Fighting with the Sky

The Hang-Ups of HIMYM

Posted on: January 27, 2010

I love How I Met Your Mother (HIMYM), I’m not going to deny that.  Because I do love it.  I think it’s funny and I’m pretty much in love with Neil Patrick Harris.  But that doesn’t mean that the show is not offensive in many ways.

As I’ve noted before, there is pervasive fat phobia on the show which was very blatant in one particular episode.  There’s rarely ever a person of color on the show (the only recurring example I can think of is Wayne Brady who plays Barney’s adopted brother James in a couple episodes).  And when there is a person of color on an episode, they are often exiticized as one of Barney’s “conquests.”

But the thing that I find most upsetting (not saying that the other things aren’t important) is the general lack of respect towards women on the show.  They try to disguise this by having two relatively strong female lead in Lily and Robin (and Lily is played by the amazing Alyson Hannigan — Willow on Buffy).  Lily and Robin aren’t the epitome of strong women, even in the television world.  But they both hold their own in the comedy aspect of the show right next to the guys.

But even with these two strong women, the lack of respect towards women is still pretty obvious.  The most blatant example of this is the various women that Barney chases after.  They are shallow and more times than not, relatively dumb, especially considering they fall for Barney’s lines.  I am not trying to “slut-shame” any of the women that Barney sleeps with on the show, I am more commenting on the fact that the show portrays these women as believing Barney’s very, very outlandish stories.

The general lack of respect for women can also be seen in Ted’s girlfriends/dates, though not as obviously.  They are often portrayed as dramatic, unreasonable, overly emotional, and sometimes a little psychotic.

The show mainly revolves around making fun of the women in the lives of the men on the show.  While the main story lines may drift away from this general theme, it is still prevalent throughout the show and often the side story of an episode.  None of the characters of the show treat women with respect, including the female characters.

As much as I love HIMYM, I just wish there were more half-hour comedies on television right now that didn’t focus on disrespecting women and using sex as something to be “won” from women.  Probably just wishful thinking, but you never know.  With more shows like Parks & Recreation (more on this later), there is at least some hope.

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7 Responses to "The Hang-Ups of HIMYM"

I love HIMYM as well, I absolutely adore Barney, and it sucks when I find myself liking someone, even a fictional character, who treats women like Barney does. I often think if he weren’t played by Neil Patrick Harris, I would hate him.

Do you watch Better off Ted, by any chance? Would love to hear your thoughts on the women in that show.

I don’t think the male characters are exempt from the treatment you noticed, though. Think about all the times Ted has been made fun of by his friends for being overemotional or dramatic or unreasonable. The men Robin dates are all portrayed as being crazy in some way, too. And what was wrong with Robin when Ted dated her? Or Stella? Or Victoria? They all got along well but ultimately wanted different things in life or had bad timing. Heck, Victoria decided to not sacrifice the chance to study overseas for a man.

I don’t know what to think about Barney. He isn’t cool like Fonzie – we’re supposed to think he’s a jerk. His friends usually think he’s an idiot. It’s written into the show that his friends don’t approve of his womanizing, even if they do get some entertainment out of it. There have been several times that women he hits on roll their eyes and walk away. And his backstory makes it clear that his attitude towards women is solely based on his own insecurities.

Laura I just have to ask, how can you love a show that disrespects women, how can you love a show that is sexist. Isn’t this why the men in hollywood keep producing shows like this because instead of boycotting these shows, women love them. I mean if you can love this show enough to keep watching it, then does that give amunition to the men who like to say feminist just look for stuff to complain about. They will also then say this show is not really disrespecting women since women including feminist love to watch it.

Things will never change until we take actions such as boycotting. Not too long at Shakesville, as I am sure you know they have an assvertising segment, where they highlight sexist advertising. One of the assvertising was about Reebok’s new line, the tone shoes or something like that. I was thinking of buying that but after reading about their sexist advertisements on Shakesville, I decided not to. If more women did that, don’t you think there will be an impact. Women are the only group companies and marketers can degrade and we will still buy what they have to offer. For example how many women are still buying Dolce & Gabana even after in one of their advertisements for shoes they portrayed gang rape as sexy. I think women have internalized sexism so much that we don’t even notice it and let it go when we notice. How are things going to improve when we let it go, it is not like men hold other men acountable for being sexist.

@Sabina:

I know I’m not Laura, but I think about this a lot, since I watch a LOT of tv, and most of it, like most things in the world, is pretty sexist. I think that watching and enjoying but not exempting a show from criticism is a perfectly reasonable approach. After all, no one can really say “Laura from adventures of a young feminist doesn’t have any problem with HIMYM” because her criticism is a matter of public record.

Also, there is a huge difference in degree between something like HIMYM and like, The Man Show, so supporting a show that does have interesting, complex women who are more than just jailers for men who just want to have fun makes sense. The show also two male main characters who are really into commitment and a woman who really isn’t– that’s unusual for tv where women are depicted as empty and desperate for men and marriage.

I’m sounding like a HIMYM apologist, which isn’t my intention, since I do have issues with the show– the race thing in particular is very troubling (remember the episode where Lily’s black friend from school shows up? That was painful to watch) as is Barney’s behavior and the fact that he’s portrayed as a lovable scamp instead of just shy of a rapist.

I could not get into HIMYM – I watched two episodes and didn’t laugh at anything except Neil Patrick Harris’ exploits as Barney the womanizer. That’s just not enough to keep me watching, sorry. Though I did appreciate the fact that Lily (Alyson Hannigan – love her!) wanted sex just as much as her partner did – wow, a woman who wants sex on a sitcom and NOT cast as crazy?!

I have the same dilemma as you, but with another show: The Big Bang Theory. I hate the stereotypes that it propagates (women aren’t smart, women are shallow, women can’t be geeks, women aren’t into science, geeks are all lonely men with social issues, geeks are all secretly perverts, etc.) but I do love the characters and can identify with a lot of their wacky hi-jinks. I’ve always been a geek, and sometimes it’s fun to watch a show about geeks, but I’m honestly not sure if the show was written for geeks or for non-geeks to laugh at. It really bothers me! But I keep watching, because it makes me laugh. I hate that I have to have this dilemma!

Great post. I think you’re speaking to an issue thats larger than HIMYM and just symptomatic of all television out there. Its all sexist and we really have to pick and choose what we can tolerate because you can’t just *not* watch television. Even Battlestar Galactica, arguably the most feminist show on tv in recent years had some seriously problematic elements to it.

A suggestion, have you seen Cougar Town by chance? I know, I know, you’re eyebrows just went up. I get a lot of flack from some friends of mine and my campus Women’s Center for enjoying this show. It gets judged soley on its name and no one stops to think that it might be a critique. I checked it out to see how bad it was, but to my surprise I found it to be a rather positive exploration of women’s issues. Courtney Cox’s character is never shamed for being a sexual creature and the show makes a point of discussing the double-standard that exists. The two other female characters on the show are polar opposites, the one being the “trashy, slut, party girl” who again is not shamed because of her choices and then Elle who suffers from a bit of post-partum depression. Its a mature (and comical) look at marriage, parenthood, the aging female body and the places for men in that discussion. Courtney Cox’s son on the show has to deal with his mom’s new identity and he does so fabulously. And Elle’s husband is a bit of a stock character with his dotting-confused look, but he genuinely loves the women in his life and understands them in a very honest way (and not in a degrading way).

Does it have its problems? Sure, like everything. But overall, I say Cougar Town is incredibly progressive.

I do have to admit that I also watch Cougar Town. I initially had the same reaction as you: I thought it would horrible and watched it just to see how horrible it was…but then ended up actually liking it. I have contemplated a post on it…so keep an eye out.

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