Three Chic Geeks

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The Problem With The Big Bang Theory

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Or Where Have All the Geek Girls Gone?

When The Big Bang Theory first premiered, I couldn’t get enough of it. Finally, a show where I understood all of the references and could relate to the social awkwardness of the characters. Finally, a show for geeks like me.

Well, sort of.

Though initially The Big Bang Theory felt like a great way to joke around about the plights of nerd and geek culture, it has slowly become a drag to me. The same jokes are played out over and over again. The character development is slow and not terribly interesting when it happens at all (sure, give Wolowitz the creep a personality makeover, but Raj STILL can’t talk to women without alcohol? Really? Really?). There are all kinds of problems when it comes to the portrayal of minorities (Poor Raj. Six seasons in and he’s only now getting a real storyline.), but the problem that has been striking me the most lately is the lack of geek girls.

Now, you may be wondering what I’m going on about. There’s Bernadette and Amy, and to an extent even Penny has been nerding it up in recent seasons. Once upon a time there was the intelligent and ever-sarcastic Leslie Winkle, and the two most recent episodes have introduced a new female character, Lucy. Surely, Big Bang is covering the female geek.

Not exactly.

The women of BBT are allowed to be nerds, but they’re not allowed to be geeks. Here’s the distinction I am making for the purposes of this article: a nerd is someone who is academic, a geek is someone who participates in subcultures such as comic books, science fiction, fantasy, cosplay, tabletop games, etc. Big Bang Theory has plenty of nerd girls, but no regular geek girl. My hopes and dreams for Lucy were crushed with her big revelation that she doesn’t even like comic books.

The closest we ever get to having a geek girl is with Alice, the tattooed and pierced comic book artist who wanders into Stuart’s store one day and flirts with Leonard. Too bad she is only in one episode ever.

(Source)

Bring Alice back, please. (Source)

Sure, the main female characters occasionally participate in geeky things. For example, Penny cosplays as Wonder Woman. However, she doesn’t really want to cosplay and is merely doing it for the boys. This happens again when Penny, Amy, and Bernadette all attempt to read comics for the sake of understanding their men more. Not because they actually want to read comics for themselves. The notion!

The girls’ interaction with geekdom in BBT is limited to them expressing their sheer exasperation, or else passing interest played for laughs.

Penny has shown aptitude in gaming on two separate occasions, once in Halo 3 and once with online gaming. While it was nice to see a girl into FPS gaming, it’s a one-time thing and leaves her open to snide remarks from Sheldon.

“I don’t know how but she is cheating. No one can be that attractive and this skilled at a video game.” – Sheldon

When Penny gets into online gaming, it’s only as an escape from her life and quickly spirals into an addiction, purely played for laughs. It’s as if the writers are taking Sheldon’s comment from the earlier Halo episode into account, as the better Penny gets at Age of Conan, the more the episode depicts her becoming physically unattractive.

One moment that I found particularly telling is when the boys throw a Dungeons & Dragons night. As per usual, Penny and Bernadette express their disdain, but surprisingly Amy shows interest in playing… only to be completely shut out by Sheldon.

The situations depicted in BBT are indicative of what we’re trying to get past in geek culture. Girls read comics, play video games, cosplay, and watch sci fi. They don’t do it begrudgingly or to impress some guy, but because they enjoy it. Girls are geeks too.

I’m waiting for the day when Big Bang Theory starts to break out of the stereotypes. When the guys won’t stare in shock at a girl reading comics. I’m waiting for the writers to actually create a regularly featured female character who is into gaming, comics, sci-fi, and all manner of geeky things and is unapologetic about it. Until that day comes, BBT is merely perpetuating the tired-out ideas that led to the “fake geek girls” phenomenon and other misogynistic tendencies in geek culture.

Chuck Lorre, we’re ready to leave that in the past. Are you?

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Author: Critique Geek

Writer and dreamer with a BA in Sarcasm. All-around nerd and lover of geeky things.

39 thoughts on “The Problem With The Big Bang Theory

  1. Well said!! The portrayal of women as geeks and nerds in the media is always something that makes me sad. We can be intelligent, athletic, creative, AND utterly geeky- and our attractiveness isn’t inversely tied to our geek levels, either. Thanks for a well-written, thoughtful post on the subject. :)

  2. Isn’t it odd how in that second screenshot Amy and Bernadette are wearing glasses and Penny isn’t? Like we all wear glasses if we’re geeks. Come on.

  3. I couldn’t agree more about this. I really do enjoy watching BBT, but I do get tired of the fact that it’s only the boys that are allowed to geek out. Actually your post pretty well sums up exactly my issue with BBT lately. I’d forgotten how gross they made Penny when she got into Age of Conan. In retrospect that’s really annoying me. Even the most hardcore of MMO obsessed people I know (yes, including girls) still make time to shower, go to their jobs and live their lives.

    I read sci-fi, quote Star Wars/Star Trek, have a science background and play MMOs like any other geek, but when I mention it, the reaction is on par with telling them I’ve got a virulent and highly contagious disfiguring disease. Yet when my husband says the same thing it’s just like a conversational opening – “Oh really? Which games do you play? What’s your favourite episode of X? Did you read the latest on Y?” Sigh.

  4. Great post. You would think in a time where being a nerd or geek is in, that we would see more girly geeks and not just the stereotypical girly geek. Most people wouldn’t necessarily realize that I am a complete geek. I can compete just as well with the King of the Nerds crowd on trivia, have a wall dedicated to action figures in my office and have a date night video game nights with my boyfriend every weekend. I also wear dresses, work in Mental Health and can carry on a decent conversation about the latest tech or science news…oh but I do wear glasses, must be a geek.

    As a woman we seem to have to prove our geekiness. A guy says yep I am a geek and no one second guesses him. Oh but put a girl in a comic shop or gaming shop and she has to prove that she belongs there. It is incredibly frustrating. I thought we had gone beyond that.

    Again great post.

  5. Well said!! The portrayal of women as geeks and nerds in the media is always something that makes me sad. We can be intelligent, athletic, creative, AND utterly geeky- and our attractiveness isn’t inversely tied to our geek levels, either. Thanks for a well-written, thoughtful post on the subject.

  6. Great post. You may enjoy Charlie Bradbury on Supernatural. I love her character. Check her out in the folllowing episodes: “The Girl With the Dungeons and Dragons Tattoo” (Season 7, ep. 20) and “LARP and the Real Girl” (Season 8, ep. 11) and see if you find her girl-geek approved.

  7. I dislike the implication that to be a girl and a geek, you must be gross and unattractive, like how nasty Penny got the more she played her online game. Girl geeks that are overweight and/or unattractive seem to be more widely accepted than really attractive girls. I get that all the time when I was gaming with my girlfriends. “You I can see loving geeky stuff but your friend over there is HOT. NO WAY she loves D&D.”

    …are you kidding me?

    • I remember there was this scandal a while back where a geek model in a cosplay competition got bullied by those who were competing against her and called “not a real geek” just because she was pretty in comparison to them. I forget who… She was quite pretty, a bit unusual looks, blonde? My memory sucks. Anyway, it’s really sad that pretty girls can’t be geeks apparently just because they’re pretty.

  8. I was really surprised about that myself. All the women are smart, confident and strong but hate comic books. It furthers the myth that normal women and men would be attracted to geek culture. Sad really. I still love TBBT, but the jokes are getting old.

  9. 1. the writers are older. girls in late 90’s just weren’t geeks. not without their boyfriends or brothers ushering them in. this sounds like a sexist, blanket statement but i’m going to say again, girls in late 90’s only got into it because they knew a boy into it. by 97 i could count like 15 girls server-wide on ultima online vanilla- most of which played with their boyfriends! and i sure as hell never saw another one in eb or the hobby shop magic card table. i’m sure there were a few, but seriously- not more than the teeniest handful. the girls of their generations weren’t geeks because..
    2. geek girls are unicorns. they were end-game, put-a-ring-on-it, goddesses of geekboys everywhere. my fellow geek friends would wait and wish for a geek girl like me. not for how cute i am, though there’s no denying it. not for any of my other awesome traits but that i had a well stacked elementalist deck, a grandmaster tank-mage with full plate and could translate their manga for them. if they made amy or penny or even bernadette (funny story- we went to the same temple and i went to a dance with her older brother!) a full out nerd/geek girl there would be no drama. they would realize the wonderfulness of this complete 90’s rarity and cue happy ending.

    • There were geek girls long before the 90’s rolled around, they were just rarely, if ever, acknowledged as being geeks. Being a female geek was neither recognized by mainstream culture or geek subculture. Like in many other areas beyond geekdom, they were defined first and foremost by their gender, and their interests were denied, regarded as odd, and ultimately trivialized.

      As much as they say they want geek girls, male geeks are just like non-geek men. First and foremost, they want a girl who is hot — someone who’s physical beauty makes the man look good when she goes out. Arm candy. What they really want after that is for the hot girl to appreciate all their geekiness, but they don’t want her so geeky that she could actually compete with them in their realm. (Just look at all the crap girl gamers get as proof of how male geeks handle competition involving women.)

      That’s why Penny is the lead female character in BBT, not someone like Leslie, Bernadette, or Amy. BBT fulfills that male fantasy of having the hot chick fall in love with the geeky guy, which even non-geeky guys can related to — they ALL want the hot chick, even though they feel like they’ll never get her, and in BBT they serve her up on a platter in the form of Penny and her relationship with Leonard.

      Ultimately, BBT is a guy’s show. I won’t be holding my breath waiting for better female characters.

      • II won’t disagree that it’s a guy’s show (it is after all created by Chuck Lorre) but the idea that males in general only want a woman who is hot and who cannot “compete with them in their realm” is a little offensive. It’s akin to me saying that all women want successful conventionally attractive men that can shower them with money and lavish gifts. But we all know this isn’t true.

        Yes majority of the time we are attracted to and desire people who are sexy; men lust after Megan Fox, women lust after Chris Hemsworth. However we are not bound by this and we sure as heck aren’t so shallow as to adhere to… well to shallow stereotypes.

    • Even Mazes and Monsters had geek girls in it and that was made in the early 80s.

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  11. I hate to admit it, but the Big Bang Theory depicts a pretty accurate representation. In all the years I’ve gone into comic book stores I rarely see any girls in there. Any that are in there are generally just in there for the sake of her boyfriend/friend(s).

    Now you do see a decent amount of girls at conventions or major events, but The Big Bang Theory references this. In Season 2 Episode 2 Leonard is upset about his break up with Penny & they make several references to geeks being able to get girls at comic con like “What happens in costume at Comic-con, stays at Comic-con.” or Sheldon says”Look on the bright side.”, Leonard says “What’s the bright side?”, Sheldon says “Only nine more months to comic-con.” and then with a delighted grin Leonard says “Oh yeah.”.

    I understand how some of you may be offended, but my guess is you are part of the rare few groups that have girls in them. My friends and I are almost all geeks, we read comic books, play video games, watch cartoons etc, but there aren’t any girls in our group. This is not for a lack of trying though. Every time I see people in the comic book store I look around to check if there are any girls looking at things I know about. The truth of the matter is the ratio of geek guys is at least 10 times the amount of geek girls. Congrats to you geek girls and you guys who have befriended them, but most of really are a group of dudes debating about comic books competing at video games or watching Sci-Fi, anime, cartoons, etc. We’d love to involve girls in our group, but we simply don’t meet any.

    • The truth of the matter is the ratio of geek guys is at least 10 times the amount of geek girls.

      I am sorry, but that is just so not true. I’m not sure where you are based (guessing you’re a kangaroo based on the .au email though) but where we live, in New York and Cali, there are as many female geeks as there are male. If there are no women involved in your local geek scene, it might be time to ask yourselves why that is. Usually, there’s a good reason – they don’t feel welcome, they feel too shy, they are afraid of the much-dreaded neckbeard-fedora “nice guy”… the list goes on and on.

      Maybe you’re using a much more narrow definition of “geek” – anyone can be a geek over anything, they just have to love it hard enough. I’m a Sherlock Holmes geek. I’m a music geek. I play Magic: The Gathering for hours on end, and I go crazy for my TV shows and I absolutely love The Avengers. Do I read comic books? Not so much these days – I enjoyed them more when I was younger. Do I play video games? Yes, I can spend hours and hours and hours with a good strategy or citybuilder game. Those might not be the same things you are into. I can’t say if I am a typical girl geek; I’m hardly the model for anything normal. However, it might just be that girl geeks are into different things, different games and different TV shows than what you and your friends are into. And that’s totally fine but that

      Have you tried making friends with girl geeks online? Reddit’s /r/twoxchromosomes, /r/nerdgirls and /r/girlgamers are usually great places to meet nerdy women – just be sure to clearly state you’re a dude and that you’re not just looking for someone to send dick pix to. Going to conventions where the draw is a star from a TV show with a mostly female audience (like Supernatural) is also a good idea – there’s going to be so many chicks it’s not even funny.

      If you meet one of the supposedly mythical geek girls and she’s not into quite the same things as you, don’t despair. You and her can become friends and talk about things you DO have in common, and introduce each other to new things. That’s really how friendship works, regardless of gender – and relationships of the romantic kind too.

      Sorry if I sound a bit confrontational… I just like to get right to the point.

  12. yeah, it’s bad enough they have Penny with Leonard when she only likes him as a friend….couple that with how Howard landed Bernadette and you really wonder what the heck they were thinking….

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  14. While I agree with the post about their lack (or disdain) of female geek characters I will mention that Big Bang Theory negatively stereotypes all of its geek characters. The show isn’t a celebration of geek culture it is a mockery of it, it is not aimed at geeks it is aimed at “normals.” The show expects us to laugh at these characters because they are geeky/nerdy stereotypes. We’re supposed to relate to Penny because she’s an outsider, she’s normal. The entire show is built around the stereotype that geeks in general are socially inept weirdos to be laughed at.

    I find everything about the show depressing.

    • I will say, as the show has gotten older the audience has been directed to laugh more at the non geek characters than previously though Sheldon’s various rituals and odd behavior are the butt of the joke 7 times out of 10. Generally it’s a show about perpetuating stereotypes and is ruining my hopes for more complex characters existing on major network television so I feel your pain.

      • I haven’t watched many of the newer episodes so I guess it was a little unnecessary for me to generalize the entire series as I did, it’s good to know that it’s at least taken a half a step forward.
        I just don’t understand why anyone finds stereotypes funny. It’s like the pop culture reference, there’s no joke or punchline it’s just a reference. I mean I can understand stereotypes being funny in something satirical, like The Simpsons used to be, but on they’re own it’s just offensive.

  15. I find BBT spot on. But I’m a nerd girl. An academic in the soft sciences. I just don’t know that many girl academics that are into the geek stuff. I love Star Trek and Indiana Jones but never read a comic book before my son became obsessed with Spiderman. My little brother tried to introduce me to some of the card games (I think it was called Magic?), but I disliked it. I don’t disagree that introducing a geek girl would be interesting, but I do think the show’s portrayal of academic women is spot on (Shiny Trinket Maneuver especially, lol).

  16. The thing that’s been annoying me more and more lately is how much of a bitch Penny is. She gets away with it because we the audience are supposed to be people like Penny. But she’s forever making snide remarks and putting people down. When my friends are excited about something, I want to hear about it – I want to know why it makes them excited, and I want to hear their enthusiasm because I like my friends to be happy. But instead she makes comments like, “You’re using the word ‘cool’ wrong” and generally tries to make everyone – even her boyfriend! – feel bad about themselves. And we’re supposed to accept it because we’re supposed to *already know and agree* that Leonard is using the word ‘cool’ wrong >: (

    There’s also the assumption that Penny can do whatever she wants because she’s popular and wonderful and everyone should be grateful that she deigns to acknowledge their presence never mind be their friend. Like all the jokes about what Leonard will do to mess up the relationship. Even in series 7, it’s a given that Leonard would never leave her, because she’s pretty and he’s a geek, so of course he should be grateful that he’s with someone that treats him like crap, because if he left her he would never find another woman ever! Especially not one that would be nicer to him! Because he’s a geek so he deserves condescension!

  17. I also agree with you about the equation of geekiness and nerdery.

    It’s annoying that ALL the male characters like comic books AND Star Trek AND Star Wars AND D&D AND video games etc. etc. and NONE of the female characters like ANY of them.

    My social circle is pretty geeky (both men and women) and there are some of us that like some of those things and some of us that like other ones. And some of us that like other geeky things that aren’t on the list and others that like different ones of those. I can’t think of any way that any of those likes or dislikes correlate to gender. It’s just some of us liking some things and others liking others.

    • Again, the show is pretty close in my experience. Almost all the guys in my grad program were into video games, costume stuff at conventions, and table top games (even creating their own related to our academic field). While none of the girls were into any of that. But not all the guys were into that stuff. The ones that were did seem to spend 24-7 with each other, much like the four main male characters.

  18. The part about age of Conan in big bang was spot on: people who get addicted to mmorpgs are not attractive by any stretch of imagination. I am not talking 2 hours a day every few days, i.e. a casual, I am talking 5+ hours a day regular. I was like that, I know what that’s like, and let me tell you, I gained 60 pounds and was acne riddled after just 3 years. It takes Hard work to be attractive, with regular workouts, proper beauty regimen, proper diet etc. so don’t gripe with the creators over an issue you do not understand: Chuck Lore copied southpark perfectly, and the depiction of an addict gamer was apt and to the point.

    • Somehow, even when I was logging 10+ hours a day for a solid two months on Magic the Gathering: Shandalar I managed to fit time in to wash my face and shower and work out and eat food same as I always do.
      I spend 16 hour days in front of a computer, working and writing stuff and have been doing this for ummm nearly two years now. Magically, I remember to eat right, exercise, and occasionally even shave my legs. Goodness, how do I even do that?

  19. I have thought this for a really long time. It irritates me that while they show intelligent nerdy females, and ditzy females but nothing in-between, and NONE of them remotely like any form of fandom. Well said!! I was going to do my own feature on this idea, but I don’t know if I would cover anything you haven’t said!! :)

  20. I feel that BBT was been dumbing down the last couple of seasons I watched it, so I just stopped viewing. It is, as DJ noted, a mockery of all things geek.

    Not worth my time and energy.

  21. My girls were raised in a geek home. My wife and I are both major geeks – she’s not so much into the printed comics, but follows the Marvel cinematic universe but is a swords and sorcery nut, and has a library full of scifi classics (Heinlein, Asimov, Herbert, Clarke.)

    My daughters are into anime, comic books, cosplay, XBox, Riddick, and Firefly. One is a geologist – rock nerd. They could go toe to toe with any of the Big Bang boys. They both watch BBT, but relate to the guy characters…. because those are the only ones that are relatable to them.

  22. I agree, and it always irritated me, but to an extent I just tried to ignore the tired old stereotypes and enjoy the show for what it was.

    …Then I saw the episode where Leonard makes (makes!) Penny watch an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer – which she has apparently NEVER SEEN BEFORE – and her response is basically “yeah, it was ok” which leads me to believe that the writers of this show have never actually met a woman in real life.

    Seriously, I do not know of a single woman of my generation (and Pennys) who didn’t grow up LIVING for that show, watching every single episode multiple times over. It was the coolest and best thing on TV for a loooong time, and even if you don’t consider yourself a Buffy geek you’d still understand the references, get excited when Anthony Head is in anything else (“OMG it’s Giles!”) and know all the words to the musical episode. I just… the idea that she’d never have seen it before is so unutterably inaccurate, not to mention the idea that she would be indifferent to something so incredibly popular and awesome purely because vampires = geek stuff and Penny = bimbo.

  23. “The character development is slow and not terribly interesting when it happens at all”
    You pretty much nailed it for me.Season finales don’t even get me interested in what’s going to happen next nor do I really care. I just watch it now just to kill time.

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  25. One more TBBT article that totally misses the mark.

    Ladies and gentlemen, I hate to be the one to have to break this to you, but TBBT is a extraordinarily absurd view of geeks in general. Ladies, be happy the female roles are absurd. Men, be happy they chose the most stereotypical look and attitude of the male geek.

    I would love to read one of these ‘TBBT misrepresentation of the girl geek’ coming to the defense to not only the way women are portrayed (or lack thereof) but the way men are as well. Contrary to popular belief we are not all tall, patsy, balding man children who wear horrible clothing and get annoyed when we can’t watch Doctor Who.

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