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Sexism and Season Six of House

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I want to preface this commentary by stating that I am a huge fan of House, and of Hugh Laurie in particular. The writing in this show has often astounded me in the past. From a feminist perspective, there are a few episodes in seasons one through five (“Skin Deep,” I’m looking at you) that I have had problems with; but on a whole I think that the characters—especially Dr. Gregory House and Dr. Lisa Cuddy—are complex and believable.

Be that as it may, there are aspects to the current season that I find troubling.

The first instance I felt swindled by the writers this season was with Dr. Allison Cameron’s departure. This turned out to be quite a point of contention within the fandom, between those who wanted House and Cameron to hook up, and those who wanted House with Cuddy. I don’t necessarily root for any one relationship on the show. House season six promoI merely saw her departure as a blow because I had come to care about the character, and I thought that she provided a nice balance for House and the other characters.

Much was made of the House/Cuddy relationship last season, and yet this season we see very little of Lisa Edelstein, besides her “superwoman” episode (don’t get me started on that not-so-empowering trope). Mostly, when she is onscreen she can be found passively listening to House’s diatribe, or his, now obligatory, sexual innuendos.* In fact, Stepford Cuddy has lately been shown for only a few minutes in each hour-long episode.

While the female cast members of House have been given substantially less screen time, many of the episodes this season do focus on women. Indeed, the writers seem to focus heavily on women being punished in every medical and psychological form possible—punished for partying too hard (the young girl in “Known Unknowns”), for having hobbies (“Private Lives”) and finally, for having sex (“Black Hole,” “Open and Shut.”)

The presence of Dr. Remy Hadley, also known as Thirteen, has done little to alleviate the gender inequality of the show’s current season. Although she is portrayed as bisexual, we rarely get a glimpse of her alternate sexual identity, other than blatant titillation. What happened to her Huntington’s disease? How is she coping with her breakup from Foreman? We know is that she likes to hang out in lesbian bars, but she is never actually shown having a meaningful relationship with a woman. Rather, it seems that they are grooming her for an interlude with Chase.

As a fan of this show, I have hope that the writers will see the plot clichés that they are falling prey to so far this season, and that as it progresses, they will bring the female characters of Princeton Plainsboro out to play more often.

*Note that when I talk about sexism in House, I am not referring to the character. House himself often makes off-the-cuff comments. It's a part of his character. What I have a problem with are the cliche' representations of women (and indeed, lack of representation altogether) that have been a part of this season.

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About Lisa Gunther

  • Alex

    Cuddy is nothing but a stepford wife. She has been non-existent in eps since the big focus of her charachter in February. This show does not write good for women at all in fact it sucks. Cuddy is suppose to be this strong single career woman and she is a doormat for House nothing more.

  • Susanne

    Thankyou so much Lisa!!!! This is what I have been stressing for a long time now. The show to me personally have been misgonist about how women are treated on the show. Cameron had huge potential to show complexities in terms of social, moral and pyschological development but no the majority of her reperentation was on her crush on House and then her relationship with chase and her marriage and her issues. She was made to be stupid and unfixable. WTF??? There was no explanation of her background, her parents, her friends, Joe, her husband in terms of their relationship besides his death or any exploration of her morals but yet she is damaged!!! Her relationship with chase pissed me off because it was all her fault, she was the one with the issues and not chase with his insecurity and parnoia; she is the one who has to tell him anything about her past and he can kill a patient get drunk and not tell her; she is the one who is to blame for their marriage breakdown despite the fact that he forced her into the marrige in season five and dumped her when she got too uncomfortable; she was the one who was screwed up and not him. It was always cameron’s fault. It allowed Chase SO many times to get off the hook and she got crucified in returm.

    Cuddy, do not get me started on her. I just feel embarrssed to be a woman sometimes. She can’t have House so she picks a guy who is even worse then House and tells Wilson that she NEEDS a man to helo her no matter how bad taste he is. That is a slap in the face to women who do not want children or marriage like myself and it does a dis serivce to single working mothers who do not want or need a man to help them and turn to their friends, families of baby sitters to cope. They also alienate a lot of working single women who chose to have that lifestyle.

    Season five and six has been the two worst seasons so far in regards to women and their represntation or lack of.

  • sharp2799

    Thank you. While I do ship House/Cameron (no hiding here lol), the change in the show overall from Sherlock Holmes-type medical mysteries with subtle personal undercurrents to a messy, bloated soap opera with bad science and people I no longer cared about caused me to walk away. But it wasn’t until reading your blog entry that I realized the other element that was making me feel so repulsed. Hugh Laurie is an amazing actor but without the scripts the show is sinking fast. (Oh, and why am I posting about a show where I only watch seasons 1-3? Because it was an astounding show and I mourn that it’s been ruined. The formula worked–just ask the people at NCIS.)

  • Christina

    i’m completely with you at this, especially at the part when you say that till last year we could have a respectable amount of Cuddy on screen whereas this year she has turned into some sort of stunt, which is unacceptable for the actress that KJ calls her leading lady. And personally I found this whole relationship with Lucas a pretty lame excuse for them to just postpone the inevitable, which is for House and Cuddy to get together. Sometimes I feel that they are simply not giving them a chance, a PROPER one, not a season 6 one. And I’m saying that cause I found this season’s writing pretty lower in contrast with all the other seasons. There were few episodes that, IMO, were totally worth watching. Till Known Unknowns, every episode I watched took my breath away. But from Teamwork and on, I saw the scripts deteriorating. I did find 5 to 9 quite interesting (hells, LE was superb, there is no doubt in that), but after that only Lockdown had me thinking that “hey, this is the show i once loved”. Idk, I think the writers have somewhat run out of ideas.

    And Cameron’s departure was completely unnecesary. I wasn’t quite a fan of her character, but I loved her with Chase and I was happy to see them getting married and being that happy. I believed in them and yet, the writers used a LAME excuse (once more) to get her out of the picture and I don’t understand the reason. Plus, she had a good amount of fans, are they not thinking about them?

    And don’t get me started on 13. Even though her screentime is still an issue, she is at least more tolerable this year. But like you said, we haven’t seen her deal with ANYTHING that went on in her life. She broke up with the man she loved, she has less time now than last year, and suffers from a disease that attacks her nerves, I mean aren’t we supposed to see that mean sth?

    I had hoped that the finale may give us some sort of redemption, but now… I’m not so sure. And I will never had any expectations again from people who like to toy with the ones that helped their show reach each peak. (I’m sorry if I’m being a bit harsh, it’s just i like your way of thinking and all these stuff I said have been tormenting my mind for quite some time now and I needed to get it out.)

  • Sandra

    100% agreed! I think it all started to turn downhill when they focused too much on relationships. While I’m a House/Cameron shipper like sharp2799, I have always thought and still think that in the show it is a mistake to give into a ship, no matter which. And with Huddy they’ve even ruined Cuddy as a character, which is sad. I do not recognize the show I’ve loved for so many years anymore.

  • Lifeline

    Thank you so much for writing this. The show has done a disservice to it’s female characters and it’s even more appalling to know that there are three female writers on staff. My favorite character Cuddy has been turned into a desperate and pathetic woman this year. Their choice of a a pre-pubescent creepy and moronic character to be her bofriend feels like a slap in the face. She was a strong, independent woman that decided to adopt on her own. Yet, now the writers have her settling for the first bloke that happened to knock on her door. I can’t help but laugh at her stupid reliable speech about needing a reliable man. Not only has she been turned into a stereotypical woman, but she seems to also have been subjected to a brain transplant by the writers. For how can she see Lucas as reliable. She didn’t even admonish him for talking about fantasizing about having sex with other women nor did she wring him out for using her to win a sex bet. I guess the writers find it hilarious to have their female characters trampled over as long as the male characters on this show come off cool.

  • tamijo

    Oy – negative negative negative. Please remember that everyone who works on this show, from the actors to the writers to the producers, are in the ENTERTAINMENT business. They are trying, week after week, to bring you a piece of entertainment that you will enjoy. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But they’re not ruining your lives if they miss the mark!

    That said, I love ‘House’ and I’ll keep watching as long as it’s on the air. Yes, the writing has faltered a bit but the show has been on for SIX seasons – no one expects every episode to be perfect. Even at its low points, there’s something for me to enjoy about each week’s offering.

    Please give these PTB a break; they’re doing the best they can!

  • Lisa

    tamijo, it’s because I have a great love for this show that I keep watching, but I also think it’s important to give an honest critique. I think the PTB can handle it.

  • jay59

    Lisa, you are so right. I’ve thought this for years now on this show. Seems the women are almost absent, they get rid of Cameron, then people complained about 13 (why?). And Cuddy, my favorite, is almost absent in most every show. She gets 2nd billing in the opening credits, seems she should get more air time, her & Wilson. I really miss Cameron (we’d all be lucky to have a doc like any one of these women!) I hate the oral sex remarks House makes, i think that is going beyond the line. He’s said that so far to Cuddy & Cameron. I don’t like Cuddy with Lucas necessarily, but I can’t see her really with House either. I think she’d look good with a woman! But anyway, I think the writers seem to prefer the men, or I should say, whoever hires. I will never stop watching the show, because it is my fave, but I do think it’d be nice to have a balance equally of men & women. Personally, I can’t stand the character of Taub. I wouldn’t miss him too much. And Suzanne, you are so right: it’s like it’s Cameron’s fault for the marriage breakup. Chase should have confided in her instead of letting her think he was having an affair. Every one is a good actor & just reads the lines they’re given, but it’d be nice to see more women in the show. To a point, I don’t mind seeing their personal lives, but they’re has been too much focus on that instead of medical issues. The character of Cuddy shouldn’t take the things she does off House–she is the dean of medicine. He walks all over her & makes those snide sexual remarks too often. Yes, she’s a drop dead gorgeous woman, but he should have respect for her, even if his character is supposed to be a jerk! If the powers that be read this, bring back Jennifer, & focus now & then on 13 & Cuddy in a good light. Thanks for listening allQ

  • Kelly

    IMO, the sexism has been there for quite some time. In season three, Chase and Cameron began a sexual relationship. Which one of them got reprimanded for it? Cameron. Only Cameron. Chase got a pass on that. Cuddy was made to look irrational and hysterical on the airplane, in “Airborne,” when she came down with a rash due to Conversion disorder. That’s right, a well-respected doctor, a female, got so freaked out about the spread of a non-existent disease, she made herself sick. And the male doctor, House, had to figure it out for her. (Granted, that’s what the show is about– House figuring out the medical mystery, but when it comes at the expense of making the female characters look ridiculous, it’s not good.)

    One of the biggest turn-offs of the show for me is how the females are portrayed. And also, how they are not portrayed, if that makes sense. For example, we have seen and/or know about House’s parents, Chase’s parents, Foreman’s parents, and Wilson’s brother. What do we know about the female characters families? Cameron’s dead husband still doesn’t even have a first name, and at her wedding, which was a perfect opportunity to introduce her family, we got nothing. I don’t know if any of Cuddy’s family have ever been introduced, because I stopped watching the show after season four, but I would be very surprised if they had. Cuddy is now just a (rather pathetic) tool for House’s angst.

    For the record, I used to really admire Cuddy. I also loved Cameron. The sudden announcement that she was being cut for no good reason still boggles my mind. And for them to bring her back just so she can assume all the blame for her failed marriage to Chase was just another slap in the face.

  • madfashionista

    This essay is very much on the mark. I’ve been disturbed about the Cuddy arc, in which the only choice for a successful, powerful woman is to adopt a baby and settle down with a man who is clearly not her equal. And LE’s amount of screentime has been, simply, wrong. I thought Cameron was an important part of the show, and “Lockdown” only served to prove that. Now it feels overwhelmingly male both on and off camera. You hit so many nails on so many heads in this essay that I am extremely grateful. It is surprising that a show with female writers, producers and executive producers have failed so miserably this season to write interesting female characters. But then again, the writing this season has been sub-par in many ways.

  • sjoes

    Hear hear!
    I have seen the sexist writing on House MD described more poignantly elsewhere but that would never be published on Blogcritics. At least you’ve addressed it for which I thank you!

  • boo-boo-too

    The cast is listed alphabetically after Hugh Laurie, which is why Lisa Edelstein is listed first. Not because her character is more important than any of the the others.

    Cuddy makes me embarassed to be a single working woman, mostly because of her wardrobe. She looks like she belongs at hooters instead of heading up a hospital. But also because of her behavior and lack of leadership. Her 5-9 episode only served to showcase what an ineffective manager she is, how she’s unable to delegate, and the fact that she cant keep an assistant.

    Cuddy used to be a favorite of mine, but now she’s little more than a cartoon character.

    The only women who are shown to be strong, confident, and realistically believable characters are usually patients (or family) so we only see them for one episode and they are gone.

    I love the show, but it does a huge disservice to showcasing intelligent strong women.

  • Leelee Wallace

    I like how this article was posted on several ‘shipping’ sites, as if the call to spew open negativity on the Cuddy character or Ms. Edelstein was just not subtle enough…

    I appreciate Lisa’s piece on this, as sexism and women’s roles in the House universe is a more overt theme with each passing season. However, I do not need a relationship critique to highlight this for me. The episode that involved the female doctor from the CIA in S4 was the epitome of how SEXIST and “Ugly” this show can get.

    This episodes predates Cameron’s departure, predates the current mess with Huddy, and predates the mess that is now Wilson and is missing spine. So the issue of sexism does not stem from a relationship, nor does it come from how one Lisa Cuddy dresses. No one should be judging a woman’s appearance anyway, which exactly what went wrong with the episode titled “Ugly”. The mysoginist tones in this series resonates with the writer’s idea to make a woman’s looks come into question over her intellect, and then to jerk her around because thats what she ‘deserves’. This episode made me so angry because a male character would never be a target for this type of storyline. So again, its not about the relationships or which actresses are on the show–its about how the writers write the character of Gregory House. They entitle him with too much cepticness that ruins anyone within his reach. Cameron looks better as a character because she keeps getting further and further from his orbit. She should feel lucky.

  • Katie

    Agree about females being cast aside even though I don’t care much for Cuddy.

  • eliza

    I so agree, but would also add that I think the writers and TPTB have become there worst enemy. Part of that is the House is miserable and unhappy and must always be that way shtick . So therefore all the other characters must also be miserable and unhappy. Nothing good or positive is ever kept and that has become boring to me.

  • Amy

    Although House is fiction the show has always had a ring of truth to it. That’s why the current Cuddy storyline is so hard to take. No way in the sane world would such a strong smart character such as Lisa Cuddy ever hire the creep Lucas let alone date him. As for Cuddy and House dating that would have been very believable. It may not have worked out but at least it would have been interesting.

  • Lala

    Thank you for the article – I completely agree. I love the show, think it’s fun to watch, think Hugh Laurie is terrific…but the female characters have become so two-dimensional and stereotyped. They were never perfect to begin with, but now? The most realistic one is a hot terminally ill bisexual. Cameron suddenly became too messed up to function in a relationship (a relationship we never saw, by the way,) and Cuddy went from a strong, independent woman to insecure and dating someone incredibly incompatible…but not a drug addict and therefore reliable!

    I agree with an earlier comment that all of the male characters have very fleshed-out back-stories, but we never learn the name of Cameron’s first husband, nor have seen any of the family members of her, Cuddy, or 13.

    The “5-to-9″ episode really turned me off to Cuddy. First, she went to work from 8-6. Writers: That’s normal! Even if you have children! Second, I didn’t see the insurance plotline as empowering at all. Getting what you want isn’t empowering, it’s the journey. And her journey included being completely irrational until the deus ex machina showed up. And the pharmacy? Where are her managerial skills? Unfortunately, the episode only highlighted her weaknesses.