Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Big Bang Theory: Comic Books and Gender Roles

                 I was recently watching one of my favorite TV shows, The Big Bang Theory, and I began to realize how much both comic books and gender roles are involved.  For those who do not know, The Big Bang Theory is a comedy series about a group of friends composed of four nerdy and socially unaware guys and an aspiring actress who lives across the hall.  The guys of the show are very knowledgeable about comic books and spend much of their free time at a local comic book store.  Penny, on the other hand, knows nothing about comics and is interested in much more stereotypical “girlish” things that do not involve fighting and violence.  This often creates conflicts on the show that are portrayed as comical and set up the episodes.

                In two particular episodes, I noticed that gender roles are particularly stereotyped and used for satire.  In one of these, Penny accompanies her friends to the comic book store for the first time.  The show portrays this type of store as only available for men and somewhere that Penny should feel out of place.  She wanders around not knowing anything about comics and has to ask for help from her male friends who are searching through the racks for something they do not already own.  Penny is even objectified in a way when the other customers stare at her and the owner of the comic book store hits on her.  This episode creates a dynamic that suggests that comic books are meant for males, not for females.  You can watch a scene from this episode here.

                In another episode of The Big Bang Theory, the group decides to dress up as the Justice League for a costume contest.  They need a woman to dress as Wonder Woman, so Penny is assigned the role.  Sheldon, one of the male characters, says to Penny that he thinks she probably feels uncomfortable in her outfit because she thinks it “makes her look fat”.  This implies that this is a typical insecurity of women that can prevent them from dressing how they want, while her male friends can wear spandex without worrying.  The outfit is very revealing and it would be understandable if she feels objectified, but the insecurity of her weight was assumed based on stereotypes.  Click here to see a scene from this episode.

                When watching these episodes through the lens of this class, I came to notice that the portrayals of gender roles are somewhat stereotyped.  I am a female and had never been in a comic book before this class, but I would not assume that all females do not go to comic book stores.  I also think it is unfair to give women the portrayal of being insecure about their bodies and always concerned with their looks.  It takes away from the heroic actions that characters like Wonder Woman represent.  The show is done with the goal of comedy, but it seems that it is sometimes at the expense of realistic gender roles.


  1. I agree that the Big Bang Theory exaggerates stereotypical gender roles at the expense of it's satire. I guess I noticed this while watching it, which I have many many times, but before this class I never would have questioned it. It does seem to play into the stereotypes a bit too much. I especially think we take this for granted and do not realize how it could hinder the push for gender equality. I've always thought Big Bang Theory was hilarious and have enjoyed watching it, but I think it could be holding us back from gaining female equality.

  2. The Big Bang Theory is one of my favorite shows. I definitely agree with you that gender roles are stereotypically portrayed. Penny is often portrayed as the dumb blonde, girl next door character (literally) character, surrounded by a group of socially awkward and even ego-centric male nerds. She was also always Leonard's love interest and even dated him for a short period of time. I think that the scene where she is in the comic book store showcases the stereotype that comic book stores are not a place for girls. However, I do think that Penny's character is interesting because she can be seen as both the stereotypical blonde or someone who the group wants to emulate since she is considered to be "normal" .

  3. I think there needs to be a distinction for gender stereotypes in some of these shows. Big Bang Theory is a comedy. The stereotypes are often super exaggerated... Because the ridiculousness of it creates humor. I don't believe the writers are using the stereotypes because that is the message they want to portray to the general audiences. Rather, the humor in it makes the audience realize the stereotype. It is being specifically challenged, thereby making audiences more aware that it is occurring. I think it works to educate about stereotypes by playing into them, not actually promoting them in life.

  4. I think Maggie makes a great point about how many comedy shows use humor to exaggerate a stereotype thereby making the audience more aware of the ridiculousness of the stereotype. I have not seen this show before but from Allison's description it appears as though the guys are being stereotyped as well as this Penny character. The four guys are characterized as socially inept and geeky, which the show associates with being extremely into comic books. It is not wrong to make this association between these traits and the interest in comic books; however, not all guys that like comic books are nerds. The show overall seems to be playing off of common stereotypes to humor the audience rather than targeting solely targeting women.

  5. Big Bang Theory is also one of my favorite shows, and it is easy to see where the gender stereotypes come from. To begin with, all four of the male lead characters have either a PhD or a Masters degree, all four of them are employed by Cal Tech and are doing fairly well with their lives, well Penny is a girl who left her hometown in Nebraska to move to Los Angeles in search of becoming an actress and making it big in Hollywood, but instead often times finds herself struggling and gets a job as a waitress at The Cheesecake Factory. These are enough stereotypes to create a helpless female character, however, instead the producers give Penny an edge by making her a female character with a big heart who is instead idolized by her male counterparts as being a "normal girl". I think if it wasn't for the fact that the men on the show are completely socially awkward, this show would simply have too much gender stereotyping, but instead it brings forth satire and comic relief.

    I did see the episode where the friends go to the comic book store and all the men are starring at Penny, they were obviously objectifying her, however, due to the comic nature one should not take it too seriously or in any sort of degrading way.

  6. It always bothered me that the main character, Penny, was such a dumb blonde. I know there are unintelligent people out there, but the fact that they make the only main female role for like the first three seasons to be extremely dense really frustrates me. I actually stopped watching the show because it made me so angry at the ridiculousness of the gender stereotyping. All of the main male characters in the show are smart with social problems, the female character is beautiful with slutty problems. It just seemed like such a disgusting way of portraying women that I couldn't take it any more. I know later on in the show smart girls from their work, female family members, and significant others for the boys come into the show, but Penny is the only one that lasted from the beginning. She is the one that everyone associates with the show. I think the writers really screwed up when coming up with this plot: "Hot girl moves in next to smart guys and teaches them how to get laid"


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.