Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Women on the Big Bang Theory

The Big Bang Theory is a sitcom that features a couple of socially awkward yet brilliant male physics postdocs who live across the hall from a sociable "blond bombshell" actress/waitress of "average intellect." And of course one of the geeky geniuses finds love with his hot non-genius neighbor. I've never seen it, so I don't really know what it's like. The description makes it sounds like nerdy male fantasy fulfillment, which isn't really my cup of tea.

The season finale was on May 19, but it was apparently popular enough that they are talking about next season. Science recently ran an article about the show's science advisor, UCLA physicist David Saltzberg, who apparently keeps the physics fairly accurate. So does The Big Bang Theory include any female physicists?

Leonard, plyaed by Johnny Galecki, is the experimentalist who longs for [actress/waitress] Penny and has a disastrous fling with Leslie, a brilliant labmate, who spends part of their tryst correcting an equation. In the episode in which Leonard firs asks Leslie for a date – "a biosocial exploration with a neurochemical overlay," he calls it – the two test how long it takes a powerful lab laser to heat up soup.
You can watch the clip on YouTube. If you enjoy scientist stereotypes - thick glasses, uncombed hair, poor social skills - you'll probably get a laugh out of it.
Leslie is the only female research on the show, a complaint [creator] Prady and Saltzberg hear often from women, whether scientists or journalists. Prady promises that more female scientists will appear. "The [female-male] ratio is actually higher on the show that it is in my part of the field, which is pretty bad, Saltzberger unhappily adds.
There are fewer than one? I guess he's talking about the ratio of the single female physicist character to the 3 or 4 male physicist characters. But hey, it's a fantasy, so why not have two female physicists - and have one of them date a sexy actor/waiter.

The show's production team actually visited the UCLA physics department and apparently received a depressing picture of what it's like to be a woman in physics - which, of course, they'll include in the show:
Prady met a physicist who lies about what she does in social situations, because she feels her career intimidates men. "We're going to have Leslie do that," Prady says. "Whenever anybody says they lie about who they are, there's a rich story to tell there."
At least I find it depressing. The article goes on to talk about how much physicists - male and female - love the series, so maybe it's just me. I doubt I'll bother to give it a go when I can watch the socially inept but brilliant Gregory House instead.
Image: Guess which character in this The Big Bang Theory group photo is not a physicist.
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Darwi said...

Well I am female and astrophysicist. And I do like the show. It does illustrate nicely male part of the my research field. Actually my colleagues admitted that themselves.

About the remark that female physicist lie about their occupation. I am not surprised. On several occasions I mentioned what's my job. People who were talking with me until that point simply stopped talking with me approximately 15 minutes after they found out.
So after those events, I tend not to say what I do. I just say I work on university.
Also I do sometimes use my occupation as effective way to stop advances of the male I do not find attractive. Usually it works.

Unknown said...

Well I personally wish that woman in science does increase.

I've only ever had 2 female chemistry lectrures.. AND im in third year..
I do hope my blog catchs on about science and philosophy.

Peggy could you give me suggestions on how to increase its popularity..
I guess i only made it today haha.. but im just thinking for the future..

Keep it up though, I am quite inspired.


Shakespere said...

Hi. Interesting blog. There seems to be so much new information out there and it's wonderful to see women pioneering it.

Falkor said...

cool blog !!! Digged!

Richard Crawford said...

I saw the series pilot for this show and I did not like it; my impression of it was similar to yours, that it was nerd wish fulfillment fantasy. Now, though, I'm tempted to give it half a chance. Still, though, I'd much rather watch House.

It's a shame that so many women scientists feel that they have to lie about what they do when in social situations. What's more a pity is that there aren't more men who can appreciate intelligent women, and who find smart women intimidating. Personally, I think that says more about the men than it does about the women.

Unknown said...

This show usually makes me want to pull my eyes out of the sockets and stomp on them with steel toed boots.

If there's ever a show that creates a stereotype and runs with it.. it's this one. Of course, they don't have female scientists... because that doesn't fit the stereotype. And if they did... they'd be ugly scientists with frazzled hair and no social skills.. but by the end of the season they'd be really hot.

I think I've seen a movie like that before... or was that my wife.

Anonymous said...

Nerds from all walks of life can fit the bill. But they don't have to like it, or even stay that way.


Zergorf said...

Girl Power!

Unknown said...

Yea the big bang kinda scares me sometimes everytime i think about it.

Anonymous said...

Don't be surprised if they introduce a smart woman character has a possible love interest for Sheldon (the more neurotic and smart nerd). It will take an extremely intelligent woman to hold his interest.

Peggy K said...

Darwi: Thanks for your comment. Since I'm not a physicist I don't really have the same perspective on the show. I think it's a shame that some men get put off by women scientists. My husband was in the same graduate program as I was, so I didn't have that problem dating-wise.

Buddy/Will: The secret is to just keep blogging and linking to other bloggers and hope that they notice you. You may have noticed that this blog has been up a bit longer than a day :-)

Richard: I think it does say something about the men who are put off by intelligent and educated women. And something about our culture too, since people seem to assume that scientists are much smarter than non-scientists, even though that isn't necessarily the case (I'd say maybe differently smart).

bamboo: Yeah, the the "ugly duckling" smart woman who takes off her glasses and takes her hair out of a bun to become a swan is a movie cliché that I hope I never see again (and I assume you mean that your wife is hot, not ugly with no social skills.)

ed t: Doesn't his co-worker Leslie fit that bill? Or does she have to be both smart and super hot.

shakespeare, falkor, skubasteve, montag, dillon: welcome

Camille Minichino said...

It's the old head vs. heart issue, where so many romantic comedies have the girl choose between a sensible, rational (often science) guy and the guy who romances her, but you know he'll never hold a job

I guess it's time to write a different script.

Camille Minichino
author of Periodic Table Mysteries

Miles said...

While I truly agree with darwi but the thing is both man and woman are equal but some how the domination box drops towards the male in the society.The thing is I have not seen much of females in science. I do wish this can change

LeCinQBlog said...

Yet again.Found a blog entry where i could actually go ahead and type like crazy.LOL
I happenned to watch two episodes of this series.
For one it is funny ! In the sense that, if one loves physics, then one would love all those uber smartly written physics based jokes.And there are a lot of them in there.
On the other hand, the female lead in this series is this very good looking dumb person and for some reason the only "geeks"( I don't understand the branding) are men and they are kinda made to look uncool(ugly to put it very politically incorrectly).
For the record,I am a medical doctor, I am female and i am pretty good looking(narcissism?not really, just stating a fact).
So, I so badly wish that society in general could do away with stereotypicl descriptions of how good looking people are dumb and how smart people are ugly looking.hmmm !!!
With regards to people approaching me with some kind of romantic intention, I so wish that sometimes i could paste it on my forehead that i am smart just so that i could automatically discourage all the jerks that constantly approach me coz all they can see from a distance is that i am this pretty young woman sitting at the cafe.Gosh!
Sometimes it also gets frustrating when they don't like it if you talk about intelligent matters related to science because it is so incovenient for the realization of their quick greedy romantic plans that they had already made in their heads even before approaching me coz all they saw is a pretty girl who looks naive and ofcourse she is going to be dumb and ofcourse my only job is to accept date invitations from dumb jerky men..Gosh !
I am so glad i finally found some fellow 'smart lady bloggers'.
pardon my verbal diarrhea, I just go on typing in excitement.
We need to form a 'Smart-ladies- blog-club' or some such, gather up all smart women from all over the world.

Darwi said...

Peggy, I decided to watch the show only when I heard my male colleagues commenting that is so uncanny because is so close to the truth. And I did recognize mannerisms and behavior patterns presented in the show with several of my colleagues. And that's what makes it even more funny for me.

Le cinq blog, about dating and that approach with the assumption that beautiful=stupid. I had those experiences too. My hobby is dancing, and I did some performances too, so I had countless of those experiences. And just another illustration, at my last show, after my act I put on the T-shirt with NASA symbol. Just that T-shirt effectively reduced the number of the 'approaches' to one. The guy who got a courage asked me why I have T-shirt with NASA symbol. When I replied that I work for them, he retreated in those famous 15 minutes....

Tracee Sioux, Sioux Ink: Soul Purpose Publishing said...

Is it not lonely or depressing to be a female scientist?

Do you have a lot of female coworkers?

Peggy K said...

Camille: it would be nice if they didn't make smart and romantic mutually exclusive so often.

Le cinq blog: I agree that it's really annoying when people assume that attractive women aren't too bright. And that's mixed in with social pressure on women to always try to look as attractive as they can, while there isn't that expectation of men. It makes it so you can't win sometimes - although not hiding your smarts weeds out some of the jerks pretty quickly. The only TV characters I can think of that combine scientific smarts and sexyness are on CSI. But they also get to chase criminals and shoot guns, so they certainly aren't typical scientists.

miles: I think it is changing.

darwi: I guess I'm going to have to actually watch a few episodes, because I do like geeky humor.

tracee: my own experience is in biology, where women are pretty well represented.

Darwi said...

Dear Tracee, I am in the male dominated area of research. There are few other females present.
But I never felt lonely. Males can be really good friends, and I always make sure to have non-scientist friends as well. If you wish to hear more, contact me directly at

Tracee Sioux, Sioux Ink: Soul Purpose Publishing said...

I tuned into this show last night and I thought it was pretty kitschy. goofy. It's funny that scientists like it.

It made me think this:

Is there anyone who likes how they are represented on television? I rarely hear a group say, "man this show really represents us in the
best light."

In other Geek News my husband and I watched a documentary about the invention of the typeface Helvetica.

It was not really kitschy in the same way and I could totally get why designers are so passionate about their professions. It came out just how geeky my husband is when he confessed he subscribes to several typeface blogs.

To compare the two I thought the Big Bank Theory was how geeks are represented in School to the immature and Helvetica was a representation of how Geeks basically took over the world after college.

Talk about Revenge of the Nerds! It's evident who has the last laugh.