I was skimming through some old posts at my defunct lj today, because of reasons, and this one in particular stuck out to me. Even though I posted it over a year ago, I still feel this, very much. I’m posting it again so that I have it on this blog too.
Mar. 23rd, 2012
This is an entry I have been wanting to write for a long time. I’ve been holding off because I’m pretty angry about it, and I wanted to be less defensive and able to write with more objectivity. But y’know, not sure that is ever going to happen, so here goes.
This entry is about The Big Bang Theory, specifically Amy Farrah Fowler. To start off with: I have seen most Big Bang episodes at least twice, several more than that. I’m a big fan. For sure there are a ton of things that bother me about the show, big and little, from Howard’s womanizing and overwhelming skeeviness to the fact that Leonard seems to only have one facial expression. (Yeah, you’ll never un-see that now. Sorry.)
But if there’s one thing I love unreservedly about this show, it’s the character of Amy Farrah Fowler. So when I see or hear criticisms of her character, I get angry, and I get defensive. Those who take issue with Amy’s character and her storyline seem to mostly have a problem with the fact that Amy is brilliant and a scientist with a good career etc etc, but right now in the show she is focused on her social life: her friendship with Penny and Bernadette, and her relationship with Sheldon.
What I would like to say to that is: SO?
My instant and negative gut reaction to this is influenced for sure from my current position in academia. I am so turned off academia right now because of the sexism I see. From my experience, there are far fewer women than men above the undergraduate level (my MA class is equal, 3 women, 3 men, but only two want to continue on to a phD and guess what–both men. Profs-wise my department is at something like 10 men to 3 women). Being an academic takes a lot of education, and demands a lot of time. No male academic would be considered less of a scholar for also having a family or any other aspect aside from work to their life. Female academics, though… And I’m sure it’s the same for other professions.
And why? Why can’t women have it all–a good job, a family, maybe a hobby or three? To me, feminism doesn’t mean pressuring women to work in higher education jobs that they were traditionally denied. To me, feminism means teaching girls that they can do anything. Because right now, you know, I don’t think we can. Of course girls still need to be taught and encouraged that they can be doctors or rocket scientists or professors, because that battle is still not won. But dear lord why would we teach kids that other desires are somehow less?
And that right there is why I think Amy Farrah Fowler rocks, and rocks hard. Because she is entirely her own person. She is a brilliant person, she has obviously studied long and worked hard to gain eminence in her field of neurobiology. But that is not all she is. She is not a neurobiologist full stop. She is not defined by her job. She is not defined by her boyfriend, either–when Sheldon works for a couple days in her lab, she doesn’t give any ground to him, because that is her field and she is the boss there. She is Amy Farrah Fowler, and despite having been teased and bullied growing up she is still not afraid to be herself, quirky and not pressured by social conventions. Let me just put it this way: how many girls do you know who had a rough childhood because of their intelligence would go to a wedding with a moustache painted on their finger as a conversation starter? I know I sure as hell wouldn’t.
So no, I don’t see the way Amy Farrah Fowler has morphed in the show to spending a lot of time with Penny and Bernadette, and the growing importance of her boyfriend/girlfriend storyline with Sheldon, to be somehow a failure of her status as a strong woman character. Do you think it was healthy for her to have no social life before meeting them? I happen to have recently rewatched the first couple episodes where she appears and you know what? She doesn’t smile. Not once.
Balance is good. Her having friends now (and yes, a boyfriend too) does not make her somehow less of a brilliant female scientist. She has not somehow failed feminism. Being a strong woman does not mean being a robot only focused on work.
Amy Farrah Fowler is the kind of female character I would like to see more of in movies/books/tv. She is confident in her mind and her body. She is part of society without changing who she is to fit into society. She is a model for girls who have been told one too many times that they are “a smart girl,” who have thought that maybe they aren’t ugly but that they’re invisible anyways because they aren’t like the popular girls, who have poured themselves into work because that’s all they think they’re good at.
And yes, I was one of those girls. There are a lot of us, and we need characters like Amy. We need to know that we can be neurobiologists and also squeal with glee over a princess tiara. These things are not mutually exclusive.