Feminism, TV

Big Bang Feminist Bust

A zinger from Big Bang Theory. Image found on http://www.bootic.com/teesforall
A zinger from Big Bang Theory. Image found on http://www.bootic.com/teesforall

A coworker and I have had a back and forth of “you seriously need to watch [enter show here]!” She has wanted me to watch Big Bang Theory because I’m the office nerd who often takes things exceedingly literally. And I’ve wanted her to watch the YouTube channel Feminist Frequency because she has brought up a lot of really cool feminist observations that really make me think about things.

So we made a TV pact to watch the respective shows today. I watched the first (read: earliest) episode I could find on CBS.com where some episodes of the show is streamed in full. That first episode was Workplace Proximity (Season 7, Ep. 5).

While I have seen the show a couple times in the past so I’m vaguely familiar with the characters enough to be entertained by their nerdly antics and copious references… this one episode was perhaps a horrible one to “start” on, particularly given the feminist/nerd context of the TV pact.

Episode run-down: Amy gets a research job working at Sheldon’s college (i.e. work) and checks with him to make sure he’s OK with the situation. Initially he is, then, after consulting with the other three guys and receiving horrible advice, rescinds his statement of being OK with the situation. In the process Sheldon also gets Howard in trouble with his wife by repeating his statement that he couldn’t live and work with Bernadette. Long story short, Amy and Bernadette are hurt by the insensitive behavior of their respective significant others.

As the ep progresses, Sheldon proceeds to embarrass the crap out of Amy in front of her colleagues, be utterly clueless about what he did to the point of thinking she was the rude one, then later assumes she both can and wants to take him home despite obviously being busy. Later he seems to go to apologize to her, but as the “apology” winds on, we find out that he has actually come to chide her for what he sees as her erratic behavior but remind her that he likes her for who she is, “quirks and all.” At the same time, Bernadette goes over to apologize to Howard for over-reacting and he similarly apologizes for what he said. When it seems they are about to make up, it becomes clear that Howard is more interested in playing video games with Kunal than actually making good on his apology and claim to spend more time with her.

The episode culminates with Penny talking to Amy and Bernadette, letting them know that Leonard was going to talk to the other two guys and sort them out. Cut to a scene of all four guys shooting balloons with lasers and generally having some physics-flavored nerdly fun. End.

Now, I’ll grant the point of Sheldon’s character seems to be a caricature of the asocial, possibly Aspergers-esque, clueless nerd. And I’ll point out that that was likely the third episode of Big Bang Theory I’ve seen ever. That said, the plot-line is horrible. At no point do the three men show any actual remorse (or even understanding, in Sheldon’s case) of their selfish, hurtful behavior, nor are they made to answer for it. Even with Leonard, who was not much of a focus in the story, has obviously lied to Penny about his intentions at the end.

No growth, no dynamics, no change in the male characters and plot-wise it says they can (and do) get away with being disrespectful partners with absolute impunity.

In the next episode I watched (Anything Can Happen Recurrence; Season 7, Ep. 21), Amy and Bernadette have lied to their respective significant others because they just need a bit of an escape from Sheldon’s and Howard’s current obsessions. They spend the rest of the episode feeling guilty to the point that’s the majority of their participation in the plot for that episode. At the end of the episode, Bernadette pays for her transgression with apology sex dressed up as a Catholic school girl. Howard is pleased with this situation. Amy tries the same thing with Sheldon, but is roundly rejected in usual Sheldon-esque fashion.

So in one episode, the guys are jerks and get away with it and even have fun at the end, while in another episode the ladies are jerks and proceed to be guilt ridden and make amends with sex, or attempts thereof. Totally seems fair and equitable. Yeah…

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