The Big Bang Theory and the Republican Primary have more in common than one might think. The comedy follows a Caltech particle physicist’s pathetic attempts to deal with the irrational world around him. The fictional physicist, Sheldon Cooper, is pure. He wishes only to understand the physical order of the universe without the messy passions that pollute other people’s lives. In Sheldon’s atheistic ideology, disorder replaces sin. Thus, disorderly passions prove repugnant rejections of the good life.
While I adore the program, I struggle with its depiction of academic women. The men are laughable stereotypes too, but the women bother me more. Rick Santorum’s opposition to contraception and a group of Republican governors’ affection for trans-vaginal ultrasounds has a lot to do with it.
Sheldon, the academic superstar, surpasses pure. Pure implies that he has never sullied himself with sin, which is true. However, Sheldon never suffered temptation in the first place. His friends’ interest in “coitus” confounds him. Sheldon, like Santorum, wears a uniform. Rather than sweater vests, Sheldon goes in for graphic tees. Like Santorum, Sheldon rose from working class roots and loathes the educational institutions that make his rise possible. Like Santorum, he fails to grasp why people reject him. Santorum lost his Senate seat. Naturally, he should dream bigger and run for president. Sheldon got fired from his postdoc. Surely, he will win over the Nobel Prize committee.
Not so the woman with whom he would like to create a subsequent generation if immaculate conception were possible. Poor Amy Farrah Fowler, brilliant neuroscientist, lusts after Sheldon and the buxom blond across the hall. Her boyfriend is asexual; she suffers acutely as an unsatisfied bisexual. The joke is at her expense. She wants to have sex with everyone, but no one finds her physically attractive. They all respect her brain, but give her half the chance -- say with government-subsidized contraception -- and she might just live out every insane fantasy Rush Limbaugh harbors about the whorish inner desires of educated women.
Sheldon’s roommate, Leonard Hofstadter, suffers the enduring damage of his “Tiger Mother.” For this high-flying harridan, a postdoc at Caltech seems humdrum. This female Ph.D. resents the children she bore. Her insult-ridden mothering leaves him with low expectations when looking for affection among female physicists. One wishes to use him for “coitus” on a semiannual basis. The series begins when the uneducated but pneumatic Nebraskan, Penny, moves in across the hall. She has a sexual past Sheldon and Santorum scorn, but the aspiring actress offers unconditional friendship. Dr. Hofstadter falls head over high-energy in love.
Why does this make me think of trans-vaginal ultrasounds? Because their premise assumes that if only the cute but dim, knocked-up girl understood what grew inside her, she would never want an abortion. She would either get married or give her offspring to another woman with a wedding band safely on her hand.
This, I suppose, is what Calista Gingrich would have done had she not had access to contraception during her extramarital fling with Newt. Oh wait. Maybe she had the other problem. She was a smart woman with access to contraception, which meant her unbridled libido lead men astray.
When I contemplate television’s or the Republican party’s fictional women, my own sense of reality becomes blurred. I know that before the Victorian era portrayed women as revolted by "coitus" à la Dr. Cooper, centuries of Catholic clerics envisioned every woman as a dangerous Eve poised to drag her man and the world away from Eden. Perhaps Santorum absorbed a bit too much medieval dogma when he moved to Justice Scalia’s parish. His highly-educated wife, who bore him eight children, doesn’t seem that dangerous to me. Then again, neither does Amy Farrah Fowler. At least we can agree that Sheldon Cooper would make a marvelous monk.
Evanston, Illinois in the US
Elizabeth Lewis Pardoe is a member of the University of Venus editorial collective and an associate director of the Office of Fellowships at her undergraduate alma mater, Northwestern University, where she teaches History and American Studies. For more, follow @ejlp on Twitter or go to http://elizabethlewispardoe.wordpress.com.