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.
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.