The Big Bang Theory has been a tolerate/hate relationship with me. Like eating Taco Bell at two in the morning, it is something that is best avoided but for one reason or another I give into its delicious, crusty siren calls. I originally started watching it sometime after season two started after being told to give it a try. I am one of those people that I do not feel like I can build a proper opinion regarding something unless I've experienced it. So I gave it a shot. The first two seasons were nauseating to sit through. Overwhelming stereotypes were forced down viewers' throats tainting any possibility of it being enjoyable. However, going into season three the characters started to develop slightly better personalities; acting more like actual people with conflicting complexities instead of just being the "awkward, nerdy" guy or the "super smart but stupid" guy. Even though the geeky jokes are very forced and mainstreamed, the science humor added a slight bit of charm that started to appear which led me to watch through it the fourth season until it went downhill again. Nonetheless, I had invested enough time into it to keep going. It soon became the thing I watched when bored and sleep deprived.
Normally it takes quite a bit to offend me, but the latest episode of Big Bang Theory rubbed me the wrong way. In "The Weekend Vortex", Raj suggests that the men partake in an forty-eight hour gaming marathon playing The Old Republic. The idea of an 'all guys' weekend mixed with Star Wars instantly catches everyone's attention but drama develops when everyone's relationships begin to clash with their plans. The weekend is turned into a girls vs guy battle after Sheldon bails on his commitment to Amy to accompany her to her aunt's birthday party. She spreads her hurt feelings to Penny who helps her crash the guys' weekend as revenge and to set Sheldon straight.
On top of that, Bernadette invades the guys game by tagging along with Howard. She comes over with him with a bright pink laptop and begins to fill the "cute but clueless girl gamer" role. (Clip) While playing the game, we see her making gun shapes with her hands and going pewpewpew before being corrected to use your mouse and keyboard. She banters Howard into dressing like her character so they match to display that they're together in the game and refuses to heal the other members of the party except for him. Ultimately she begins to frustrate the guys by disturbing their questing due to failure. Tension rises as neither Raj, Sheldon, or Leonard want to speak up against her lovey-dovey attitude towards her fiancÚ nor want to risk hurting her feelings but the irritation is clearly seen on their faces and in their silence.
"The Weekend Vortex" was an eye opener. It made me realize that a demographic being overlooked - the average nerdy girl. Let's take a closer look at the three main female characters in the show, shall we?
Penny is the "hot chick"; this is something that cannot be denied. She's your average person scrapping by to make a living. Not really intelligent or into nerdy hobbies like the rest of the cast, her role is add a bit of sexy spice to the mix and make up for everyone else's lack of social skills. Bernadette is the "attractive, smart chick" whose character pushes borderline-feminist ideals without being overly bold about them. Throughout the series, she obtains her doctrine in microbiology yet has a healthy sex life as well as being pretty. Her career becomes very successful, leading to the development of the strong, modern day woman archetype. She expresses a disliking for children and fears losing her career to becoming a house wife before proposing that Howard takes care of the children as she works; after all, she already makes more money than he does. Her character becomes an example of how a woman can be both smart and beautiful while also keeping a sense of independence. Then we have Amy who is the "bland, smart chick". With a doctrine in neurobiology, she is the least attractive of the three main female characters and is portrayed to be the most pathetic of the bunch. Having very little physical relationships in her life and bullied while growing up, she's the quiet shy girl that no one really talked to who becomes overly clinging and sensitive towards those around her. Personality wise, she's just as socially awkward and strange as Sheldon, thus balancing out the attractive factor that the other two already established in the show.
I appreciate that Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady have managed to steer away from just having eye candy on the show, but I cannot shake the feeling that both are horrible at writing and developing female characters. The scene of Bernadette playing Old Republic with the guys left a distasteful flavor in my mouth. It fed into the negative stereotypes that women who do play games either start to play to bond with their boyfriends or are impractical players. The floral, pink laptop was cringe worth enough but her actions throughout the scene only made it worse. As a woman who has faced some harassment for liking nerdy things, having a show promote stereotypes like this isn't helping to improve the female community's image while empowering the male half.
I understand that the premise of the episode was to display the consequences that can follow contradictions that rise when trying to balance a romantic life with a social life. However, like the promo for the episode says, "There's just one problem...The girlfriend." Again, while this is the episodes theme, there have been quite a few occasions throughout the series where "the girlfriend" has come between the man and what he wants. Such as how Bernadette opposed against Howard working on the space station despite it being his life long dream to go to space or constant interferences from Penny with Leonard's other relationships. The show may focus mainly on the main four guys and Penny, but the other two female leads have grown to take bigger parts in the plot. However, the is little to no individuality to them.
It also does not help that none of the women hold any interest in geek-like hobbies. They three always get together to partake in drinking, gossip, and shopping despite having some knowledge about video games, comic books, and science fiction media. In fact, they all seem pretty disgusted by it.
For awhile in the earlier season, we saw Penny become addicted to Age of Conan and beat one of the guys in a game of Halo 3, but her accepting/liking of video games quickly vanishes from the series. She tries to learn a bit about the things Leonard enjoys to be appealing and interested to him, and at times, will make a nerdy reference but she still shows plenty of confusion regarding it. Neither Bernadette or Amy really express interest either, often getting things like Star Trek and Star Wars mixed up or being displeased with their boyfriends' "childish" hobbies and behaviors. For a show that tries to glorify science and make nerds look cool, I find it incredibly hard to believe that that is no female character that likes video games, comics, and science fiction. A few minor characters have popped up here and there but none have been well written or reoccurring.
I do not understand why some geeky traits have not been sprinkled on any of the main female cast. Especially with Penny already having a small background in technological entertainment, they could easily write it in that she picks up gaming as a side hobby even if she played alone. She is a bit of a tomboy so the concept would be rather fitting for her without risking taking her out of character. Plus, with her already displaying some level of skill in earlier episodes, we could see a positive, female geek over the shameful character they have created with Bernadette. Now, it could be argued that maybe they will eventually include a girl who is more like "one of the guys" later in the series. One that Raj could eventually grow comfortable enough around to speak to due to her nerdy habits but at this point, I do not have faith in Lorre or Prady to be that clever and write her all.
Because have you noticed the other reoccurring pattern regarding the female characters...?
All of them are "girlfriends". Each and every lead character that has been a woman was introduced to the show for the sole purpose of being matched up to another character, even if their relationship spanned over a few episodes. I do not mean to write the show off as being sexist because I do not exactly see it in such a way. Relationships always add more to the plot and naturally do occur when people who share similar interests, life styles, and ideals mix. It adds a sense of realism to the storyline but the way The Big Bang Theory has done it has been poor character development. In the very first episode, Leonard had already established a hollow infatuation with Penny to the point of offering to help her retrieve some properly from her ex just based on speaking to her for a few minutes. Bernadette was introduced to the show by being a selected friend of Penny's to go on a date with Howard due to the girlfriend pact: an agreement Penny would set him up with one of his friends. This eventually blooms into their relationship leading up to their engagement. Finally, Amy is introduced by flat out being matched up to Sheldon after Raj and Howard make a fake profile for him on a dating site.
Though of course the train does not stop there. A few other reoccurring women in the series were also implemented into the plot for little reason other than to complicate relationships and add sexual tension. Leslie Winkle (a rival of Sheldon's at the university) only appeared in a total of eight episodes and grew notorious for casual sex between Leonard and Howard before being written off from the show. Priya Koothrappali (Raj's sister) is yet another character whose traits center around an active relationship with another. Filling the shoes as the "uppity, rich bitch", she seems to hold little value to her relationship with Leonard as she hides it from her family and cheats on him after relocating back to India. Finally, there was Dr. Stephanie Barnette; a surgical doctor that Leonard had a brief, semi-serious relationship with. She was written as a date Howard was trying to impress but felt a stronger connection to his friend instead. In an interview, Prady admits that she was "a chance for Leonard to learn that just because someone loves you, doesn't mean you'll love them back" but nothing more.
I cannot help but feel somewhat insulted by all of this. Not only does my niche in the community not seem to be noticeable, but apparently woman are only good for making our male counterparts not lonely. While I do not feel that show is intentionally sexist, I do feel that there is plenty of room for the women of The Big Bang Theory to grow, especially in the geeky department. Poor writing choices have led to rather disappointing evolution of the characters. I do understand that not all scientists or doctors enjoy technology and science fiction hobbies, but this is a sitcom about scientists who do enjoy those things. Why can't we have a woman be like that, too?