Is the Big Bang Theory sexist?

TBBT_6x03_Penny_and_Amy

The contrast between Amy and Penny has always bothered me but I couldn’t work out if that was me over-analysing things.

would probably argue that there is something in my unease. She’s branded Sheldon’s love interest Amy Farrah Fowlet as one of the 10 most sexist characters on TV:

The conceptualization of Amy’s character could have been awesome. I love the presence of female characters with a science background who can hold their own. As  noted by Michelle Haimoff in 2012, Amy is accomplished but undatable “while Penny, the hot waitress, is the one the male characters lust after.” The science geek stereotype is old. So is the she’s-hot-so-she-must-be-dumb stereotype. And what’s with not giving Penny a last name? Isn’t her character worthy of a full identity?

The lovely thing about creating television is that you can make people whomever you want them to be without real world consequences. Scripts don’t need to follow any rules. It’s pretty lazy to apply gender biases and stereotypes to fictional spaces if those biases and stereotypes aren’t providing alternatives to the status quo. I promise, it is possible to write female characters who have experiences that aren’t based in misogyny.

A medical case for teetotalism

Alcohol is icky – so much so that not drinking at all seems like the best idea.

Professor David Nutt – the man sacked as chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs for relying on statistics not sensationalism – argues that the safest approach to alcohol is to avoid it altogether:

The myth of a safe level of drinking is a powerful claim. It is one that many health professionals appear to believe in and that the alcohol industry uses to defend its strategy of making the drug readily available at low prices. However, the claim is wrong and the supporting evidence flawed.

There is no safe dose of alcohol for these reasons:

• Alcohol is a toxin that kills cells such as microorganisms, which is why we use it to preserve food and sterilise skin, needles etc. Alcohol kills humans too. A dose only four times as high as the amount that would make blood levels exceed drink-driving limits in the UK can kill. The toxicity of alcohol is worsened because in order for it to be cleared from the body it has to be metabolised to acetaldehyde, an even more toxic substance. Any food or drink contaminated with the amount of acetaldehyde that a unit of alcohol produces would be immediately banned as having an unacceptable health risk.

• Although most people do not become addicted to alcohol on their first drink, a small proportion do. As a clinical psychiatrist who has worked with alcoholics for more than 30 years, I have seen many people who have experienced a strong liking of alcohol from their very first exposure and then gone on to become addicted to it. We cannot at present predict who these people will be, so any exposure to alcohol runs the risk of producing addiction in some users.

• The supposed cardiovascular benefits of a low level of alcohol intake in some middle-aged men cannot be taken as proof that alcohol is beneficial. To do that one would need a randomised trial where part of this group drink no alcohol, others drink in small amounts and others more heavily. Until this experiment has been done we don’t have proof that alcohol has health benefits. A recent example of where an epidemiological association was found not to be true when tested properly was hormone replacement therapy. Population observations suggested that HRT was beneficial for post-menopausal women, but when controlled trials were conducted it was found to cause more harm than good.

• For all other diseases associated with alcohol there is no evidence of any benefit of low alcohol intake – the risks of accidents, cancer, ulcers etc rise inexorably with intake.