Sexism in House

By: Megan Schmit

House hit Fox network in 2004 and ran for a successful eight seasons, drawing audiences in with the high-stakes medical environment, mystery diagnoses, sexual tension between characters, and sarcastic humor provided by none other than Dr. Gregory House. Medical dramas have been popular among American viewers – Grey’s Anatomy sound familiar? – and House fit inside this niche perfectly. In fact, it was and remains one of my favorite television shows, and I binge-watched every season in a single semester on Netflix. It was frustratingly addictive – and frustratingly sexist.

The first problem begins with Dr. Cuddy, the head of Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital. She has all the potential to be an empowered lead, yet falls to the wayside as the object of House’s barrage of sexual innuendos and scathing criticism. While she is technically the superior to House, she more-often-than-not passively accepts House’s blatant disobedience due to his reputation as a medical genius. Not only is this misogynistic power struggle displayed in dialogue, but visually as well. Often, House breaks proxemics of personal space and will interact with Cuddy only inches away, a visual demonstration of dominance. Costume choices also work against Cuddy; her skirts are tight, her heels are high, and her shirts are low-cut, all demeaning her power as head of the hospital and reducing her to a sexual object of desire.

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As shown above, House ignores Cuddy’s personal space, and demonstrates an intimate distance, despite no intimate relationship, which undermines Cuddy’s authority. 

While Cuddy’s power is very obviously undercut in the show, Dr. Cameron – the only woman on House’s medical team – is equally molded by the stereotypes of femininity. Dr. Cameron is a very capable doctor, and proves time and time again that her ability to diagnose and simultaneously provide a softer bedside manner than her colleagues are vital to the team. She is, however, never respected in the same way, and is constantly criticized for being overly emotional and attached to cases. She is also an object of desire for House as well as her colleagues, and her sexual relations with Dr. Chase is depicted as erratic and a break from her typical persona – in a way, embracing her sexual desires is seen as a female losing control, rather than one taking what she wants.

Observations of sexism in House have been noted before, in essays like this one, which discusses the concept of the male gaze in the show. The essay also points out, interestingly, the brilliant success of the television show and recognition of Hugh Laurie’s portrayal of Dr. House – a double-edged knife of an award, since his character perpetuates a gendered script women are trying so desperately to rewrite.

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3 Responses to Sexism in House

  1. mediaphiles says:

    Since I started taking classes on media, film, television, and sitcom, I have started to realize an overwhelming amount of sexism, prejudice, etc. in television and movies that ever before. I think that the deeper criticism and examination that I give to media now has enabled me to see a lot of things that I didn’t realize before as an average viewer

    -Max Lissette

  2. mediaphiles says:

    It’s really interesting to compare your assessment of sexism in House with Russell’s discussion of Master of None’s (Aziz Ansari’s Netflix series) approach to issues of misrepresentation, sexism, and racism in his post. Master of None uses humor to push traditional television boundaries by forcing viewers to ask hard questions about how we talk about (and act on) problems like racism and sexism in the work place. I get the sense that it seems like House is missing a huge opportunity to communicate a meaningful message to its audience about how women ought not to be treated both in the work place and on screen.

    – Lydia Geisel

  3. mediaphiles says:

    I have seen random episodes of House sporadically over the years and have noted the same thing every time–the show is generally appealing, but the character of House is a jerk. I understand that it is how he is written to be, but the constant jabs, mostly aimed at women seem excessive. I have heard many compliments but also some negatives of the show and they seemed to revolve around House and how hard he is to like.

    -Maddie Turner

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