One of the most important questions of our time
Well, one that I know has been pondered amongst us chickens in the blogosphere and has made its way to Slate: Why is the standard issue couple on a sitcom an unattractive, irresponsible guy and a responsible, beautiful woman? This bugs the living shit out of me. Matt Feeney hits on a number of points that I think are accurate enough, the big one being that it's wish-fulfillment for the desired male audience to watch one guy after another after another after another see men on TV who can let themselves go and act like big babies while knowing that their hot wives will gladly clean up their messes. He also posits that it's flattering to women to be portrayed as responsible and good-looking.
Perhaps, but as usual, I find it hard to believe that men and women have such opposite motivations, where men are primarily drawn to wish fulfillment and women to flattery, which strikes me as stereotyping all over again. The stereotypes in play being that men are imaginative whereas women are vain. I think both men and women are imaginative and vain.
There is a show where there is something of a reverse situation going on--"I Love Lucy" had a male protagonist who was self-assured and responsible and a bumbling female protagonist. That show flattered men and gave women an outlet, the reverse of the standard sitcom formula now. Of course, the looks thing wasn't reversed. For all that Lucy is a goofy redhead, she is still a beautiful woman. Rosanne had her own show and she was fat, but she wasn't paired off with a gorgeous hunk for a husband, and their relationship was built more realistically, as both of them were responsible types.
I think that the sheer lopsidedness of the formula is quite telling. Women always must be good-looking, and can either be responsible or not. Men can be responsible or not and attractive or not. I don't really think the driving force behind these formulas is flattering women, therefore.
Mostly I think that the sitcom writers are lazy and just want to reference stereotypes instead of write good jokes. But by referencing these ugly stereotypes, they are reinforcing them and I can assure you that even though it's nice on a certain level to be portrayed as the responsible sex, most of the time these stereotypes are a Big Bummer.
For one thing, there is no such thing on sitcoms as a responsible woman who is fun. No, women are sticks in the mud, and thank god for it or men wouldn't be able to have any fun. Sure, it's no fun having your sitcom wife glare at you like your mom used to do, but it's good for you. You expect these female characters to start telling their husbands to eat their vegetables or something like that. How they have a sex life is beyond me, and frankly I find it creepy.
And the fact that no matter what the husband looks or acts like on these shows, the wife is stunningly gorgeous is not flattering at all to the audience, but really just cause for despair. The message is loud and clear to the female viewers that if a woman wants to have any hope whatsoever of getting even an ugly asshole of a husband, she must be a size 2, beautiful and have the patience of a saint. Frankly, I think it's a huge stretch to be "even-handed" about this and say that these shows are designed with the male and female viewers' desires equally in mind.