“Show some cleavage and lose the flats,” says Twitter user @BeerLeagueProbz. “Guys want to see some skin. Even if your [sic] kinda chunky.”
These tweets were sent to Julia Collins, who lost on Jeopardy! last night after an astonishing twenty-game winning streak, the second longest of all time. But as Twitter has shown us, even the most successful women on television cannot avoid being reduced to sex objects.
There are two major forms of ignorance opposing feminism. The first form is just plain bigotry—think Elliot Rodger, the infamous Santa Barbara shooter who murdered six people last week because he was angry that women refused him sex. The second form of ignorance is less violent, but it’s an ever-present danger that women face on a daily basis: many people don’t believe that we need feminism, or that there is still a battle to be fought.
Here are some quick, unsettling facts: I make seventy-seven cents to the male dollar. I am 4.88 times less likely to be elected into political office than a man. I watch YouTube videos called “How to Escape a Rapist’s Grip.” I am a woman. I need feminism.
I’m a huge Jeopardy! fan; I’ve watched the show every night since I can remember, and I have the record lists practically committed to memory. But for the past few weeks, when I watched Julia Collins win game after game, I wasn’t only excited because she was making Jeopardy! history. Julia Collins’s run on Jeopardy! was important to me because it was one of the only occasions on television when I could watch a woman be exalted for her intelligence and her intelligence only.
I have always been a know-it-all. In Pre-K, I refused to read books with pictures. In second grade, I got a concussion, and when the paramedic asked me, “What’s two plus two?” I replied (with blood dripping down my forehead) that he should ask me a harder question— did he not know that I was in the gifted program? As I grew older, I continued to take pride in being “the smart girl.” But while I wanted that label, the world around me didn’t.
We don’t honor women in pop culture enough for their intelligence, and when we do, we end up demeaning them. In one of TV’s most popular sitcoms, The Big Bang Theory, the college drop-out Penny is portrayed as a conventionally-attractive love interest—tan, skinny, blonde, you name it. She sports spaghetti-strap tank tops, mini-skirts, and high heels. On the other hand, the female scientists Amy and Bernadette dress in bulky, unflattering sweaters and knee-length argyle skirts—is “smart” never “sexy” anymore?
Of course, The Big Bang Theory isn’t the only show that promotes harmful stereotypes. I’ve lost count of how many arguments I’ve had with my dad and brother as they watch Tosh.0 make fun of a woman’s rape. Lately, I find it difficult to watch any popular television show without noticing rampant misogyny and typecasting.
This only makes Julia Collins’s record-breaking run on Jeopardy! even more important. As I watched twenty-one episodes of Collins spouting facts about everything from the Latin root of “fiasco” to the function of a femoral artery, I couldn’t help but wish that young girls across America were watching.
Girls need more smart women to look up to. Sure, Amy Farrah Fowler is incredibly intelligent, but when impressionable children watch The Big Bang Theory, who do you think they want to be: Penny, the skinny blonde whom men fawn over, or Amy, the frumpy, undesirable scientist?
When I myself auditioned for Jeopardy!, I was the only girl at my table. In my AP Calculus BC class, less than one-third of the students were female. There is a reason for this, and it’s staring us right in the face—possibly in HD or Blu Ray.
Next Jeopardy! season, when Julia Collins returns for the Tournament of Champions, make sure that your daughters are watching. Make sure that no girl ever has to feel ashamed of her intellect.
Bassett, Laura. “Women Still Earned 77 Cents On Men’s Dollar In 2012: Report.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 17 Sept. 2013. Web. 01 June 2014.
“Women in Politics Statistics.” WCF Foundation, n.d. Web. 03 June 2014.