Warning: Major spoilers ahead
Like a lot of other fans of How I Met Your Mother (HIMYM), I was angered by the series finale but perhaps not for the same reasons. While I completely agree that the ending did not make sense and the “twist” of having the mother die was predicted years ago, it was the level of misogyny that almost made me lose my dinner. I didn’t expect the episode to be a feminist anthem but I thought there would at least be some stable character growth and that the titular Mother would play more of a role in their lives. Instead, women once again served as mere plot devices for the stories of men and all that came before was ruined.
I was never a super fan of HIMYM but there were certain things I enjoyed about it. I appreciated the continuity call-backs and fan rewards for attention to detail, the loving marriage of equals between Lily and Marshall, and the presence of Neil Patrick Harris (a favorite of mine). I liked the show’s willingness to depict occasional bits of tragedy and the backstories of the main characters. For example, we saw how Marshall’s warm and loving family resulted in him becoming a somewhat naïve optimist and how her father’s rejection of her gender made it difficult for Robin to be emotionally available.
I especially enjoyed what I thought they were doing with Barney. When the character was first introduced, he was portrayed solely as a lying, womanizing sociopath who cared for nothing besides sex, his male friends (his “bros”), and his stuff. It was hard to relate to such a character but I believed they were being clever. In showing how Barney started being so loathsome only after his heart was broken and he felt powerless, I thought they were making a statement about masculinity in general. I felt certain that they were showing how a lot of men refuse to acknowledge their feelings and use sex as a way to avoid the emotional intimacy they truly desire. I believed the writers were showing that Barney’s need to avoid emotional pain led him to project an image of “manly” success to the world which, in the end, was ultimately empty.
The character of Robin also felt refreshing. In this age of women being seen as appendages for men (either through sex or procreation), Robin’s emphasis on her career was great. She never wanted kids and that was presented as a valid option. Just try getting that validation in the real world and you’ll understand why that was so revolutionary. She was fierce, funny and fabulous all at once. I also liked that Robin’s relationship with Ted never worked because he wanted different things out of life and she would not settle for being unhappy in order to give someone else joy.
The introduction of the Mother also was good. Tracy (her real name) was smart, talented, funny, warm and emotionally balanced. Her quirks seemed cute and she clearly was a match for Ted. As such, despite the boring, nonsensical and unfunny last season, I felt pretty good about watching Marshall give up his judgeship for Lily’s job, Barney embrace the vulnerability required to give his heart to Robin and Ted find the woman of his dreams. The depiction of women as equals in television is so rare that I was content to just see them be major players even if they were acting within the narrative of the men’s stories. However, with the last episode, my house of cards came crashing down.
The first card to be dropped was Robin. Her marriage to Barney needlessly failed (could they not have tried therapy?) and she drifted away from the gang. Those events in and of themselves weren’t bad but they presented her as friendless and sad, a woman pining for what she could not have. In a twist on the Single Cat Lady, Robin ended up with dogs until she was saved by Ted. So in the end, it was really not ok for Robin to not want kids and focus on her career. Pathetic.
The next card to fall was Barney. Instead of continuing to grow after his divorce, he immediately reverted back to his sociopathic ways and even upped the ante by bedding more women until one became pregnant. This woman was not given a face or a name (known only by a number) but upon meeting his daughter, Barney immediately found the one woman for whom he was willing to give everything. Clearly we are meant to believe that this is a sweet sentiment. As one forum poster put it, “Barney’s showing True Love for his daughter in ways he couldn’t for other women was really touching.” No, it wasn’t.
Instead of being able to empathize with women who are his equals and are not related to him, Barney could only see fit to treat his daughter with respect and love. Yes, fatherly love can be wonderful but it does not require mutuality or even much compromise. It is a very different kind of relationship from one you can have with another adult and I have to wonder how Barney treats the mother (probably not well). And if that wasn’t bad enough, in his guise of loving father, he then slut-shamed women he previously would have been happy to bed. It was still all about Barney and all about sexual control. So, in the end, Barney learned nothing and it apparently is fine for men to treat women callously. Yuck.
Lily didn’t fare much better. Once she started having children, there was no indication that she had a career (either in education or art). All that was left of her story was for her to prop up Marshall’s thriving career and grieve the loss of Robin as her good friend. Lily always had her own wants and needs but, in the end, those were unimportant and faded into the background. Depressing.
And of course Tracy died. Sure, they showed how much she and Ted were in love but, with the decision to have Ted return to Robin once Tracy was gone, the writers made it seem like she was merely the womb Ted needed to get everything he ever wanted: kids and Robin. Not only that but Tracy’s kids, the ones we hope would have been excited to hear stories about their beloved mother, propped up Ted’s desire to get back together with Robin. So, in the end, Tracy was only just the mother, never someone important for herself. Disgusting.
To sum up: in the How I Met Your Mother finale, Tracy died, Lily faded away, and Robin was saved from a lonely existence by Ted while the guys got everything their hearts desired. Perfect. Given this kind of dreck, is it any wonder that women are severely underrepresented in politics, business leadership and in Hollywood power players? If only events like this ended with This is How I Met My Feminism.