(NOTE: The image above is non-edited; an actual question from the hit quiz show. Photos in web article are different from those in print.)
It’s Tuesday night, and you’re settling into the couch with your family for another exciting round of “Jeopardy!,” one of America’s most popular game shows. You sink into your seat, ready to obnoxiously shout the answers, when Alex Trebek announces the first round’s categories. There it is, right on the screen, for all of America to see. “What Women Want.”
At first you feel undisturbed; surely this is jest, a feminist statement portrayed through intellectual comedy. A satire. It has to be. But then the first answer is given. “Some help around the house; Would it kill you to get out the Bissell bagless canister one of these every once in a while?” The question? “Alex, what is a vacuum cleaner?”
Your head sinks, your heart beats faster and faster. There’s no way you just heard that, no way something this blatantly sexist would be on a national television program. Not in 2015, for god’s sake. And, as you fear but sadly expect, it only gets worse. Other answers roll in like punches. Women “want” well-fitting Levi’s, Pilates lessons, and apparently to
return to the 1950s.
This is what occurred on “Jeopardy!” and people began an uproar criticizing the sexist vernacular of the seemingly intellectual show. Creators of Jeopardy! should have realized that such a category wouldn’t be taken well on a national scale, especially with how easily and quickly these scandals are spread over tabloids and social media. However, this is just one of many, albeit the most obvious, display of sexism in a game show, and the subtlety of these patriarchal micro-aggressions is astounding. It’s incredible how easily marketing teams, writers, and producers can disguise misogyny under a cloak of comedy or competition.
“Jeopardy!” is nevertheless sexist in its own special way, with or without Trebek. Deborah Sosin, a journalist for Salon Media Group, Inc., tracked the categories and answers for 18 episodes straight. Sosin examined 60 answers per show, not including the final question (although that was examined too) for a total of 1080 answers. She isolated categories that were fairly gender-neutral, for example, “Grammy Award Winners.” 251 answers fell into gender neutrality, and of those only 52 answers were female, Einstein, sure, but where’s Marie Curie? This sort of blatant misrepresentation only reinforces the patriarchal emphasis on popular history and glances over most historically female milestones.
America has its own separate issue with “Jeopardy!” It’s less about the show, however, and more about the beloved host Alex Trebek. He’s gotten many criticisms about micro-aggressive statements he’s made about and to female contestants. For example, when discussing Double Jeopardy! bets, he said women “wager [less] because they figure ‘Oh, this is the household money, this is the grocery money, the rent money.” It’s not as if a female contestant could just call him out on his sexism, not when she is broadcast on national TV. Although it is true that on average women are more conservative with their bets than men, it’s wrong for Trebek to assume this is the reason, and he also inadvertently uses his power as the host to prevent anyone from verbally countering his ideas.
Throughout my research for this piece, I glanced over the comments on the internet, which, admittedly, aren’t known for academic credibility. However, it was interesting how audiences were split over advocating for proper female representation versus ruining the fun of the show. It’s an understandable argument; we can’t get mad over everything, but something this blatantly prejudiced cannot be ignored. Microaggressions so widely broadcasted need to be addressed and remedied because they can cause significant, albeit likely accidental and subliminal, damage to feminist movements and other strives toward equality. We live in a media-driven society, and if we plan to correct the ubiquitous social injustices of our constant consumption, it has to begin on a smaller scale. Jeopardy! can include more female history in their question pool and maybe realize Trebek’s misogynistic comments along with Trebek himself have run their course on national television.