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Sitcoms and The Use of Satire to Demonstrate Gender Issues

Essay on Electronic Media

By Natalie G.Published 2 years ago 11 min read

Sitcoms are one of the most entertaining tv series, especially in the US, as they expose topics that are not usually talked about in a household, like sexism and racial issues. The Big Bang Theory and The Mindy Project are two sitcoms where gender and power struggle, especially for women, is presented passively in a humorous way. We can relate to sitcoms on a deeper level since they're not just there to entertain us, but with the use of satire, important issues are touched upon in a way that doesn't make it uncomfortable to most people. Both series represent the struggle that women experience regarding how smart and how capable they are. From Penny that is not portrayed as intelligent or smart compared to her 'genius' male friends, to Mindy aspiring to be a successful doctor in a male-dominated field.

The Big Bang Theory was created by Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady and the show premiered on CBS on September 24, 2007. Its main characters include Leonard Hofstadter and Sheldon Cooper who were roommates, Penny who was their next-door neighbor, Howard Wolowitz and Raj Koothrappali who were part of the male group. Right off the bat, what we notice even from the names is that Penny, who is the only female character represented in the first few episodes, is not identified using her last name, while the rest who are physicists, astrophysicists, and aerospace engineers are identified using their last name. By not providing Penny with a last name, it gives off the impression that her identity is not as important compared to the men who are greatly known for their scientific work. The only time Penny is given a last name in the whole 12 years of the show being aired, is when she gets married to Leonard Hofstadter and she takes on his name. By not giving one of the main characters a last name, even though the rest possess one, even the women that come in later who are also scientists, it is diminishing because Penny ends up being more than just the hot next-door neighbor.

In the first few seasons, Penny was introduced as a shallow, hot and not very intelligent woman, and she stood as a “trophy to be earned” (Hennessy et al.) and Leonard does not stop pursuing her until he finally ‘wins’ her over. Throughout the beginning of the series Penny seems to be using her body to get things from the boys like free wife, and money for food, giving us the impression that the producers want her to stand as a contrast of the two boys who have their life put together, have stable jobs and money for rent and food. Women in the 21st century aspire for great things for themselves and Penny is the girl that no woman wants to be today, which is to depend on men, use their own body to get what they want, and to lack an identity. In season 6, episode 20, Penny uses her body to get Leonard the position for tenure at the university, while Sheldon, Leonard, Raj, and Karry compete for the same position. In this episode, she exploits her body to get Leonard the position and when Raj notices he calls them out and says, “You two should be ashamed of yourselves, using women to advance your goals with sexuality”. Raj then proceeds to offend Amy, Sheldon’s girlfriend, by saying “and whatever Amy plans on doing” where he implies that Amy has no sexuality to use to her advantage, which only leads to comparing the two women. Satire is used here to represent how men in the real world treat women, like Amy who, are not as appealing, and therefore disrespect them and belittle them.

Amy is portrayed as monotoned, masculine and cold, which is the clear stereotype of women involved in the science fields (Hennessy et al.). Amy is portrayed as asexual before she gets with Sheldon and when she finally forms a bond with him, she begins to act on her sexuality, therefore, elucidating the impression that even intelligent women can access and act upon their sexual side. Amy’s portrayal can be interpreted in different ways, for some people she is a symbol of strictness, intelligence, and order, exactly what Sheldon also stands for, but when she starts developing feelings for him she needs and wants more than that, and Sheldon has to develop and change as a character for her, showing that men should also compromise in their relationships For other people, she acts as a ‘tool’ for Sheldon as he mistreats her through the series and she still accepted him for who he is—which includes being a bad boyfriend. For instance, Sheldon and Amy were supposed to go together to her aunt’s 93rd birthday, but Sheldon chose to play Star Wars instead, completely ignoring Amy’s feelings and how important that was for her. It is portrayed through this episode that society puts men first, and so men are taught to choose themselves while disregarding the feelings and wants of women. The producers express to the audience how wrongful Sheldon was being towards Amy by making fun of his immaturity and ignorance, and thus, displaying to the audience that they should aspire to avoid being like him.

The three women in the series, Bernadette, Amy and Penny, all become main characters because they are dating one of the main characters who are men. Amy and Bernadette, unlike Penny, are represented as intelligent and, therefore, ‘respected’ women since they work in the science field just like the men. In season 8, episode 7, Bernadette is chosen to pose for a sexy magazine and Amy does not believe that she should do it since “women in their profession work hard enough to be taken seriously as it is and posing for pictures in their lingerie won’t help their cause” (Henry). Bernadette, however, disagrees with her because she believed that women should be able to be both intelligent and sexy. Penny, in this case, supports Bernadette and implies that she uses her sexuality at her pharmaceutical sales job constantly. However, we later see that Penny’s flirting fails to do a lot of good as we see a doctor bringing her flowers because he thought Penny had feelings for him (Henry). In this episode, women are seen to be using their sexuality to benefit themselves and even though it gets Penny in trouble in the end, she feels empowered as a woman and even though Bernadette did not get to do the photoshoot, she still felt like she can be both sexy and smart. The producers hint in this episode that women can be both sexy and smart and are allowed to use their sexuality to their benefit and should not be judged for it.

The Mindy Project was written by Mindy Kaling herself who is the main character of the show, and the show was aired at Los Angeles, California on the 25th of September 2012. Each episode is 30 minutes while each season contains about 20 episodes and it is an American romantic comedy revolving around Mindy and her life in the city as a doctor. There has been a lot of conspiracy surrounding this show since a lot of people believe it’s outright sexist and others believe it’s revealing the truth about women in male-dominated careers. Mindy has stood as a woman that is never sorry for who she is which is independent, headstrong and loves her own body the way it is. “These qualities made both Kaling and the character Mindy symbols for genuine modern-day feminism” (Robbins). However, some comments that were thrown at her from male characters, caused many people to believe that this show is more anti-feminist that anything else.

In season one, episode one Mindy dresses up for a first date and she gets awful remarks from Danny, one of the male doctors, and it was astounding how he spoke to her like that. These two have banter between them, but things go to far when Danny suggests she loses 15 pounds in order to look better in the dress she was wearing. Starting off the series with such a comment from a man only shows how the producers want people to see that society belittles women using snarky comments like that, making their confidence drop and the men’s pride to rise. Just like Raj insulted Amy’s sexuality and appearance, Mindy is also demeaned in a similar way by Danny. The problem with both remarks from the two men is that they think they can make such ‘jokes’ towards women and expect them to laugh it off. The producers show how society is teaching girls to laugh such comments off instead of teaching men how wrongful it is to make such remarks.

Throughout the show, many sexist comments have been thrown around by men and some people interpreted them in a very negative way. In season 1, episode 2, Mindy wants to fire the current nurse and replace her with someone more reliable and eligible for the job, so she communicates this to the other doctors, who are male. Mindy wants to be the one to take up the job of recruiting a new nurse, and Dr. Shulman, who seems to be the one in charge, tells her to take that responsibility. However, Danny, one of the male doctors, also wanted to take up this job and so Dr. Shulman told him “if you happen to see her do something that is not good for the practice, just step in and lend a helping hand”. From this, we can understand that Dr. Shulman could be implying that Mindy would not do a perfect job compared to Danny and so he put Danny in charge of ‘supervising’ Mindy while she takes up this task. Satire is used in the show to reveal that even though women believe they are taking up more important roles and tasks in their careers, the men have an eye on them and are ready to ‘lend a helping hand’ because they don’t believe that the women can do a well enough job.

In the same episode of season 1, while Mindy is under supervision by Danny, and they are interviewing different people for the nursing position together, Danny makes a comment that is offensive towards Mindy. As they are interviewing one lady, that is very well qualified to be a nurse, the lady jokes that she has so much experience that she could even be a doctor and Danny responds to that humorously that “We already have too many of those around here” and looks at Mindy, who takes a second to realize that Danny was referring to her. Mindy is dumbfounded and replies with “What’s that supposed to mean” and Danny says, “I was just joking around” and that only causes them to break into a fight. Danny’s insecurities are being exposed in this season as he feels threatened by Mindy and how she is moving ahead in her job while Danny wants to be the only one to be in charge. Through this, we can understand how men in society want to dominate the women in the workplace because they want to be the people in charge and not the women. The show is portraying through satire how men have always been threatened by women’s ability to do a good job, and how when they feel that they lost some type of power, like Danny who lost a task he wanted to partake in, they try to dominate the women by putting them down emotionally, just like Danny is doing, by offending Mindy.

In both shows, satire is used to expose how women are mistreated and looked down upon in society if they are not smart enough. Penny is constantly exploited, especially at the beginning of the show where she fails to understand any ‘difficult’ words the nerdy boys use, and she is made fun of in the process. Mindy is an intelligent woman and yet she is still undermined by the male doctors, on how good of a job she can do. Through both these tv series we can understand that no matter if a woman is ‘smart’ or not, she will still be undermined and belittled by society and by presenting this theme in these shows, people will grow to understand how wrongful sexism is.

The Big Bang Theory and The Mindy Project are two sitcoms where sexism is highly exposed to present to people how ludicrous it is to undermine women just because they are not men. Sitcoms do more than just entertain us, and with the use of satire, topics like sexism are touched upon more humorously, while not removing the importance of the topic. Both shows effectively demonstrate the struggle that women go through regarding how intelligent or capable they are, and that society should start modifying their values and ideas because women deserve the same respect and success in their careers as men.

Works Cited

Hennessy, Lauren et al. "Our Own Theory For “The Big Bang Theory” - Hypatia Project". Hypatia

Project, 2016, Accessed 28 Nov 2019.

Henry, Brian. "‘The Big Bang Theory’ Recap: Can Scientists Be Sexy?" Fox News. N.p., 2014. Web. 28

Nov. 2019.

“Hiring and Firing.” The Mindy Project. Fox. Los Angeles, California. 2 Oct. 2012. Television.

“Pilot.” The Mindy Project. Fox. Los Angeles, California. 25 Sept. 2012. Television.

Robbins, Kayla. "'The Mindy Project' Has Been Disappointingly Anti-Feminist This Season." Mic. N.p.,

2015. Web. 28 Nov. 2019.

“The Misinterpretation Agitation.” The Big Bang Theory. CBS. Burbank, California. 30 Oct. 2014.


“The Tenure Turbulence.” The Big Bang Theory. CBS. Burbank, California. 4 Apr. 2013. Television.

“The Weekend Vortex.” The Big Bang Theory. CBS. Burbank, California. 8 Mar. 2012. Television.

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About the Creator

Natalie G.

Instagram: _nataliesenses_

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