The Big Bang Theory and the representation of women in the science field

by white1 on April 2, 2015 - 2:33am

“Women represent the majority of young university graduates, but are still underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and computer science (STEM) fields” (Hango). In our culture, there still exist stereotypes that surround women scientists in the media, such as: females are less skilled than males in scientific fields; female scientists are unfashionable or sexy, too emotional or cold. The portrayal of a woman in a science field is not always realistic on television; instead of focusing on the woman’s physique and clothes, the media should find positive ways to represent women in the STEM fields. This leads me to ask if the representations of women in science in the media are ethical. I will focus on the “most popular TV show on Thursday nights,” The Big Bang Theory and how its stereotypical representation of the women is not ethical (Whitney).

I will start by summarizing an article written by AK Whitney that points out this issue in The Big Bang Theory. (Whitney) As much as TBBT represents a more realistic environment for scientists when compared to TV shows like CSI, the ever present sexism towards women is discouraging for girls and women in the science field. The Penny character symbolizes “a trophy to be earned—a hot, dumb woman who [is] supposed to be opposite of the smart guys” (Whitney). Penny’s last name is not revealed in the show, which makes it look like she is not important enough for us to know more about her. The other two female characters that entered the show in season 3 were Amy and Bernadette, two women in STEM fields just like the boys. Amy’s look is frumpy and her personality is cold and masculine, which resembles the sexist stereotype that surrounds women in science (Whitney). Bernadette’s squeaky voice makes her seem less smart than the guys, which is another disadvantage for the females because they have to work much harder to prove that they are as intelligent as their male coworkers. “Not being taken seriously for being girly is something that affects not just STEM women’s credibility, but any woman in higher-paid professions such as medicine, law and finance.”  Sheldon does not think women are as intellectually capable as him, or as men for that matter, in the science field. Even though he likes Amy and the fact that she is smart, he still mocks, devalues and lessons her accomplishments (Whitney).

The gender inequalities seen in TBBT are realistic, because women have to deal with such issues in their life as scientists. How can girls identify with the rare female role models in sciences on TV, let alone in TBBT, where the boys are the heroes and the girls are weaker than them? In TBBT, the boys are very nerdy and uncool, which is not very accurate in our society today because not all men in sciences are old-fashioned like the ones portrayed in the show. TBBT shows that the sciences are not female-friendly, which is untrue today. This show is maintaining some old beliefs about the science culture, and I think it should adapt to the new values and ideas regarding the nerd culture. Representing women in an undesirable, inferior way compared to men is unethical because it leads us to believe that we should and ought to be like the women seen on the screen. The show is not representing the two sexes equally and expects women to act and look a certain way, which is an idea we have constructed as a society. Restricting women’s power to act is ethically troubling, because we are setting them up as only valuable when in relationships with men. The normative values are telling the young female viewers that they either have to be shallow, superficial and dumb or dorky and awkward if they want to pursue a career in science. Also, the normative values constructed around men make the girls expect to see a certain type of socially uncomfortable guys in this field. These depictions influence the viewers’ ideas about scientists and raise a less favorable attitude toward science. The media shows the scientist as a person devoted to the field that is not romantically desired and that has social anxiety or is simply an outcast. This influences women to choose another field. There is pressure on this show to allow girls to identify themselves with woman scientists instead of showing what is considered to be normal.

In conclusion, the misrepresentations of women on TBBT are not ethical because not only do they reinforce the normative values of what a woman in science should be like, but they do not accurately portray the science culture in today’s society. They also influence girls to think of woman scientists as they are on the show, which is not the case in real life. It pushes them to find a different career path where they will be romantically wanted and will not have to be surrounded by socially awkward people as seen on TBBT.


Works Cited

Hango, Darcy. Gender differences in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and computer science (STEM) programs at university. Statistics Canada. 18 Dec. 2013. Web. 1 Apr. 2015.

Whitney, AK. How "The Big Bang Theory" Represents Women in Science. n.p., 18 Jun. 2014. Web. 1 Apr. 2015.

About the author