Allow me to first preface this article by openly admitting that I have a soft spot for sitcoms, even the mediocre ones. There is something oddly comforting about a story that is (sometimes) funny, and oscillates safely with resolved story lines and perhaps not fairy tale endings, but contentment. The best stories are the ones that can be funny, heartfelt, painful, dramatic, and shocking–but the “comforting” sitcoms I tend to gravitate to aren’t the best stories, they’re televised junk food.
How I Met Your Mother is a show, not about the mother that the protagonist, Ted, beds and weds, but rather his journey getting there. It’s a fairly cheap (yet forgivable) plot device that allows narration to speed things along to get the most out of the paltry 22 minutes of television. The female characters in the show important to the story and/or are the main characters include Lily Aldrin: college and close friend of Ted, Robin, the on-again-off-again girlfriend and friend: Robin Scherbotsky and The Mother (whose name you learn, rather unnecessarily in the last few minutes of the series’ finale): Tracy McGrady.
Since the start, one of the largest problems I’ve had with the show is the treatment and depiction of the female characters. Lily is an artist who teaches kindergarten, but aspires to do more with her painting. When she does try to pursue her dream of becoming an artist by breaking up with her fiancé and moving to San Francisco, it turns out to be a completely terrible experience that shows her that she belongs home, with her fiancé, changing her dream to fit around the man in her life. Robin is a career woman, a news anchor, who at the beginning of the show is on, an unwatched channel at weird hours.
Throughout the show, she blossoms in her career and becomes more prominent and gets more opportunities, including getting a job in Tokyo. This job is depicted as ridiculous—there is a chimpanzee on the show as her fellow anchor, for example. She returns to the U.S. within the same episode to attend Ted’s wedding. Later on, when she is dating a man named Kevin, who was formerly her anger management counselor, they break up because she neither can have children nor wants them. She gets married and divorced, in part because she travels too much and her husband dislikes having to accompany her everywhere. In the end, she has become an accomplished career woman, but is romantically alone, until the last few minutes of the show in which Ted arrives at her door with the same romantic overture that he used in the pilot. Since he is a widower with children, it is implied that they get together and she ends up having to take care of his teenagers despite never wanting children. Essentially, all of her impressive accomplishments are outshined by getting back together with her ex-boyfriend.
Lastly, there is The Mother. Everything we learn about her is mentioned in passing. She is finally introduced as an active character in the last season of the show. She is an intelligent, interesting and funny woman who would have added a lot to the show had she been introduced earlier. With the use of flash forwards, we find out how her relationship with the protagonist develops though we know nothing of her career or much of her history. Then we find out the ultimate twist: she bears his children, they grow up to preteens (their ages are never stated) and then she dies of cancer. Her role on the show is to propel the storyline, add a twist on the story, and bear the protagonist’s children. That is all.
To punctuate this blatant sexism, Robin’s ex-husband ends up impregnating a woman whom he refers to only as “Number 31” (because he vowed to have sex with a new woman every day for a month, and she was the last), who ends up getting pregnant. We don’t see nor know anything about the mother of his child, including her name, except that she was the womb for his child. After he has this baby, his views on women change, though remain just as misogynistic. Instead of the usual, objectifying women, he lectures two girls at the bar he frequents that they should put on more clothing and that they shouldn’t be drinking that early in the day, even though he is at the bar drinking.
Individually, these story lines might be acceptable, but cumulatively, it sends a very negative message about women. The first is that if a woman has children, she owes them everything, whereas the father does not. Moreover, if she doesn’t want to have children, there is something wrong with her, and somehow, she will end up mothering if she wants to or not, because that’s what women do. The concept also exists that there is something wrong with a woman if she wants to pursue her dreams (creative or occupational), even if it means foregoing, other opportunities.
She is punished for this; especially, in her love life. Lastly, this show ends up being about all the male characters. Ultimately, everything the women in this show do either propels the males’ storylines forward or position the women standing behind their men. Everything I feared about this show, all of the subtle sexism that already existed and the problems I had, multiplied in the finale.
In conclusion—thank you, How I Met Your Mother, for reinforcing antiquated ideas about male/female relationships, and further bolstering legitimate fears women face every day.
Take a bow.