Reality (TV) Stinks.

But are “outdated gender roles” really the problem?

As usual, the feminists and I are upset about the same thing. And, as usual, it’s for completely different reasons.

This time, the issue is the latest round of dating-related “reality shows” – like “Joe Millionaire,” “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette.” I have to confess; I haven’t actually watched any of these shows. This is surprising, actually, because I seemed to have been blessed with some kind of mutated curiosity gene that, after five nanoseconds of exposure to any TV show, causes an overwhelming need to see the rest of it. (My sister suffers from the same anomaly. Saved by the Bell reruns can hold us both captive for hours.) But the reality shows are different. There is something about watching real people being cruel and manipulative that just makes my stomach turn. I can’t stand to watch.

And so I know enough about the shows in question to know I don’t like them. I don’t like the idea of lying to women about a man’s occupation or income. I don’t like seeing human beings treated as commodities to compete over. I don’t like treating the sacrament of marriage as the “grand prize” in some twisted game. I don’t like associating any of this with “love” or “romance.” It is nothing of the sort. These shows are about exploiting people’s vulnerabilities for the sake of ratings. And I don’t like that at all.

The feminists have a slightly different take. Oh, yeah, they’re upset about the whole “women as commodities” thing. We agree on that. But, according to a recent article in my local paper, that’s not where their real beef lies. 
They don’t like these shows because they’re too “retro.”

Or, to quote Josh Gamson, who teaches a course called “Sociology of TV” at my own alma mater, the University of San Francisco, “There’s something creakily retrograde about what is being presented.” (Note to parents of college-age offspring: The tens of thousands of dollars you’re forking out for tuition every year is certainly money well spent, as your children are undoubtedly learning so very much in classes like “Sociology of TV.”)
They don’t like that these shows reinforce what they consider outdated gender roles.
Apparently, according to the “TV Women Winners and Losers” sidebar to the article, women on TV had made tremendous strides in the past few decades. The “Leave It To Beaver” era was, to their minds, a disaster. Barbara Billingsley (of “Leave It To Beaver”) and Jane Wyatt (of “Father Knows Best”) were “losers; they were the poster children for oppressed womanhood of the 1950’s. Jane Wyatt’s character, in particular, “catered to Jim Anderson, all but fetching his cardigan sweater and slippers in her mouth and wagging her tail.” 

But then women were “liberated” from those domestic shackles. Mary Richards went on the Pill. Maude had her abortion. And our ideas about women changed. So, among the “winners” list we find Roseanne, who was “four things women aren’t supposed to be: working-class, loud-mouthed, overweight and a feminist.” And we find Jennifer Garner of “Alias,” who is actually – I am not making this up -- praised as being “part of the new pack of increasingly violent heroines.”

This is what women are aspiring to today?

Apparently, the fact that these current reality shows feature women who want to get married and settle down drives feminists crazy. The fact that, on most of them, the man does the “choosing” makes them even crazier. And as for the show where the woman does the choosing -- well, that doesn’t please them either. Why? Because “[r]egardless of who’s doing the picking, the women on these shows seek security, a provider, maybe even babies.”

Horrors! What has become of women today?

The real bee in the feminist bonnet lies in the fact that young women – the same young women who are rejecting feminism in droves – are watching these shows.
Apparently, even in an era when women can “do it all,” many of these young women are intrigued by courtship and marriage. They want security. They want a provider so that they can stay at home and do the most important work on earth – raising children.

Let’s look at the “winners and losers” again. Which TV character’s life looks more attractive, June Cleaver’s or Roseanne Conner’s? June had a loving husband, a nice home, a couple of kids. Her day was her own. She seemed content, happy. And, while Roseanne Conner could be described a lot of different ways, neither “content” nor “happy” would likely appear anywhere on the list.

The poor feminists. They worked their tails off for decades to get rid of those pesky gender-roles, but they just keep popping right back up again with every new generation of young women. Could it be because those roles run a lot deeper than mere social conditioning?

Nobody wants to go back to a system wherein women are expected to marry by an “expiration date” like their 25th birthdays. But neither, apparently, do we want a system were gender differences are ignored or dismissed as irrelevant. Men and women are different. God made us that way. It’s a good thing.

It’s just a shame that we need tacky “reality TV” to remind us of that.