I watched the first episode of “The Week the Women Went” (Tues. 10 p.m. ET) days ago, but I’m still irritated, and for so, so many reasons.
On the surface, this seems to be a fairly straight forward reality TV show. The show descends on the small town of Yemassee, South Carolina with an offer. The women of the town get an all-expenses-paid resort vacation for a week, and in exchange the menfolk must submit to their roaring incompetence being filmed for posterity. It’s female empowerment, right? The men will learn exactly how much the ladies do in a day (or week), and will worship the mud they slop through upon their return! It’s like a dumb, retro sitcom come to life!
But this isn’t a sitcom. It is, in fact, touted as a “social experiment.” This immediately rubs me the wrong way, just as it did when Ashton Kutcher tried to sell us on the serious-sounding title while peddling his piece of crap, “Beauty & the Geek,” all those years ago. This show is not an experiment, social or otherwise. There is no science, there are no findings or analysis, there will be no substantive epiphanies or challenges to the status quo. The Stanford Prison Experiment? That was a social experiment. A crappy reality TV show is not a social experiment any more than “The Biggest Loser” is curing obesity nationwide. Any positive results or are purely a happy accident.
Still, that’s a minor quibble compared to my problems with the premise of the show. We’ve all gotten so used to the media perpetuating the idea that men are just dumb, oafish children stumbling through life while women silently suffer as they do the heavy lifting that this show barely got a blink when I mentioned the premise to people. “I believe that, totally,” one woman said to me, unblinking as I suggested that the underlying idea of this show — that men will be shocked/changed/reduced to tears and curled in fetal positions when the women in their lives leave them unattended for a few days — presents a dim, stereotypical view of both men and women. “I’m sure it’s worse in the South.”
So, what we have is a stereotype glopped on top of another stereotype — men are idiots, and Southerners are backwards. I’m waiting for another episode to tell me that single women over the age of 40 must own cats, old people smell musty, and then maybe sprinkle in some racist commentary for good measure.
It’s not that there isn’t some truth to the idea that men don’t contribute equally to, say, cleaning up around the house — a recent study suggested a 30/70 split favoring women as to who does the housework. Plus I’m sure there are lots and lots of couples who subscribe to rigidly traditional gender roles. But even in little Yemassee, the women sent packing don’t hew perfectly to the suggested script. Many have jobs on the show; one owns a floral shop and another a restaurant. Many of them seem to be hardworking, modern women who toil inside and outside of the home. Their absence will, of course, be keenly felt. Or, as narrator Jeff Foxworthy ominously intones, “Many believe placing businesses and children in the hands of men could lead to disaster.” Really? I actually had to rewind my DVR to make sure I heard that correctly, and then I had to check my calendar to see if I had been magically transported back to 1962 or had gotten trapped in a “The King of Queens” re-run.
The truth is, losing fifty percent of the adults in town is going to create a hardship, regardless of whether they’re male or female. But I’m betting Lifetime doesn’t have a partner series called “The Week the Men Left” in the works. The suggestion is that, other than providing a paycheck, men just don’t do much of anything. Or, if they do anything, it leads to the aforementioned disaster and that sobbing in the fetal position thing. This is obviously insulting to men, but it’s just as insulting to women. It implies that their supposed super-competence makes it part of their job to bring home the bacon and fry it up in the pan, even if they’re just as tired from working all day as their significant others are — sort of how we’d think Iron Man was a total jerk if he left his suit in the closet when the world needed him to end a war or something.
At one point in the premiere, the mayor of Yemassee worries that, by bringing the show to his town, he won’t get re-elected. I’m thinking this guy will be lucky if he isn’t hung from the nearest tall tree once the townsfolk see just how much that so-called free week of vacation for the women costs them in the court of public opinion. As befits a crappy reality show (and not a social experiment), the show has found a variety of walking tragedies, lunatics, shrews and a few inspirational, relatable people to follow so you aren’t inspired to visit Yemassee with a weapon.
Coming out strong in the crazy/shrew categories is Tammy Lane, mother to Justin. Tammy loves her baby, even though said baby is 21-years-old and the chief of the fire department. She does everything for him. She even tells us with a coquettish smirk that she’d even consider bathing him if he’d let her. If it sounds creepy, it is — and more so than you can even imagine. Justin wants to propose to his girlfriend, a decision which sends Tammy into teary hysteria. He’s her baby! She can’t let him go! Unfortunately for Justin’s beloved Amy, she’ll be stuck with nutso Tammy at the resort, where Tammy can interrogate her and make it entirely clear she is NOT happy about being her future mother-in-law. So, another stereotype: the evil, clingy monster-in-law. I swear there’s a drinking game to be found here.
We also have the Male Incompetents, who don’t seem to come unglued at the sight of a diaper, but I wouldn’t put it past the producers of the show to pour syrup into the Pampers just to up the drama quotient. When Doug, Darnell and Steven seem a little too willing and able to handle the tasks at hand, the show tosses in a complication — the guys must ready their female children for the Miss Sweet Carolina pageant. Honestly, I would find this harrowing under the best of circumstances myself, so it’s no surprise that the guys gape in horror at the prospect of finding dresses, glitter and whatever else they need to tart up the kids. But their cluelessness is supposedly a testament to their stupidity, so female viewers at home can shake their heads in disapproval and rueful recognition. I’d hope at least one of these guys would resist on the grounds that most of these pageants are creepy money sucks, but I think I’m asking way too much.
There are other players — some appealing, some not — but it hardly matters. It seems pretty clear that the show hopes to shoehorn everyone into tidy little categories and tie things up with a sitcom-ready bow at the end, whether or not it’s an honest assessment. While I’m hoping for surprises, I can’t say I care too much. As one guy summed it up, “I’m not insulted by the concept of this show because it’s just too stupid to be insulting.” Congratulations, Lifetime, on taking an already low bar and aspiring to rock bottom.