"The Week the Women Went" Explores Gender Roles: Can You Live Without Them?
9 months ago
The men of Yemassee, S.C. find out for the rest of us
Lifetime Television has managed to establish itself as a leader in creating programming that caters to women, but with its new five part series, "The Week the Women Went," the channel aims to move beyond the preferences of its female viewers and explore the mindset--and domestic survival skills--of men when faced with the challenge of reversed gender roles.
For one week last year, every woman over the age of 18 from the tiny town of Yemassee, S.C. (population: 1,027 as of 2010) was sent on—as we soon learn—a much needed retreat to a Florida resort, leaving their husbands, boyfriends and young children to fend for themselves, with the men taking on the day-to-day tasks newly abandoned by the ladies. For the men it meant anything from running a business to planning a beauty pageant. Naturally, the responsibilities also included those of the average stay-at-home mom, and within a few hours, the unsupervised, ill-trained men were feeding teens lollipops and toddlers coffee for breakfast. And, yes, corn dogs make a brief cameo.
With comedian Jeff Foxworthy serving as the reality show's narrator, it's clear that Lifetime is banking on the comedic possibilities of age old "gender equality shtick." But perhaps the very fact that the social experiment exists at all proves that a seed of doubt - or at least a good laugh - is still buried under mounds of theory about men and women being able to competently compete in every arena.
Dr. Robert Heasley, professor of sociology at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and president of the American Men's Studies Association said, "I think we've institutionalized feminism in a way that we don't question if women can or can't do something anymore. However, we're still questioning whether men can or can't. Of course, with men, the fear of being perceived as female-like is now more scary than it is for women to take on masculine roles. That exchange just isn't evened out yet."
That fear is no more evident than when the wickedly gleeful women and wide-eyed worrisome men express their thoughts directly to the camera. In their respective opinions, the experiment is "dangerous," the men are "terrified" and more than one feels "doomed." Still, Heasley believes that trepidation - from either gender (including one participant whose husband works "with a sledgehammer and all this man stuff") - can be the result of self-sabotage.
"There's a resistance from men," he said. "This stupid response of, 'I'm helpless here, hot dogs are all I know,' reinforces this type of masculinity that if they lose it, they don't know what they have left. Why wouldn't they say, 'Well, what would Sarah do in this situation? Where are her cookbooks?' It's sort of like a woman who says, 'Oh my goodness, my husband just left and I don't know how to balance a checking account.' You sort of feel some empathy, but then it's like, get over it already and grow up because neither is that difficult."
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