It started last summer, I was talking to my dad, who had just started watching The Big Bang Theory online, and he compared the boys on the show to my brother and his friends. You see my brother has had the same group of friends since high school, and they are by most people’s standards, nerds. They like comic books, movies, video games, board games, and yes, even D&D. My brother though was seriously offended. We are not like them, he told my father. We do not treat women that way, we do not treat each other that way, and we are not like them. He was pretty adamant about it. While I had never compared my brother to the show it changed the lens with which I watched.
Next it was an episode about Howard’s Mother. I like the gag where we never see her. I think that’s cute in a Cheers/Frasier way. But it has gotten mean. You know Howard’s mother’s defining feature? She’s very fat. That’s it. Well, also she’s needy and naggy but mostly she’s just fat. I know this because the show insists only telling me each and every time she is mentioned. In the first season she took a lover and we got to see the fallout from that. This was a interesting story line. There is humor to be found in adult children seeing their parents as sexual adults. But this/last season there has been none of that no expanding of her character, no personality, no nothing. Mom is fat. Mom is gross. Mom is soo fat that ____________. For an entire episode the only jokes were about Mom being fat. In fact to be a mother on this show you must either be: relentlessly religious, cold and detached, or fat. (I know we see Raj’s mom at some point also but only in the context of Raj’s father.)
After the itchy feeling the treatment of Howard’s Mom gave me I started to notice other things. There are a million ways subtle and not so subtle ways they degrade women on BBT. From Penny being dumb, to Bernadette being shrill, to Amy being undesirable these women (who are essentially written as tropes) are verbally mocked week after week. The sexism in BBT is all over the internet. There are great think pieces on the lack of girl-geeks and lack of well rounded characters.
Tonight though I want to take issue with the episode I just watched entitled, “The Misinterpretation Agitation.” The basic premise is this:
Penny flirts with a doctor she sells pharmaceuticals who takes her “3-Mississippi arm touch” as a invitation to look her address up on the internet and then show up at her door. (This is what some people might call stalking.) He then discovers she is engaged to Leonard who apparently won her by sheer determination, which his friends point out at every turn. Doctor Stalker then takes the boys to the basement of his mother’s house where he locks them in order to win Penny by wearing her down.
This episode makes it very clear that none of Leonard’s friends think he deserves Penny and on top of that, she did not choose him so much as she just finally stopped saying no to his advances. (Excuse me, whilst I vomit.)
The are 20 million people that watch BBT each week and let’s say half are people like me, people who like things that are traditionally considered “nerdy.” Of that half, let’s assume half are men. This means there at 5 million men who are being told week after week, season after season that if a woman says no, if she doesn’t want to date you, if she doesn’t want to talk to you, you should just keep trying til she does. Or at least until she stops saying no. This is terrifying to me.
I’d always sort of liked Penny and Leonard’s relationship on the idea that they balanced each other there have been really good episode where we see all the reasons Penny loves Leonard but, this week, this week I am done. The small scattering of pop culture, nerd ready jokes are no longer enough to hide the mean, petty, sexist, shit they are slinging each week. So I am deleting my season pass and quitting. Next week BBT will only have 19,999,999 viewers and if one of them is you I hope you start getting a little itchy, too.