375. Girls Just Want To Have Sums

(originally aired April 30, 2006)
Ho-hum, another boring episode. It’s sad the series has gotten to this level of unremarkable where entire episodes (and possible seasons) can be completely written off. The Simpsons see the Itchy & Scratchy musical, which is a big Lion King rip-off, and though a bit too on-the-nose, is probably the only interesting bit in the whole show. After the show, Skinner has a bizarre conversation on stage with the director Juliane Krellner (or Julie Taymor, continuing the show’s tradition of taking a name, tweak it slightly, and there! Instant joke!) Here’s what’s said (“It’s no surprise you became such a success. You always got straight A’s in school!” “Well, I remember getting a B or two in math.” “Well, of course you did. You are a girl!”) I honestly can’t figure out why he would say that. The road to our main plot hinges on this, and it feels so flimsy, and eventually becomes nonsensical, in multiple ways. People are outraged by Skinner’s incidental sexism and he’s replaced by a new principal (Frances MacDormand, another fine talent wasted), who jumps to the conclusion gender integration is to blame for the grading disparities between the sexes, and demands the school be split in two: a boy’s school and a girl’s school.

Lisa is excited for a challenge in girl’s math, but is shocked to find the class is focused on getting in touch with feelings and instilling confidence boosting (“What does a plus sign smell like? Is the number seven odd, or just different?”) On the surface, this is mildly clever, but I don’t get how we got to this point. If the offense was taken by statements that girls weren’t as smart as boys, what’s the deal with this class? I guess the response to the criticism was that women need to be split from the aggressive, rowdy men, except that doesn’t tie into wishy washy Skinner. Anyway, in order to get intellectual stimulation, Lisa masquerades as a boy, where the show reaches She’s the Man levels of comedy. By the end, Lisa receives an award for her outstanding mathematics, and reveals her true identity. Bart stands up and declares he deserves the credit for teaching his sister to act like a boy, to which Lisa throws the award at him, then quickly realizes what she’s done and what she’s become. Except we never see any of that. Her truly blending in with the boys is told over a montage toward the end; maybe if more time had been spent on that, showing her going native and being terrified of it, could have been interesting. Instead it’s just a dry, dull affair.

Tidbits and Quotes
– The musical at the beginning has some good stuff in it, like the giant puppet knives and the guys in organ suits doing curtain calls at the end. I also like them alternating between using Itchy & Scratchy’s real voices, and their actually musically inclined equivalents.
– Why he so uniquely shot himself in the foot is strange to me, but I like Skinner’s fumbling to cover up his missteps to a bunch of angry feminists (“It’s the difference, of which there are none, that make the sameness exceptional! Just tell me what to say!!”)
– I guess the school had the money to reconstruct the building, creating two separate entrances, two separate cafeterias, amongst other things.
– There’s a small runner of Marge’s strife toward Homer, thinking he believes women are mentally inferior. It’s silly and goes nowhere. We also get a flashback lifted from “Mr. Plow,” where we see young Marge studying for calculus before she’s whisked away by Homer, leaving her ignorant forever. It feels a bit more devastating than funny here, but the line following it is pretty good (“Since then, I haven’t been able to do any of the calculus I’ve encountered in my daily life!”)
– The boy’s school is just a feral, violent, animalistic society, which I guess is the gag, but it wears thin pretty quickly. I like Nelson’s obsessive gun drawings, but that’s about it.
– Bart instructs Lisa how to be a boy in the third act. First he teaches her about eating dirty disgusting food off the floor. Then we get a Homer-Marge scene. Then we get her final test: pick a fight with a boy. We hear Lisa’s thoughts (“A fight! That would mean rejecting the last part of me that’s still a girl!”) That’s for explaining that. Also, what? We’ve seen none of that whatsoever in this episode. Maybe if we had, it would have been interesting seeing her transformation, but like modern Simpsons always says: tell, don’t show. Lisa gives a big speech at the end that’s supposed to be our message, about how she compromised everything she believed in, even though we didn’t see any of it, then they cut her off anyway, so if the show could care less, than I care even less than that. Whatever.

15 thoughts on “375. Girls Just Want To Have Sums

  1. Ugh, this episode. Nothing in it makes any sense, and the way it approaches educational sexism is just insulting. It’s like they were trying to make an episode that made some clever points about how children are pushed into fulfilling gender-based stereotypes (e.g. boys have to like sport, girls have to like dolls, boys should be aggressive, girls should be nurturing etc.), but the only point they managed to make in a whole 15 mins was “Girls can be as good at maths as boys can!”. YOU DON’T SAY?! I mean, it’s not like we’ve had 17 years of Lisa demonstrating that she’s the brightest kid in school or anything; yep, I’m sure the audience had absolutely no clue that Lisa was a better mathematician than Bart until this episode was over.

    It’s pretty frustrating that aside from dispelling the “Boys are better than girls at maths” myth, it only reinforces other stereotypes, just for the sake of cheap, obvious and lazy jokes. ‘Cause only boys pick fights or are unhygienic, right, folks? If you’ve ever seen a little girl play in mud or hit someone in a tantrum, she obviously isn’t a normal child and must have some serious gender identity issues (!)

    And the stuff with Skinner is just pure nonsense. If Skinner was fired for being sexist, why on Earth would his replacement introduce the most sexist policy imaginable? How is it that Skinner’s comments incite public outrage, but when the school brings in gender segregation and stops all female students from learning anything at all scientific, people barely bat an eyelid?

    If the writers wanted a new Springfield Elementary principal to introduce damagingly sexist measures, wouldn’t it have made much more sense (i.e. “any”) for Skinner to be fired for reasons *other* than sexism?

    I just can’t find anything positive to say about this episode. Even the Itchy and Scratchy bit went on for twice as long as it should have. This is easily the worst episode of season 17 for me, and that’s saying something.

    1. There’s nothing wrong with the stereotypes, they are generic view of something, just like their opposite. I actually find more horrible the “OMG dont fulfill the stereotype if you dont want to!” obsession.

  2. Skinner’s remarks are based on a similar gaffe from Harvard president Lawrence Summers made in 2005, when he said part of the reason women are underrepresented in the sciences may be because of the distribution of aptitude.

    Really annoys me in Zombie Simpsons that any audience member can start a conversation with a performer or speaker, and they just stop what they’re doing. See Lisa Leslie and Bart in Pray Anything, or the Grumple and Homer in Kill Gil.

  3. You know something is wrong when a gender divided school gets so far from reality that the girls playground is a castle and the boys side is a junkyard. Its too exaggerated to be funny, more tirespike tollbooth bullshit.

  4. I don’t outright hate this episode, but it’s very sloppily executed, indulges in stereotypes of girl vs. boy behavior, and has one of the most abrupt endings ever. (so did the school go back to being unisex after Lisa revealed herself? IIRC, they never really addressed that)

    Best material was the Itchy & Scratchy musical, Skinner tripping over himself to appear politically correct/not sexist, and Milhouse’s “act cool in front of the new kid” attitude towards Lisa/Jake:

    “We totally had a thing, but I had to break it off.” “What the hell are you talking about?!” “She got too clingy. Milhouse doesn’t DO clingy.”

  5. I’m not sure why everyone here liked Skinner trying to cover his tracks. “Just tell me what to say!” is a classic example of the spineless Skinner that we rarely saw in the early years and who made Special Edna so horrid.

    1. True, but at least here the joke is about how it seems impossible to say anything to appease an upset feminist rather than simply saying Skinner is a wuss.

  6. This actually has a germ of a good idea, particularly in the way that everyone goes so nuts on the feminist cryticism and then things are polarized to heck.
    I really like Otto dropping off the girls and saying “have an empowering day my pony loving leaders of tomorrow” then having the boys forced into a delapidated entrance in one rush.

    Again though, a potentially interesting satyr is killed by being so in your face, and also the perpetuation of even more sterriotypes since you know all boys are violent and mean, just as all feminists are ultra active idiots.

    it’s a shame, this one had huge potential but as usual ended up propping the status quo both of the simpsons and of society as a hole.

  7. Personally, I thought the Itchy & Scratchy musical went on for too long. Like we got the point after the opening bit but then it just kept going. It’s like they found out they only had 17 minutes of show and decided to extended the musical portion to fill in that entire 4 minute segment.

    I do agree with Krendall that Skinner’s “spineless” comment was meant to be a dig at how feminists will never listen to reason no matter what you say.

    Regardless, I’m not sure I understand what the point of this episode was. Nothing happened in it. It really said nothing and did nothing. Plus, it matters not since the reset button was hit after the episode ended. Although, I guess it could have been worse, it could have been as pointless as the MOnkey Suit episode that comes up like two episodes later.

  8. I thought one clever joke in this episode was when Lisa as Jake Boyman knocked Nelson’s tray over and he said “That was my eating food!” implying he also had other food not for eating, but for throwing. They didn’t overexplain the joke like I just did!

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