Tomorrow night, How I Met Your Mother will end its nine-year run with a one-hour season finale. A show that spawned countless catchphrases and running gags, How I Met Your Mother will be remembered for its nonlinear storytelling and its portrayals of romance and friendship.
It will also be remembered as one of the most misogynistic sitcoms on TV.
Okay, I admit it – I’m exaggerating a little to make a point. I haven’t seen enough shows to determine whether or not it’s one of the most misogynistic sitcoms. But over the years, How I Met Your Mother has devolved into a show rife with anti-woman nastiness, making me grateful that the program is finally coming to an end.
I’m also saddened by the devolution in the show over the years, because once upon a time, I would have considered How I Met Your Mother a more progressive sitcom than most.
In the first few seasons of the show, I was impressed with the show’s different take on stereotypical gender roles. I liked that Ted was the hopeless romantic who wanted nothing more than to settle down, get married, and have children, while Robin was the more pragmatic, career-minded person who wanted a more casual relationship. I liked that, even in the context of Marshall and Lily’s super-sweet relationship, Marshall was still the more sentimental of the two. I was moved by Lily’s “career vs. romance” subplot in the end of the first season because the show recognized the emotional weight of what she was feeling. I liked that Lily and Marshall’s wedding followed a typical “bride freaks out on a wedding day” plot with an unexpected and very funny “groom freaks out EVEN MORE on wedding day” plot with Marshall shaving part of his head.
Even Barney, the most problematic character on the show through a feminist perspective, wasn’t so terrible in the first two seasons. Back then, Barney’s womanizing wasn’t the only aspect of his character. Barney was just a person who wanted to make every night legendary no matter what, whether it involved creating elaborate stories to get women to sleep with him, licking the Liberty Bell, paying Robin to say ridiculous things on camera, inventing a drink called the “Thankstini,” setting Ted’s jacket on fire to stop him from drunk-dialing. His treatment of women wasn’t okay, but it didn’t come from a place of showing complete contempt for anyone around him.
Somewhere along the line, all that changed.
Barney became a person whose primary goal was to trick as many women as possible into sleeping with him, and his behavior toward them became increasingly nasty and downright criminal. In season three’s “The Bracket,” he admits to having sold a woman, and in season eight’s “The Fortress,” he shows the feature of a “Ho-Be-Gone” system which wheels one-night stands into a wall. And we’re supposed to be happy that Robin married this man.
Unfortunately, the misogyny that has pervaded How I Met Your Mother isn’t just limited to Barney. Here’s a list of just some of the most memorable misogynistic moments from the show’s history:
- Season five’s “Of Course”: Jennifer Lopez appears as a character whose sole purpose is to peddle the “Power of No.” Because we need more characters who affirm the stereotype that women like “playing hard to get.”
- Season five’s “Say Cheese”: Lily, angry that Ted has brought yet another date no one knows to her birthday party, shows him a photo of a previous year’s celebration and asks him to “name that bitch.” Not wanting strangers to attend your birthday party: fine. But what did these women do to Lily to warrant being called “bitches?”
- Season five’s “The Playbook”: All of it. But I’ll get to that later. (/SagetTed)
- Season six’s “Baby Talk”: Marshall worries about having a daughter because he remembers the way he and his high school classmates used to be sexist towards the female students. (Sexual harassment is bad when it’s happening to women you care about, boys, but random bitches are free game and THEN cat-calling is hilarious!)
- Season six’s “Canning Randy”: the men leer at the day-after-Halloween parade of women walking down the street in costumes, guessing at their one-night stands. Could have been a funny gag if it had been the entire gang watching a parade of men and women returning from one-night stands, but as it was, it was just a bunch of guys snarkily judging women.
- Season seven’s “The Slutty Pumpkin Returns”: Lily has pregnancy brain and Marshall and Robin treat her like she has the intelligence of a two-year-old, and they prove to be right when Lily gives a stapler to a kid on Halloween.
- Season seven’s “Now We’re Even”: Barney delivers what’s supposed to be a moving monologue about the difficulties of dating a stripper and how it makes him feel to know that Quinn is dancing naked for other men, and we’re actually supposed to feel sorry for him after years of him treating women like dirt.
- Season eight’s “Lobster Crawl”: Robin acts like a simpering idiot when she’s desperate to win Barney back. She continues to be mean to poor Patrice for no reason and it’s supposed to be funny (probably because Patrice is fat).
- Season eight’s “The Final Page”: Barney proposes to Robin after a long con of making her believe that he didn’t want her, and it’s one of the most glaring examples of emotional abuse disguised as romance in recent memory.
- Season eight’s “The Fortress”: Like I said – Ho-Be-Gone.
- Season nine’s “The Broken Code”: Robin realizes she has no female friends and acts astonishingly rude to the women around her, finally confirming that she and Barney really are meant for each other, since she hates women just as much as he does.
And those are just a few.
But the biggest examples of misogyny are, of course, Barney’s two books: The Bro Code and The Playbook. Two books that are actual books that people can now buy.
And The Playbook? Is a pick-up artist’s wet dream.
Before anyone argues that it’s “just a joke,” keep in mind that there are actual websites out there dedicated to coaching men on tricking women into sleeping with them – and some of these sites actually use the character of Barney Stinson as a role model.
How I Met Your Mother isn’t entirely hopeless even at this late stage. The writers handled Robin’s infertility with respect. Season eight’s “The Time Travelers” was one of its best episodes, truly romantic and poignant. Marshall and Lily’s renewed vows were moving. I love everything about the Mother herself and Ted’s relationship with her, proving that this show still has a soul. But the stink of misogyny has tainted what was once one of my favorite sitcoms.
And if, at the end of tomorrow’s finale, it turns out that I dealt with all that anti-woman crap on a weekly basis only to find out that the Mother is dead in the future…if that is the direction the writers have decided to take…then burn it, burn it to the ground.