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.
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.
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?