Bad Penny. The evolution of women in sitcom culture.


THE BIG BANG THEORY

Penny and Leonard from the Big Bang Theory

I was raised on sitcom culture. One thing I have noticed in the past decade or so is a shift in how women are portrayed. Unfortunately, it’s not for the better.

Women used to be shown as the subservient wife and mother who surreptitiously leads her husband from behind in order to get her way, like June Cleaver, Donna Stone, Samantha Stevens and Lucy Ricardo. There was always an unspoken (or even sometimes actually spoken “One of these days, right in the kisser.”) threat that she was risking violence if she were caught going behind the back of her husband in order to get what she wanted.

Lucy_desi_1957

The Ricardos

Then, in the 1970’s women were portrayed as feminists for the first time. Maude, Mary Richards, Margaret Houlihan and Emily Hartley to name but a few. These were women who are unconventional and ground breaking. Maude fought for women’s rights and raised an independent daughter. Mary was the ultimate working woman who, not only didn’t need a man, but refused to settle. Major Houlihan worked alongside her male counterparts in the most dangerous of settings. Emily Hartley was seen as a woman who chose to work and a true partner in her marriage with her husband. These women were much healthier role models then the women who came before and after them. These sitcoms are proof that female characters can be well written, fully actualized, real women who are also funny.

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An iconic symbol of feminism.

Now we’re seeing women who are perennially annoyed with their husbands, or single women who continually make bad choices in men. Take, for example the show Everybody Loves Raymond, featuring Debra Barone, a woman who gave up her career in order to raise her children (which is a luxury in today’s world and an admirable choice). She is shown as constantly finding fault with her husband, who is somewhat childish, but all in all, not a bad guy. One of Debra’s most frequent insults is to call him an idiot. Another example of the continually annoyed wife character is on the show Rules of Engagement. The character of Audrey Bingham who is a childless, married, working woman. Audrey is married to Jeff, a former frat boy, jock type who is an excellent provider, a bit childish and a tad oblivious at times, but again, all in all a good guy. Audrey’s default setting is mildly annoyed with her husband and it just gets worse from there. She seems generally disappointed with life for the most part. This type of character reminds me of a great quote from Bill Maher, “Women cannot complain about men anymore, until they start getting better taste in them” These women go around unfairly blaming their husbands for behavior that they were fully aware of when they said I do. I have zero sympathy for this type of woman. They have no one to blame but themselves.

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The bickering Binghams from Rules of Engagement.

Then there is the other prevalent female sitcom archetype, the single woman who makes bad choices. One of the most frustrating examples of this is Penny from the Big Bang Theory. Her father gives some examples of her previous boyfriends in the following clip.

She has dated white rappers, cow tippers, a guy who blogged about their sex life and a guy who cheated on her and had violent tendencies (Kurt). When faced with a relationship with Leonard, a genius physicist who is, admittedly, a little clingy, she pulls away thinking that she can do better. I will never understand why young women would rather be abused by the bad boys than have something real with an intelligent guy who will treat her well. Okay, maybe I do understand it… young women are inherently insecure and feel undeserving the majority of the time. What bothers me most about Penny is that she thinks that she is the catch in her relationship, when clearly the real catch is Leonard. Looks fade, but intelligence is forever.

castofgirls

The cast of the HBO series, Girls

My final example of the single girl who makes bad choices is from the HBO hit, Girls. All four of the lead characters in this show are hot messes. Yes, they are young, insecure and still ‘finding their way’ but they all have absolutely no respect for themselves. These young women were raised by mothers who would have come of age during or after the feminist movement and yet every character is clueless and self sabotaging. I would have hoped that their mothers would have instilled in them, some sort of sense of self by the time they were out on their own. For me, the most disappointing thing about this show is the fact that it was created and written by a woman.

It seems that women can’t write good parts for women in Hollywood, so how can we have the audacity to expect men to write them for us?

Optical Delusion


I have worn glasses every moment of my waking life ever since the eye doctor first strapped them to my head when I was 14 months old. I have what is referred to by optometrists as ‘special care eyes’, which basically means that I have blind as a bat-itis. I have multiple astigmatisms, my right eye has a tendency toward laziness, my lenses have a prism in them and I am far-sighted over all. I am grateful for my glasses. More specifically, I am grateful for the advancements made in the field of eyewear since that first pair was strapped to my head. No longer must I endure lenses made of glass that were so thick and heavy that they caused indentations on the bridge of my nose and on my cheeks. Frames have evolved from being a choice between horn rims or cat eyes to a veritable cornucopia of colours and styles with designer names like Chanel, Dior and Burberry. I still remember when the only famous name in eyewear was Sophia Loren. Ms. Loren was a trailblazer, taking the drab out of having to wear glasses.

sophialorenSophia made wearing glasses glamorous.

When I was growing up there was a saying, “Boys don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses”. On it’s face, this saying tells girls that you will never get a boy to be attracted to you because glasses are ugly and therefor make you ugly while wearing them. Remember the clichéd image of the plain Jane who takes down her hair and takes off her glasses and suddenly becomes gorgeous? I used to hate my glasses when I was younger, even going so far as to forego wearing them in social situations, even though I couldn’t see my own hand in front of my face, just because I wanted to be more attractive to men. When I look back at photos of myself at that age, I can now see clearly what I never could then, I was attractive with or without my glasses. If only I had the confidence to value my eyesight over my need for male attention. There’s a movie from 1953, starring Marilyn Monroe called How To Marry a Millionaire in which Marilyn’s character, Paula, who wears glasses, meanders around without them stumbling into things and even getting on the wrong plane just because she feels ugly with her glasses on. So ugly, in fact that she falls in love with the first man who tells her he likes her in her glasses. She even references the saying in a “cleaned up” 1950’s version, “Men aren’t attentive to girls who wear glasses”.

It nice to see how times have changed since then. Now celebrities are sporting their specs in public proudly. Some women like Tina Fey and Lisa Loeb have become known for their eyewear, not in spite of it.

Tina-Fey-cute-glassesTina Fey is smart, funny and sexy.

lisa-loeb-02Lisa Loeb looking sultry in her specs.

Last night I was watching an episode of the Big Bang Theory in which Penny puts on a pair of glasses and completely shatters the implication that glasses aren’t sexy (and proves that glasses might make you look smarter, but they don’t actually add IQ points).

I now wear my glasses confidently, with pride. I wear them like a fashionable accessory with different pairs for different looks or moods. I have come to the point where I not only need my glasses, but I love my glasses.

Women might not have evolved past our intrinsic insecurities surrounding our looks yet, but it’s nice to know that at least glasses aren’t as looked down upon as they once were.

My favourite television romance


Amy Farrah Fowler and Sheldon Cooper

I’m a geek for The Big Bang Theory. I’ve seen every episode multiple times. Usually when a sit-com adds a new character, especially a new love interest, the show’s quality plummets. When Mayim Bialik joined the cast of The Big Bang Theory as Amy Farrah Fowler, the show got so much funnier. The chemistry between her and Jim Parsons is unparalleled.  To illustrate, I thought I would share my five favourite “Shamy” moments from the past season in the order they aired.

Sheldon and Amy Cuddle

Sheldon asks Amy to be his girlfriend 

Sheldon gives Amy a gift (or THE TIARA) 

 Fun With Flags (or, as I like to call it, HANSEL AND PRETZEL)

Playing Doctor 

It may be the oddest relationship on television, but it works. I can’t wait to see what Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady have up their, oh so creative, sleeves for next season.