How Sexism Presents Itself In The Show, “Gilligan’s Island”

This prose nonfiction is an explanatory essay about the sexism portrayed in a 60’s sitcom

Kaia Cavin

The Oxford Dictionary defines sexism as, “prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination, typically against women, based on sex.”(Oxford English Dictionary). The show, ‘Gilligan’s Island’ by Sherwood Schwartz, is a 1960’s sitcom about seven castaways as they attempt to survive on a tropical island. The ’60s were chockfull of experimental tv shows that tended to have women as the brunt of the jokes. This includes classics like ‘The Dick Van Dyke Show’ and ‘The Brady Bunch’. Unfortunately, “Gilligan’s Island’ was not left untainted by this era of prejudice. Sexism rears its ugly head throughout the show during the theme song, with how male characters are portrayed versus females, and the castaway’s different roles on the island. 


Reminiscent of other shows from the ’60s, ‘Gilligan’s island’ opened on a patented theme song for each episode. Throughout the duration of the song, it recaps how the characters landed on the island and introduced all of them. The authors, Sherwood Schwartz and George Wyle, show off their opinions on women’s worth throughout their theme song by describing the men highly while listing the women off like objects, e.g. “The mate was a mighty sailing man, the skipper brave and sure… and his wife, the movie star.” (Amazon Music Unlimited). As stated above, the men are written with qualities showing their importance for the show and how other characters on the island need them. However, the females in the song are described simply by their labels. A dutiful wife, a movie star, or the girl who worked at a general store. The one-dimensional descriptions lead the watcher to form shallow opinions of the female characters.


The blatant degradation of women quickly follows and reinforces the vapid portrayal of women. When compared with their male counterparts, the women seem shallow and ditsy to say the least. Gilligan, one of the main characters, is presented as the comedy relief. He’s not the sharpest tool in the shed but comes off as lovable and well-meaning. Ginger, however, is introduced as this glamorous movie star. As the episode progresses, one hopes to see some character development, yet watchers receive nothing but this dependent and unintelligent woman. The Professor is another example of the men having a developed and well-rounded group of traits. The Professor is portrayed as a charismatic genius who is both well-meaning and suave. His female equivalent, Mary Ann, represents uneducated, rural America. She worked at a general store and at first glance appears diligent and hard-working. Unfortunately, Mary Ann ends up coming across just as witless as Ginger. The dutiful married couple, the Howell’s, have stark differences. Despite Mr. Howell having a host of unattractive qualities, he is still a well-thought-out character. The writers portray him as the stereotypical “fat cat” disconnected from the lower classes with a higher-than-thou attitude. In contrast, Mrs. Howell lacks personality, and her only purpose in the show is to support her husband acting as an uninspired and dull socialite. Her time on the screen is forgettable and Mrs. Howel is only shown with her husband. Thus, illustrating the quite overused trophy wife trope. Overall, the women are thin characters with zero personality and few redeemable traits compared to the men.


The castaways react to the island differently. The men adapt quickly making themselves useful versus the women who lounge around rendering them ineffectual. Further developing this trope, the women are unproductive and incapable of doing anything useful without the help of men. As soon as the episode ‘Two on a Raft” starts, roles/jobs are immediately introduced. Skipper and Gilligan begin creating an escape raft working to find rescuers. The Professor finds food, creates salves and glues for the raft, and after Skipper and Gilligan leave, takes over as leader setting traps for the feared natives. The only man on the island who doesn’t contribute is Mr. Howell, but this fits with his character’s backstory as a wealthy elitist who feels entitled due to his business acumen. Turning to the women, Ginger’s only “contribution” is that she makes jokes at her own expense while lounging around. At one point, Ginger and Mary Ane attempt to be helpful by creating a mast for the escape raft. However, even with such a small task, the women still make a mockery of themselves. When showing off the mast to Gilligan, it’s revealed that they wrote SOS on it with socks. While making the mast should have been an accomplishment, the producers twist it into a moment to mock both Mary Ane and Ginger. So, while the men shine brightly and save the day, the females appear inept and only good for a quick laugh.


While it was common in the ‘60s to have this type of humor incorporated into shows, such blatant sexism should not be okay to air nowadays. Gilligan’s Island portrays women as frivolous creatures, who are useless compared to men. That wasn’t the show’s only offense as it also only gave men well-rounded characters. With the amount of woman’s empowerment in this era, even old sitcoms like Gilligan’s Island shouldn’t be shown as long as such heavy themes of sexism are portrayed. 

Works Cited

Amazon Music Unlimited. “The Ballad of Gilligan’s Island Lyrics.” Lyrics on demand, 2018, Accessed 16 January 2022.

Oxford English Dictionary. “Sexism Definition.” Oxford University Press., 2015, Accessed 15 January 2022.

Schwartz, Sherwood, writer. “Two on a Raft.” Gilligan’s Island, season 1, episode 1, 26 September 1964. Youtube, Accessed 16 January 2022.