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Not so Modern Family: Top sitcoms make for sexist, inaccurate television

In the five highest-rated primetime sitcoms (The Big Bang Theory, Modern Family, Two Broke Girls, Two and a Half Men, and How I Met Your Mother), male characters are professionally accomplished, while female characters are unemployed or struggling.

Neil Patrick Harris poses backstage at the People's Choice Awards on Jan. 11 in Los Angeles. Mr. Harris plays Barney on the sitcom How I Met Your Mother. The majority of the show's male characters are successfully employed, while most female characters are struggling. This portrayal is sexist – and inaccurate– argue op-ed writer Michelle Haimoff.

AP Photo/Matt Sayles

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The unemployment rate for women characters on network sitcoms is staggering. In the five highest rated primetime sitcoms – The Big Bang Theory, Modern Family, Two Broke Girls, Two and a Half Men, and How I Met Your Mother – the majority of the male characters are professionally accomplished, while the female characters are almost all unemployed or financially struggling.

There is a difference between quirky, flawed characters and ones who are incapable of professional success. And when the latter is reliably female, it makes for sexist television. It also makes for unrealistic television.

Take a look: The female characters on Modern Family are stay-at-home moms; Robin, on How I Met Your Mother, is a struggling journalist (and Lily, the other female character, is a shopaholic nursery school teacher); Two Broke Girls is about model-pretty waitresses who can barely pay their rent; and in the dystopic world of Two and a Half Men, all of the female characters are stalkers, dimwits, cleaning ladies, vindictive ex-wives, or manipulative mothers.

The only accomplished women on any of these shows are on The Big Bang Theory. But like 30 Rock’s Liz Lemon, the most successful one, Amy, is undatable, while Penny, the hot waitress, is the one the male characters lust after.

The male characters on these shows are not just employed (and attractive to women), but most of them are wildly successful. Ted, on How I Met Your Mother, is the youngest architect to ever build a New York skyscraper, Barney is a powerful executive, and Marshall is a corporate lawyer. Mitchell, on Modern Family, is a lawyer, Jay owns a construction company, and Phil is a real estate broker. Alan, on Two and a Half Men, is a chiropractor, Charlie was a jingle writer, and their newest addition, Walden, is a self-made billionaire. And all of the men on The Big Bang Theory are brilliant physicists and engineers.


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