I was finally able to see one of the partially of feminist episodes of BBT last night. In this one, Bernadette is asked to be in a science magazine in an article highlighting the “Top 50 Sexiest Scientists.” Here’s a play by play of the episode. Penny, Amy and Bernadette, are talking about the article. Bernadette is excited to be in the article, but wants to know what her friends think. Penny believes that she should do it. She thinks that showing a little skin to get ahead is worth it. In her sales person job, flirting to make a deal helps her make more money than the other sales reps. Penny knows the patriarchal system is against her, so she uses it to her advantage. As a stereotypically beautiful blonde white woman, the system is more open to women like her. Rather than her sexuality being exotified or threatening masculinity, it’s welcomed. Amy, on the other hand, can't do that. She turns to feminism, rather than trying to navigate sexist society. She says that there wouldn’t be a Top 50 Sexiest Scientist article for men. Amy then asks, why do women have to objectify themselves to be seen in science magazines? Women should be appreciated for their intellect, not their bodies. Bernadette is right when she responds, why can't women be smart and beautiful? But unfortunately, no answer is given to her question. I would respond - women can't be smart and beautiful because we still live in a world which diminishes women's accomplishments and would rather look at their bodies. If we did have gender equality, and saw everyone as people, an article like this probably wouldn’t exist (and if it did exist, it would probably include all genders).
In the 2nd scene where this comes up, Amy and Bernadette are talking at a coffee shop. It’s revealed that Amy had the article Bernadette was going to be in canceled. Amy wrote the magazine an email about how it objectifies women. Now, the magazine won’t run the Top 50 list, but also won’t invite the female scientists back for another list about their accomplishments. Illustrating that the magazine only valued the women for their bodies. Bernadette is angry at Amy, and says her choice to be in the article was taken away from her. This is true. If Bernadette was okay with the article, even though it was demeaning to other women such as Amy, she still should have been allowed to do what she wanted. Amy responds that whatever Bernadette was going to do affects them all as female scientists since there’s so little of them. Amy can have her opinion, and it was good that she emailed them, but she’s seen as the villain because Bernadette is unhappy. Amy didn’t know they would pull the article, though that was her objective, but she’s not where we should place the blame. It’s just a distraction to make us, the audience, not realize that female scientists are often objectified. Though Bernadette is okay with the idea of being in the magazine, and that’s fine, the article is still problematic, and the fact that female scientists, and women in general, are not taken seriously. That’s the real problem, but rather, Amy, the feminist, is portrayed as the wrongdoer. She’s painted as an overzealous woman who should have just kept her mouth shut. This plot about the magazine ends with Bernadette calling Amy ugly, saying that Amy was just jealous because no one wants to see her sexuality. This really hurts Amy because she is a sexual being. This is played for laughs a lot in the show because she’s seen wearing conservative clothing. But just because a woman chooses to wear certain type of clothes, doesn’t mean they do or don’t want sex, it’s just what they feel comfortable in. This is also seen as bad because Amy, is the weirdest out of three women, of course she’s the feminist. If Penny was the feminist, maybe it wouldn’t get such a bad reputation in pop culture, but no, the show sticks with the idea that feminists can only be ugly with a threatening sexuality. In the end, Amy and Bernadette stay friends, though no mention of the article is ever made again.
Another thing in season 8, and throughout the show, is that they constantly talk about high school and who they were back then. The crew decides to throw their own prom since theirs sucked so much or they just didn’t go. Amy is extremely excited, and her excitement is used as a joke because of her “weird” sexuality. Penny doesn’t like prom because she’s been to so many. She even talks about how she blacked out at a few proms and laughs at that fact. Leonard is happy he can finally go to prom with the popular girl. They still identify with those labels. In a way, I guess it could be therapeutic for the viewers who may be younger than the actors in the show. It might help younger viewers know that just because they’re bullied in high school, doesn’t mean that they’ll be bullied forever, expect in the show, the main cast (no matter how “cool” they are – going to space, getting the “hot” girl), are still bullied, picked on, can’t stand up for themselves, etc. It’s as though they were never able to escape those labels. I guess it’s also there to help emphasize how different Leonard and Penny are. In this season, they get married even though they admit they have nothing in common and would never be friends in high school. Who cares if they wouldn't have been friends in high school, the real problem is that they have nothing in common as adults. High school is over. Why are they still referencing it? To be honest, it’s just sad. It makes me worried knowing how much power labels have.
The show also likes making drinking cool. In almost every scene they’re seen drinking wine or beer. Penny even jokes she has a drinking problem. Though the women tend to mostly drink wine and the men beer, Penny, being seen as more “masculine” than the “actual” men on the show, sometimes drinks beer to show that she’s not your “stereotypical” prissy girl. Though she’s not “butch” either. She’s in that “perfect” medium of being able to be one of the guys, but still be sexually desired by them.
Sheldon’s OCD with knocking is a joke in a few of the episodes. He knocks in a special way, and sometimes does more to save up for next time just in case he can’t do all three. That’s seen as weird and quirky, rather than a mental illness or problem. Raj’s character is continually problematic. His character portrays Asians as rich, adding to the model minority myth. Asian Americans have higher poverty levels than whites in New York City, but no one talks about that because that would rightfully put them in the fight for racial justice.
Lastly, Penny’s only movie break is in “Serial Apeist” and “Seriel Apiest 2.” It was really disturbing to know that the writers don’t care about triggering victims or just alienating people who don’t think rape is funny (which should be most of the population, but surprisingly isn’t). To me, it was just a bad excuse to get Penny topless and in a bestiality/rape scenario. It just felt like fan service. There’s one scene in “Serial Apeist” where Penny gets killed in a shower scene like the one in Psycho. Unlike when rape in Game of Thrones happens to strong female characters, Penny never was a strong independent woman, but rather a trope. She’s the girl next door who knows she’s sexy and uses it to her advantage. So putting her in a rape scenario wasn’t that “odd” for her character. Therefore, it wasn’t questioned. In “Serial Apeist 2” she gets turned into the gorilla and is the presumed “apeist.” Illustrating, I guess what could be, “revenge rape.” It’s all very disturbing, but played for laughs.
Also, “Serial Apeist” just didn’t remind me of the rape in GoT, but also in the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, a show that I refuse to watch. They have one infamous episode about how “people get offended by everything.” Titus, a black man, decides to put on a play and star as a geisha in “Kimono You Didn’t.” He believes he was Japanese in a past life and a group of Asian Americans protest it as misappropriation. But then one of the Asian American protesters get offended at one of the other protestors in the group, showing that even those who try to be PC are wrong. Their group is called Respectful Asian Portrayals in Entertainment aka R.A.P.E. WTF Tina Fey?! Screw your white, outdated feminism.
Penny is the victim of not only the film, but of Raj, but that’s also played for laughs. She and Raj mess around one night in bed while drunk, and while she’s asleep or passed out, Raj sexually harasses her, the extent is unknown to us and to her. But that’s okay because she’s seen as “loose” and “easy” so she’s used to it. Isn’t that a great lesson? Eye roll.
23 year old English major and ESL Teacher. Currently living in Fortaleza, Brazil. Feminist and kill joy with a cause.