Over the years, the media has been one of the most significant factors in influencing the masses towards or against certain beliefs through stereotypes. Stereotyping is an act of generalizing a particular culture, ethnic group, or gender by associating them with certain behaviors and characters. Thus, the modern world consists of millions of people, originating from various regions with their distinct gender differences, races, cultural backgrounds, and religious beliefs. The media, especially modern TV shows, has been accused of stereotyping that portrays positive images and superiority of some gender or communities or a negative image and inferiority of others.
The Big Bang Theory is on one of the 21st century’s TV shows that exhibit gender stereotyping in the media by portraying women in the technology sector. This sitcom revolves around two physicists, Leonard Hofstadter and Sheldon Cooper, who work at CalTech Institution in California (CBS, 2013). They also have two friends and workmates – an astrophysicist Rajesh
Koothrappali and engineer Howard Wolowitz, with whom they spend time, working together on individual projects and playing video games. The four nerds are passionate and obsessed with their careers to the extent that they have no luck with women. However, when Penny, a beautiful waitress, and aspiring actress, moves into an apartment, opposite Sheldon and Leonard’s one, Leonard shifts his priorities towards getting her to be his girlfriend. At the same time, Sheldon enters into a relationship agreement with neurobiologist Amy Farrah Fowler who becomes his female companion (CBS, 2013). Later, Bernadette is introduced in the show, thus adds another new woman to the show who is also a scientist – a microbiologist. The Big Bang Theory has ten seasons already, and it has been ordered for two more seasons. The roles and activities assigned to the main characters are significant when one tries to analyze the series by using a feminist’s view. Therefore, this paper presents a feminist analysis of stereotyping in The Big Bang Theory sitcom by showing a great variety of feminism stereotypes in the show and their pros and cons in society.
One of the positive stereotypes in the show is that the media portrays women as strong and taking charge of their life while men as perceived as strong characters and heroes. Thus, in The Big Bang Theory season one episode one, Penny is portrayed as an independent woman who does not need to be saved by the geeks. She moves into the apartment hall opposite the two protagonists’ place, which shows that she does not depend on men to sustain her living (Quail, 2011). Although she is not academically strong and she cannot match the four scientists in the show, Penny aspires to be an actress. At the same time, Amy and Bernadette are biologists who present strong characters in the education and science sectors. They destroy the stereotype that males are the only people who can operate in this industry. Thus, post-feminist theory acknowledges that feminist theorists have achieved strengthening women’s characters (Bailey, 2014). This overcomes the traditional beliefs that indicate women as reliant on men for financial support. One of the pioneers of this theory, Susan Faludi, advocated the end of feminist movements. arguing that female independence had been achieved in the late 20th and early 21st centuries (Rudy, Popova, & Linz, 2011). Penny’s character shows that women are strong and productive people who can work to support their needs without any need for men’s assistance.
Female independence is an important virtue in society. The positive stereotype presented by the media through the characters of Penny, Amy. and Bernadette in The Big Bang Theory encourages modern women to rise and work towards achieving their goals. Strength among women is essential in domestic economic development and meeting the demands of the dynamics of the modern world. Bernadette and Amy act as motivations to female students who seek to pursue careers, traditionally perceived as male ones. Women have also been discouraged from believing that their duties are home-based and they only deserve domestic work (Mackay, 2015). The Big Bang Theory show is a reflection of the changing gender roles in society and the benefits of including women in the field of global employment and entrepreneurship sector. As shown by the statistics from TV by the Numbers (2014), the show has grown in popularity as the result of its thriving role in eliminating ancient feminine and masculine stereotypes.
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The show portrays modern women as social, empathetic, and supportive through the character of Penny. This stereotype introduces the gender role of a female as emotional and social support to men and other women (Collins, 2011). Moreover, this shows different qualities of a typical woman and her role in the family. For instance, Penny offers support and comfort to Rajesh after he is dumped by his girlfriend in season five, episode four. Moreover, Leonard and Penny are very supportive of each other in season seven, episode 13 (CBS, 2014). In the show, Penny is seen as the uniting factor between the four male nerds, and as a result, Sheldon can maintain his love for Amy. After gaining independence for females, post-feminist theorists noted that women’s roles in society had been identified (Bailey, 2014). According to Berger (2012), the image portrayed by the media has enabled people to appreciate their contribution to families’ social and financial welfare.
Another stereotype portrayed by Amy, Bernadette, and Penny in the show is that women have the power of decision-making. They choose to work in the hospitality, entertainment, and science industries. However, in the first three seasons of the show before Amy’s introduction, the character of Penny was used to justify the fact that women worked best in hospitality and entertainment. She neglected her college education and worked as a waitress at a local restaurant (CBS, 2013). At the same time, she was not influenced to work in the male-dominated science industry. The post-feminist theory supports the idea of female independence in life decisions and career choices (Bailey, 2014). However, Kunert (2012) has noted that nerds are obsessed with their careers and they are antisocial. At the end of season three, Amy, the neurobiologist, has proved that women can have freedom and opportunity to explore science and technology. Although she is a female nerd obsessed with her career, the character has been successfully used to counter the ideology that women are not fit for such areas. The advantage of this stereotype is that it informs women about their right to choose what they want and their duty to transform the world through their innovative ideas.
Despite positive stereotypes, the show also presents sexist stereotypes against women. Through Penny, The Big Bang Theory shows women as the weak sex and those that are not quite intelligent. Thus, Penny is portrayed as an education dwarf with no scientific intelligence, unlike her four male counterparts who are science nerds. According to Bailey (2014), post-feminist theory presumes that society has achieved gender equality, female rights, and independence. However, the media has portrayed their choices of career and passions as inferior and unsuccessful (Collins, 2011). For instance, as Sheldon’s, Howard’s, Rajesh’s, and Leonard’s jobs thrive, Penny’s current career as a waitress and her intended acting career is seen as less thriving and inferior. This stereotype gives the audience a perception that females in society cannot thrive in scientific spheres such as physics and astronomy. Women have been associated with art and hospitality careers that look feminine and easier to perform as compared to masculine professions (Ott & Mack, 2014). Before the introduction of Amy, the viewers would find the role of females in the science industry as those that are neglected and even discouraged from pursuing. As a result, this creates some fear in women and does not allow them to venture into physics and technology.
On the example of The Big Bang Theory, the media portrays women as overly emotional and more irrational individuals, unlike their male counterparts. This stereotype emerges from the traditional nature of women who are soft-hearted and who will easily start crying as the result of disappointments and pains. For instance, Penny cries over her ex-boyfriend and turns to Leonard for comfort, while she shows her irrational side when she opts to overcome her despair through sex. She depends on Leonard’s rational advice not to engage in sexual relations being in such a vulnerable and desperate situation. According to Rudy et al. (2011), intelligent and successful women are portrayed as those who can balance their education life and relations. For example, at the end of season three, Amy Farrah enters the story as a neurobiologist who is a female version of Sheldon. Surprisingly, unlike Sheldon, who is unable to have successful dates with girls, Amy concentrates on her career, but still, she finds time to build a relationship with him. Her character is humorous, and they go through significant disagreements, but later she agrees to take the relationship to a new level by introducing him to her mother. The stereotype is used to portray the weaknesses in women’s hearts, and women are depicted as people who require constant support in the decision-making process.
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Sexual promiscuity in women is another stereotype, present in The Big Bang Theory through Penny’s character. She is portrayed as a beautiful blonde whose purpose is to attract men and become a sex object. Thus, blondes and brunettes work to make their bodies perfect and seductive for men. For instance, in season six, episode 20 “The Tenure Turbulence”, women use their seduction skills to influence the decisions of seniors. Thus, Penny shows off her sexy body to seduce the committee members (CBS, 2013). In addition, Penny dates much, presumably for emotional support. She explains her personal life as horrible after she dates and engages in sexual activities with various men. This stereotype presumes that women are only meant to be beautiful and they should be looked at by men. Moreover, this stereotype has negative implications for society as it supports the traditional belief that women are only important to men for sexual satisfaction and as objects of seduction (Gunew, 2013). As a result, the respect for females in the workplaces and relations is adversely affected.
Moreover, Penny has been used to spread the sexist stereotype that presumes that men are allowed to be involved in intimate relationships with any women, but females are prohibited and portrayed as evil. According to Fisher, Nicola, and Afroditi (2013), tradition depicts males as active individuals and females as submissive ones. As feminist theories fight to achieve the freedom of women to choose their intimate partners, society retains the belief that it is normal for men to have many sexual partners, but women should remain faithful to their spouses (Fisher et al., 2013). For instance, in “The Skank Reflex Analysis episode” (season five, episode one), Leonard is angry with Penny after she has slept with Raj even after their breakup (CBS, 2013). On the other hand, Leonard and Raj’s sister had an intimate affair that Penny knew about but she was fine with the relationship. This portrayal is unfair to females, but society views it as acceptable.
In addition, the show spreads the stereotype that video games are designed for men. In society, males are perceived to be the main players. Thus, Sheldon, Leonard, Howard, and Rajesh have a passion for playing games during their free time while women’s representation in gaming is ignored. Unlike post-feminist theory assumptions, women are still discriminated by society in various fields (Collins, 2011). For instance, the authors of The Big Bang Theory storylines have failed to acknowledge the strength of women in playing video games. Therefore, with the help of the media, people have adopted the belief and women in society avoid playing computer and video games, believing that they are men’s activities.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Stereotypes
Media stereotypes portrayed in support and against women have significant advantages and disadvantages on females in society. First, positive stereotypes towards women encourage them to fight for their rights in the community. For instance, Penny as a social, financially independent woman creates a positive perception of modern women, which offers a good image of the 21st century females and sets good examples to viewers. Thus, modern women are required to work and focus on their goals to sustain their daily needs. Moreover, Penny’s social nature shows that women are socially attractive and compatible with everyone. She later becomes the force behind the unity of the group. Penny is also used to show women’s ability to handle their careers, domestic chores, and their social life without failing in either of them. This capacity to multitask is also exhibited in Amy, a female nerd. Another benefit of the two characters is that they act as role models to women who feel that they cannot achieve their dreams without neglecting their family duties.
At the same time, the stereotype about Amy and Bernadette, female scientists, is useful in changing the idea of traditional female and male jobs. According to the feminist analysis of Ott and Mack (2014), overcoming negative gender role stereotypes contributes to gender balance and respect in the global economy. Moreover, it provides room for women to take on the duties that have been traditionally perceived as men’s. The two female characters act as significant examples to follow. They have gone beyond their cultural limits to work as scientists alongside their four male counterparts, although their fields of activity are quite different. They are also able to challenge the four geeks to overcome the obsession with science, which makes them anti-social and lost in the world of physics and video gaming.
Female stereotypes in The Big Bang Theory are used to portray women as individuals with the ability to change people from worse to better. They are emotionally supportive, as shown by Penny, and they can change people’s character. The stereotypes have successfully changed the negative picture that depicted females as insignificant. Sheldon and Leonard benefit from Penny and Amy’s support and efforts to help the nerds to develop the ability to communicate with women. Finally, both men are finally able to have successful heterosexual relationships, which encourages them to see women as support pillars in families but not the object for manipulation.
However, sexist stereotypes that depict women as sex objects and weak gender have negative impacts on society (Collins, 2011). These stereotypes force a perception that women should consider themselves as nothing more than instruments to satisfy men’s sexual fantasies and pleasures. Penny is used to showing how women expose their bodies and seduce men to gain promotions at work and get some financial favors. This female sexualized image, as painted by the media, continues to ruin society’s morals when some women take it as an option to remain significant in the community. Berger (2012) suggested that such television characters should be eliminated to avoid teaching immoral behavior to the audience.
At the same time, male heroism and ignoring the presence of women in video gaming have adverse effects on society. Today, women and girls are excluded when designing game characters as the result of the perception that games are meant for only men and boys. Gender exclusion violates human rights in society, and the media should evaluate the potential effect of every character presented in scripts before presenting them to the audience (Collins, 2011). Thus, the male superiority and female inferiority, as depicted by Penny and Leonard after having affairs with other partners, continue to spread an unfair treatment against women and glorify men who cheat on their wives and girlfriends. Instead of being promoted in the media, such behavior should be discouraged.
The media is one of the primary sources of gender stereotyping through television shows. One of the television shows that portray feminism stereotyping is The Big Bang Theory, the series that has already ten seasons and revolves around Leonard Hofstadter and Sheldon Cooper who work as scientists in the California Technology Institute. The show portrays different gender stereotypes through its characters such as Penny, Amy, Bernadette, Rajesh, Howard, and Leonard. The female characters of Amy, Penny, and Bernadette are used to portray independent women who are passionate about their careers. They defy traditional beliefs that women are dependent on men and they cannot work in the science industry. The women in the show also reject the popular narratives that portray females as sex objects and emotionally weak and irrational individuals. However, Penny has been used as an example of a stereotype of beautiful blondes who are seen as objects, only meant to seduce men and satisfy their sexual fantasies. Positive stereotyping by the media is used to strengthen the minority feminine groups and it encourages morality in society. However, negative stereotyping is detrimental to moral degradation since it discourages girls from achieving their goals and lowers the respect for women in general.