Leading a discussion on a compare and contrast between The Big Bang and something as profound as sexual harassment proves challenging. The show approaches the topic of sexual harassment in an offhand manner in the way that the characters easily negate feminism with flippant remarks about menstruating leading to aggression in women, or tantrums and confusion (very misogynistic). With so many examples of misogyny present in such a popular show, it becomes apparent that such behavior as exhibited by the characters is acceptable behavior among that class, culture, or gender (white men). Leading a discussion on this topic then must be approached from this viewpoint in order to better understand the mindset that believes misogyny is not only okay, but is that sexual harassment is funny (e.g. comparing women to an egg salad sandwich in Texas because like the sandwich women are full of eggs and only stay good for a short amount of time: thus, their actions are mere biological reactions to their need to reproduce).
In the history of female repression (as showcased in our lexicon with words such as “hysteria” associated with the hymen, or hysterectomy, and other words like menstruation; feminists have a problem with this word because it literally begins with the word “men” and yet has nothing to do with that gender) a lot has been done to proactively treat women as the same class of citizen as men; this show negates such progress. Although this episode tries to make fun of menstruating it only fulfills being rude to the female gender by labeling her hysteric when she’s menstruating and thus explains her mercurial mood (as Sheldon calls the Human Resources woman). This is offensive, not funny. It’s a poor job written poorly, with no punch line. The title of the episode exemplifies this mood as well in that it demeans women by comparing her to an egg salad sandwich. Other issues of demeaning women in the show are seen with Penny feeling jealous of a smarter girl and trying to curtail it by saying she looked into science classes, decided they were too boring, and as a way to keep her boyfriend interested in her simply wears “nerdy” glasses and says scientific words like “molecule”. The highlight of the misogyny in the episode is that women are treated as either smart and therefore dangerous (Sheldon’s assistant) or dumb and only good for sex (Penny doesn’t end up taking the class but instead chooses to look sexy and have sex with her boyfriend while wearing the glasses).
Throughout this episode the items that are highlighted include how great it is to be male and how great it is to be privileged. All of the women in the episode that are written as characters beneath the male characters (they’re ditzy) are considered non-threatening but the female characters that are strong (such as Sheldon’s assistant who is trying to earn an educational experience, or the Human Resources woman) are written as threatening: Sheldon’s assistant threatens the hegemony of not only the group but of Leonard and Penny’s relationship, and the Human Resources woman is threatens the male character’s job positions and is accused of being on her period. Then, throughout the episode all of the male characters mock sexual harassment, which is seen in the final scene of the show when Sheldon has his assistant (whom he sexually harassed) take his online sexual harassment test thereby proving that the events made no impact on him. This final scene makes a mockery of sexual harassment issues. Within the subculture of the four male friends who are the protagonists of the show there is a bond between them about how women should be treated (as objects as exemplified by Penny’s glasses, Sheldon making his assistant take his sexual harassment test, and the robot with six boobs).
The Big Bang is a representation of a culture of men (geeks within a certain age range) who believe that these types of behaviors are okay, and in fact are standard form within a place of employment, and in the real world. The show reifies misogyny, gender stereotypes, and the role of women in the work place and within a relationship. According to Gruenfeld, Inesi, Magee & Galinsky (2008), “Objectification is conceived as an instrument of subjugation whereby the needs, interests, and experiences of those with less power are subordinated to those of the powerful, and this facilitates using others as means to an end. Thus, the process of objectification is thought to involve a kind of instrumental fragmentation in social perception, the splitting of a whole person into parts that serve specific goals and functions for the observer…” During the course of the show every woman is objectified in some fashion and then made to feel poorly about having instigated any altercations with the male characters because it’s simply not how women ought to behave within the context of this white-male subculture.
Goldberg, S. (2012). Tv can boost self-esteem of white boys, study says. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2012/06/01/showbiz/tv/tv-kids-self-esteem
Gruenfeld, D. H., Inesi, M. E., Magee, J. C., & Galinsky, A. D. (2008). Power and the objectification of social targets. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95(1), 111-127. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lw62Dwhi6qc