The Other Problem with Big Bang Theory
by Dendritic Trees
I loved this essay, but I want to take a second look at this little segment specifically.
Even Amy Farrah Fowler isn’t the geek girl representative we may have hoped for. She’s portrayed as distinctly asexual and when she mentions sex it’s always played for laughs, because of course intelligent, socially awkward women shouldn’t think about sex at all.
In fact, many viewers, especially asexual ones view Sheldon and Amy specifically as an asexual (and possibly aromantic) couple. This is why they feature here, on the AVEN cake graphic:
Asexuals are seriously lacking in representation of any sort, and achieving better representation and visibility are major issues within the asexual community. Read as an asexual character, Sheldon has always been somewhat shallow and stereotyped. Since all the characters are, to some extent, representations of specific geek stereotypes I personally wasn’t bothered by this in the earlier seasons. Given the popularity of the character (see the AVEN cake, above) this opinion is probably not uncommon. However, one specific stereotype, that asexuals are all neurodivergent or disabled in some way, has always been problematically associated with Sheldon, since he is both vocally uninterested in sex and
He is also read by many as autistic. So much so that my friend who works at a school for autistic children believed he had Asperger’s Syndrome and once asked me how they got away with ridiculing a character with special needs. I explained to her that no, Sheldon is not canonically autistic and she was shocked. She told me that he was a totally accurate portrayal of someone on the autistic spectrum and had many characteristics of someone with Asperger’s – specifically the inability to recognise sarcasm or understand human emotion as well as the obsession with “his spot” and his distress when routine is changed.
It is a common and exceedingly obnoxious stereotype that asexuals are asexual due to some form of disability or mental illness. There is a reverse and equally obnoxious stereotype that disability renders one asexual as well. This is of course, entirely wrong in both directions and creates a lot of problems for both communities; asexuals, who must constantly justify their lack of desire as valid and non-pathological and the disabled community must constantly fight to be seen as sexual beings and have their sexual desires seen as valid.
Other than this though, Sheldon’s asexuality largely goes unremarked by the narrative and the rest of the characters and is allowed to stand, until the introduction of Amy Farrah Fowler, whose relationship with Sheldon has brought asexuality and its related awful tropes much further into the show’s line of fire. Amy bears the brunt of many more of the nastier stereotypes about asexuals; that they are simply frustrated or despairing of ever having sex because they are awkward and unattractive. As their relationship develops Amy does a rather abrupt turn about on the subject of sexual contact, which can be taken to either confirm these ideas or to be a particularly cruel parody of demisexuality. Amy’s repeated experimental flirting with Penny and Bernadette is also a nod to yet another stereotype, that asexuality is, in fact, repressed same-sex attraction. As a biromantic asexual, I found this particularly disheartening. There is also numerous and repeated attempts by the other characters to either devalue the importance of that relationship or to try and pressure Amy and Sheldon into conforming to a more normative heterosexual relationship trajectory (something which real life asexuals frequently struggle with in a distinctly unfunny way). Although this was the point when I gave up watching the show in utter despair I have also heard (from various commentary and also Wikipedia) that Sheldon and Amy are now moving towards having a sexual relationship after all, thus completing the bingo card of obnoxious asexual tropes; that asexuals are in fact sexual, just immature/late bloomers/very repressed. And that is why I don’t watch Big Bang Theory anymore.