A few months ago, I was doing some research for a Big Bang Theory article and I came across a feminist blog that delved into the character of Penny, and the author did not like what she saw. The author tore the character apart and slammed her for being a horrible female role model, a narcissistic jerk, and an overall awful person. At the time, I didn’t agree with this author's brutal assessment of one of my favourite characters. While I do agree that Penny is kind of an awful person, I do not think that those traits are the key to her demise. In fact, I think that these traits are precisely the reason why Penny is so important to the show. She rude, crude, and has a bad attitude, and that’s exactly why she is so important. So without further ado, please allow me to explain 15 reasons why people think that Penny is the absolute worst, and why that makes her the best.
15 'She Is Downright Mean Most Of The Time'
While this is true, I don’t necessarily think it’s a reason to get your pitchforks out. Have you ever watched The Big Bang Theory? Every single one of those characters are the absolute worst kinds of people. Seriously, watch an episode without the laugh track and it’s just a group of people spitting out resentful, cruel, and crude comments at each other with long periods of awkward silence breaking up the mean remarks.
That all being said, Penny being a mean person shouldn’t write her off entirely. There are plenty of good characters that are mean. In fact, I believe that most sitcoms need a mean character to call the main cast out on their antics every once in awhile. Don’t judge Penny for her cruelty unless you’re prepared to call out every other character in the cast as well.
14 'She Doesn't Care About Anyone But Herself'
Some critics of Penny have argued that Penny sucks because she doesn’t care about anybody who isn’t herself. This is both not true and not as big of a deal as people have made it out to be. Let’s first tackle the falseness of this statement. Penny cares deeply about her friends as shown by her continued attempts to help them when they get themselves into deep interpersonal issues, lose their jobs, or get injured/sick. However, Penny is blunt and gruff. She doesn’t care for them in the typical, female, doting mother stereotypical way of showing empathy. Penny is more of the “pick yourself up by the bootstraps” kind of girl.
Secondly, her assumed selfishness shouldn’t be as big of a deal as it is. All the male characters on this show are selfish to a fault, but for some reason (cough: sexism) Penny is the only one who really gets called out for it. Not everyone can be selfless and kind 24/7.
13 'She Is A Terrible Role Model'
Why is that? Why is it that any female character that exists outside stereotypes of femininity are immediately written off as terrible role models? Whys is it that all females in the media (both fictional and real) have to be role models at all times while their male counterparts are allowed to muck about without regard for their actions? This isn’t a kids show that tries to teach young viewers morality and proper decorum. This is an adult sitcom that explores the everyday antics of a group of adults navigating through their 20’s. No one on the show is under any obligation to be someone that young kids can look up to. That all being said, Penny is one of the fictional women who inspire me. She is bold, admits when she’s wrong, calls out her friends when they are being idiotic or reckless, and lives her life without worrying about what other people have to say about it. What about that is so wrong?
12 'She Drinks To Drown Her Problems'
There is no hiding behind the fact that Penny does enjoy a drink now and then. Some claim that she is an alcoholic, however, her drinking does wane off as she ages and the show progresses which would lead me to believe that is not actually an alcoholic.
I would be more inclined to believe that she is actually just a young girl (her character is 22 at the shows inception) who is recently legal, works in a restaurant, and enjoys a good night out. She’s a casual drinker who likes a glass of wine with dinner and likes to go out and paint the town red on the weekends. And honestly, is that so wrong? Pop star Kesha was also slammed for her 22-year-old party girl image while male stars of a similar age seem to have their drunk ways written off as “boys just being boys.” This leads me to believe that the criticism towards Penny’s behaviour has major sexist roots. I will admit that she goes a little far sometimes, but that is no reason to incite an angry mob.
11 'She Doesn't Do Anything For Her Friends'
I know what you’re thinking, “But Zooey, the GIF that you’re using just further illustrates the point that Penny critics are trying to make. For in that episode, Penny throws an absolute fit over wearing a Wonder Woman wig.” But that’s not actually what happened. If you rewatch the episode in question, you’ll see that the other characters in the show (both the geek gang and Penny’s beau du jour) spent the entire episode ragging on her and pushing her aside. That lead to her not wanting to play along with the boys cosplay venture as it made her feel taken advantage of and disregarded when something more important came along. Would you want to do a favour for people that you didn’t think had your back?
10 'She Gets By On Her Looks'
Contrary to popular belief, Penny isn’t an idiot (I mean, come on. Any normal person would look like a total ice brain when placed beside geniuses 24/7). Penny moved herself across America to pursue her dream, realized that she needed a backup job to pay the bills, and did everything she could to support herself while trying to find her big break. And one of the things she’s learned over time is that she is hot. So hot that people will just do things for her. They will pay for her food, her drinks, her taxi rides — whatever she wants in attempts to sleep with her. And she saw an opportunity in which she took without hesitation. You do what you do to get by and if people are offering to pay for things you need that you can’t afford, I say go for it. That doesn’t make her an idiot or irresponsible, that makes her clever and resourceful.
9 'She's The Token Hot Girl/Nerdy Wet Dream'
In its early seasons, The Big Bang Theory was a show about two nerdy guys, their two desperate and awkward friends, and their insanely hot neighbour. But the idea of Penny being nothing but a token hot babe for the geeks to lust over was broken down quickly within the first couple episodes. Had Penny followed this trope, she would have been all over Leonard (who is arguably the main character of the show) because hot girls like her all secretly want a nerdy boy to teach them things that their "big, dumb blonde head" is too stupid to understand. She would have been lusting after him from the start, but the show quickly broke this trope set up by having Penny be a real person with hopes, a family, a past, dreams, fears, and goals. They had Leonard and her build up a friendship founded on mutual respect and seeing each other as mutuals. It’s realistic and sweet.
8 'She Is Constantly Whining About Her Life'
Penny left her hometown to move to California so that she could make it in Hollywood. And she failed. She tried for years but it just didn’t happen for her. Over the course of the show's 10 seasons, we have seen Penny fail in every walk of her life. Her family struggles, sometimes she couldn’t even pay her bills, she lost her car, she went through countless relationships, and she struggled to stay upbeat on a daily basis because of all this. She had to know when to swallow her pride and when to go with her gut and cut her losses. For the most part, Penny stayed pretty optimistic through all of this but there were moments when she broke down and wallowed in feelings of failure. And that’s okay. Being a strong character doesn’t mean you have to be strong all of the time. People are allowed their moments of self pity.
7 'She Calls Everyone Out Incessantly'
And there’s nothing wrong with that. Sometimes people need to be called the eff out and I’m never bold enough to do it, so I respect those who can. Sometimes people are running their mouths about things they know nothing about and are offending everyone around them. Sometimes people are allowing their problems to consume them and they just need to get pulled out of their wallowing and be reminded about how great they have it. Sometimes people just go too far and need to be told to chill. And sometimes people just need someone to pull them off their high horse and give them a dose of reality. Though I do think that Penny is a little too blunt when she calls people out, that’s just who she is as a person and I respect that. Everyone needs a friend that they can trust will call them out when they need it.
6 'She's Always Sleeping Around'
Get ready for another Zooey rant because I am about to unleash my rage. (Just imagine me clapping between every word for emphasis in the next sentence.) There is literally no reason for females who embrace their sexuality to be treated with such a lack of respect. And I’m talking about both fictional and real women.
Men who sleep with mounds of women are cool rocker dudes that all males look up to. So why is it that women who do the same are seen as disgusting and a threat to polite society?
There is nothing wrong with embracing one's sexuality as long as everyone is happy, consenting, of age, and having a great time. And you might be thinking, “But Zooey, this is fiction. Why is it such a big deal?” And to that I say it’s a big deal because people’s criticisms of fictional women reflect their real world opinions of real world women. Both fictional and real women who are unapologetically sexual are torn apart and it’s just so frustrating to me. I don’t understand why everyone still holds onto this puritanical idea of sex when looking at women who embrace themselves and their bodies.
5 'She Treats Leonard Like Trash'
This is, once again, not true in the way that people are claiming it is. Penny isn’t always upfront with her emotions. She’s distant, she’s collected, and she’s usually sarcastic. She jokes around with Leonard and a lot of fans take her playful jabs as intentionally cruel mockery. Her jokes take him down a notch when he’s getting high on himself but Penny also knows when it’s time to get serious and honest with her feelings.
While a sense of humour is important in a relationship, it is also important to be honest about how you’re feeling and making sure to keep that line of communication open. When Leonard accuses Penny of being apathetic towards their relationship, she shows him her special 'Leonard box' filled with the sentimental things he’s given her that she kept due to her love for him. Just because someone jokes around and pokes fun a lot doesn’t mean that they can’t be emotionally vulnerable and sentimental.
4 'She Talks About Everyone Behind Their Back'
First off, I need to establish a difference between talking about people and their activities when they aren’t around and actually talking behind someone's back. The latter is saying intentionally cruel, untrue, or deeply personal things about a person to your mutual friends so that you two can bond whilst mocking said friend. It is inherently cruel in nature and done to make the mutual friend like you more than the friend that you are betraying. That is completely different than just sharing an opinion on a friend and something they have done/are doing to a mutual friend.
The difference being that the first one is innocent, not done in an intentionally cruel way, and most people would repeat these comments to the face of said friend. Penny is blunt and brash, so there is no doubt that she would repeat any of these comments to her friends faces and that’s exactly what makes the statement that she talks behind everyone’s backs untrue.
3 'Kaley Always Plays The Same Character'
The above GIF is from the hilarious family sit-com 8 Simple Rules (for dating my teenage daughter). The show is honest, hilarious, vulnerable, and genuinely explores what it’s like to be a teenager, to have teenage children, and to lose a beloved family member out of the blue.
Kaley played Bridget, a blonde, scantily clad, ditzy girl in her late teens who is self obsessed to a fault and relies on her looks to get ahead in life. If that sounds familiar that’s because she is essentially a teenage Penny. But is that the fault of Kaley, her agent, or the fact that there is really only one type of role available for skinny, beautiful, young blondes in Hollywood? Emma Stone has touched based on this when she claimed that she only got calls for the beautiful cheerleader roles until she dyed her hair dark red for Superbad. Actors shouldn’t be faulted for type casting or faults of the genre.
2 'She Continually Makes The Worst Decisions'
I want to ask all my readers out there a question. (Don’t worry, it’s not like a pop quiz or anything. It’s just a question.) If you’re over 25, how many stupid decisions did you make when you were in your early twenties? Did you ever get into a stupid relationship that you regretted immediately after it ended? Had a one night stand? Spent all your money on something you didn’t need but really wanted? Put everything you had into a dream that didn’t work out in the end? You have to remember that Penny was only 22 when the show started. She was a young adult that made several bad mistakes and decisions before she grew up and made some changes. When she got older, she realized her dreams weren’t ever going to become a reality, that she needed a lifestyle change, and wanted to settle down into a meaningful relationship. She got a job in pharmaceuticals, stopped partying as much (though she still does go out with the girls), and got serious with Leonard. She was a young woman who had a couple bumps on the road to finding herself and who can fault that?
1 'She's Just a Male Character With Boobs'
Yeah and that’s exactly why I love her. She’s blunt, brutally honest, sarcastic, sexual, and hilarious. She exists as her own person rather than an accessory for her romantic interest. She fights for financial and general equality in her relationship and she won’t compromise anything that she doesn’t want to risk. She is sharp tongued, bold, and says exactly what she’s thinking. But she’s also messy and has faults. She drinks too much sometimes, she can go too far when criticizing people, and she isn’t perfect. It’s great to see a female character that has so many faults without having to unlearn them by the end of the show or film.
Everyone says that she’s just a male character with boobs because female characters aren’t "allowed" to be so openly flawed. She was written like a male character; she has depth, a past, independent desires, and flaws, all while still maintaining her femininity in a way that doesn’t betray the masculine nature of the character or act like fan service and that is what makes her so great.