’s relationship with Lenard’s highlights her masculine characteristics. For example, in the episode the Date Night Variable, to do something nice for Penny, Lenard “(gets) all (her) favorites, beer, wings, sliders,… football”, things that are stereotypically categorized as male.
As soon as they sit down to watch the game Lenard asks “where are we in this relationship”. Penny replies with “ sweetie can I just be the girl for tonight.Indicating that being sensitive and insecure about a relationship is a female characteristic. The show highlights the femininity of Penny’s appearance and the masculinity of her personality indicating that apart from appearance, what is traditionally considered feminine is negative. Although feminine aspects in a male are not desirable they are tolerable and over looked, for Penny continues to go back to Lenard despite his sensitivity. Amy Faretfaller is the complete opposite of Penny, first introduced to the show at the end of season three.
Raj and Howard meet Amy on an online dating site and set her up with Sheldon. This begins as an experiment to see if the dating site can truly find a match for everyone, for the show has previously established that Sheldon is extremely selective in whom he chooses to spend time with. On multiple occasions Sheldon has lessened his friendship with his roommate Lenard as one of convince. When the site matches Sheldon’s profile to Amy, Raj exclaims, “ We finally have proof that aliens walk among us”.
Amy became a full time member of the cast in season 5 her storyline lmost exclusively focusing on her relationship with Sheldon. The differences are very distinctive from their appearance to their personality. Amy is an extremely nerdy woman whom can be described as unattractive. Unlike Penny whom wears a lot of revealing outfits Amy wears a lot of baggy cloths that show little skin, she also is always in long skirts that hide her figure. Amy works as a neurologist, yet this is rarely incorporated into the story line. Her intelligence is evident though her conversing at a high intellect with Sheldon, whom is understood as the most intelligent among the characters.Despite Amy’s intelligence the show highlights what she is lacking; sexuality. As discussed in the article by Claudia Bubel and Alice Spitz on the sitcom Ally McBeal entitled “One of the last vestiges of gender bias”: The characterization of women though the telling of dirty jokes on Ally McBeal, dialogue is a way of characterizing a person.
A lot of Amy’s dialogue centers on her making a displaced sexual comment, this indicates her lack of sexuality. The fact that the character is so open sexually however is not sexually appealing, like Penny, indicates that the lack of sexual appeal is an extreme loss to her character.Through the depiction of these to characters the show The Big Bang Theory demonstrates that a women can be sexual or smart however she cannot be both. Penny represents a woman who is sexual and Amy represents a woman who is smart. In the shows portrayal of the two women support concept that women cannot be sexy and smart by highlighting what each woman lacks and showing the extreme of the characteristic that they have; in Penny’s case her sexuality and in Amy’s her intelligence.The show highlights what Penny lacks though the constant comments about her astuteness, mainly made by Sheldon.
Bernadette is the hardest character to analyze. She was introduced to the show as Penny’s coworker at The Cheese Cake Factory however; she became a love interest for both Lenard and Wolowitz. Eventually marring Wolowitz. Bernadette is a challenging character to analyze because she is not sexy or excessively smart however her character sends the most negative message in that she is neither smart of sexy therefor she is insignificant.One episode that offers an interesting commentary on gender is entitled “”. In this episode the male characters, Sheldon, Lenard Raj and Wolowitz are ask to promote science to a group of middle school girls. This episode had the potential to give a positive message to women, encouraging girls to take an interest in the male dominated field of science; however what the girls do during this episode completely contradicts this message.
While the men are promoting science to female characters the women, Penny, Amy and Bernadette travel to Disney land to dress up as princesses.There has been a lot of academic writing done that shows the extreme negative connotations of Disney Princes. For example……………having the women dress up as princesses while the men promote academia gives the impression that academics and knowledge are not as important as appearances. This notion of appearance over knowledge only applies to the women despite the entire point of this show is that “Smart is the new sexy” as it states in a promotional ad. The men are valued for their intelligence, many of the story line focus on their careers at a highly respected university.The fact that two of the women Amy and Bernadette also have careers in the field of science is hardly mentioned.
Penny’s job is the only one that is frequently mentioned as she works as a waitress. The notion that intelligence is valued in men is also seen in Penny and Leonard’s relationship. For then men that Penny dated before Lenard were all athletic good looking guys however they were also extremely dim witted. Leonard’s continuous relationship with a gorgeous girl like Penny shows that while intelligence is a values characteristic in men appearance is far more important that intelligence in women.