The promos for this week’s episode of The Big Bang Theory had the girls going to a comic book shop, without the guys, with a voiceover declaring that “the girls go where no woman has gone before.” And then everyone went bananas. Twitter and tumblr were up in arms, comic blogs were running columns, and everyone was outraged at the implication that comic shops aren’t for girls.
It may have been an overreaction. First off, women HAD been in the shop before. Lots and lots of times, and not just the main characters either. Penny had even gone on a few dates with Stuart, who runs the shop. This was just a silly promo, meant to grab our attention. Second, the episode itself was fine, and a lot of the sites where everyone was so livid earlier this week are saying “it actually wasn’t bad” today.
The worst thing that happened was that the guys in the comic shop stared at the girls when they were there, which is a definite stereotype, but the owner helped them out politely and suggested Fables, which is pretty much the ultimate gateway comic for non-comic fans of any gender. They ended up getting Thor because Thor is hot (it looked like Jason Aaron and Esad Ribic’s Thor: God of Thunder #2, which is a great book) and while they didn’t like it initially, they spent the rest of the episode arguing about Mjolnir and who can pick it up, and even dug into the boy’s collection for more research. The show ended with the girls having a lengthy argument about the Red Hulk.
So while the show engaged in some stereotypes, the ultimate message was that these nerdy behaviours, however stereotypical, aren’t male specific. Yes, the guys at the shop ogle the girls, but then the girls pick up Thor because Thor is hot. They end up arguing about comics just like the guys always do. Despite some of their cracks earlier in the episodes, the girls get super into comics and we learn that comics are for boys AND girls.
The outrage earlier this week was a bad case of pre-judging. A lot of people wrote off a 20 minute show based on a 20 second preview. Now, The Big Bang Theory has been criticized before for its treatment of geek culture, and some people see it as the show laughing AT nerds instead of laughing WITH them. At the same time, we’ve had several prominent examples lately of sexism masquerading as “humour”. I can understand the sensitivity when the most well-known bastion of geekery (last night was a series high for viewership) seems to be taking a shot at women reading comics. But pre-judging is never a good call. There are enough actual troubling things going on with women in comics that maybe we can let a promo go until we see the actual episode/issue/what have you. Then if it’s bad, it should by all means be critiqued, and I’ll be first in line to do so. But yeah, wait to see the actual product. It might surprise you.