MST3K on female stereotypes

Why yes, I am reviewing Mystery Science Theater 3000, the hilarious cult phenomenon TV show in which a guy marooned in space and two robots watched a terrible movie and made fun of it. MST3K was my first experience of someone outside my home making sarcastic and delicious fun of a movie for, among other things, portraying women poorly:

“Yes, non-skinny women are inherently unhappy.”


“We’ll just stand here, because they’re men and we’re not. We don’t want to get involved.”

Catalina Caper

What I love about this show was that there’s no way anyone could think they were just looking for something to complain about (as some visitors to this site have accused us of doing). MST couldn’t possibly be linked with the missions of feminists, anti-racists or other equality activists: it had no purpose but to make fun of movies that had utterly failed. And yet, part of what they perceived as bad entertainment was the very stuff we criticize here: lazy stereotypes, tropes, and the obsession with sidelining females in a desperate attempt to make poorly written male protagonists look like they could handle a malfunctioning Xerox machine without crying for their mommies.

Because the stuff we criticize is bad entertainment. As concerned as we are about the fact that portraying women as less than human reinforces existing misogynistic beliefs, let us never lose site of the fact that it just plain makes your movie/TV show suck. It’s been done to death, and because we all know women aren’t really like that, it’s a cheat as big as having a car suddenly take off flying just to convenience your plot. It shows how uncreative the filmmakers are, or how incapable they are of showing any perspective but their own – or it provides a really embarrassing glipmse into the filmmaker’s extreme lack of experience with women, or his/her own seeming misogyny.

Why did the writers ofย MST get it? It’s not as if they made perfect choices in their own setup – the lead character (Joel and later Mike) was always a white man; the robots who made fun of movies with him were characterized as male; Gypsy, the only female robot we heard from very occasionally, was characterized at about the level of a particularly giddy ten year old who liked unicorns and pretty flowers and had a weird crush on Richard Basehart (and even she was voiced by a man!). And the bad guys who kept Joel/Mike and the bots marooned in space with bad movies were also male (for the first eight years).

Of course, when this setup was established way back at the beginning, there were no female writers on the show. Mary Jo Pehl and Bridget Jones (Nelson) came a couple of years later, as did a few new male writers. Which is not to say the male writers didn’t contribute to the jokes about bad female portrayals – I imagine they did, and in the worst case, I still have to credit the original group of men for hiring not one but two women as writers. And for later putting both women on screen, where they were hilarious.

MST provides incontrovertible proof that fans with no agenda other than to enjoy a movie are just as annoyed by lazy reliance on stereotypes as equality activists.


  1. says

    “Quick everyone! Set your phasers to *miss*!”

    And thanks for the reminder that it isn’t just “finding things to complain about” which it sometimes starts to feel like after enough people say it. It’s about good stories.

  2. Charles RB says

    I liked their review of the Outlaw Of Gor film, where one of the leads says how great the palace full of sex slaves is.

    “Yeah, for you, but what are the women getting out of it?”

  3. sbg says

    Pearl always amused me greatly.

    This is great. It makes me want to get the DVDs and have a MST3K marathon, just to catch more great moments like you’ve highlighted. :)

  4. MaggieCat says

    I found one that’s always stuck in my head — The clip it’s making fun of is just so delightfully random — on Wikiquote:

    [A group of women skaters dressed as Zebras come on screen, and are described as actual animals.]
    Servo: We’re gettin’ into a whole weird area, here.
    Crow [as narrator]: Yes, it’s sexist male fantasies on ice!
    . . .
    Narrator: And now, the little bareback rider exhalts in her victory over the wild beasts!
    Servo (nervously chuckling): Uh-huh…
    . . .
    Servo [as narrator]: Yes, it’s dehumanized, objectified circus on ice!

  5. MaggieCat says

    Heh, that one happens to be up on Youtube.

    I’d forgotten just how awful that is. Frankly I think they went a little easy on it. (The part I quoted starts about 2 minutes in.) Okay, so it’s not technically a movie in the strictest sense of the term, but I think it should still count; partly because it amuses me for some reason, but still.

  6. Ree says

    Or from “Werewolf,” after a woman was killed and then another woman was thrown down a flight of stairs.

    Tom Servo: “Oh, good, good, because it’s been a couple of minutes since a woman was brutalized.”

    And I like that their first ever real guest star was a Minnesota Viking player who was given to Pearl as a gift. “What am I supposed to do with a well-oiled mute hunk…oh.”

    I hope everyone has their Turkey Day marathon MST episodes ready! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  7. JenniferKesler says

    *echoes Tekanji’s reaction to the Gor thing*

    @SBG, Pearl is hilarious. One on of the DVD extras, Mary Jo Pehl says she just played her mother, only a little bit more exaggerated. ๐Ÿ˜€ I’ve been doing the DVD marathon myself – it’s awesome!

    @Maggie, yes, I remember that one! It’s from a short film, which they like to hit now and again.

    @Fraser, people tend to love or hate MST. :)

    @Ree, can’t believe I forgot that one! Werewolf – or, rather, Wrrrwilf – is one of my very favorites! And yes, I do have a fresh new set of DVDs to watch all day today! ๐Ÿ˜€ (Great minds!)

  8. Eileen says

    Their parodies of school filmstrips are the best. I especially remember “Home Economics” in which it is absolutely proven that Home Ec is the perfect major for every girl, no matter what her real interests might be.


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