Been here yet? This is WhileTheMenWatch, a live sports talk show “for women”. From the “About” section.
“Hosted by real-life girlfriends in New York and Toronto, the female-friendly commentary keeps women entertained during football, hockey, basketball, baseball games and more. The lively discussion follows sports from a woman’s point of view including everything from interpreting the rules of the game to coaches in need of a makeover.”
In a more recent interview on The Current they claim to be an “alternative” female voice and not a representative one, in which case they might reconsider language so broad as “from a woman’s point of view”. WhileTheMenWatch has caught on enough that CBC is giving them an online segment during the Stanley Cup Finals. Don’t like where some of our tax dollars go? As Jon Stewart says, “Join the ****ing club.”
Stereotyping, reductive, gross, yup, it’s all of those. But I do question the “Setting Women Back” conversation that’s happening around WhileTheMenWatch. First though, my reaction to Lena and Jules’ (WhileTheMenWatch Hosts) interview last year on Urban Rush. It sums up quite perfectly the belief system behind their commentary (which CBC has deemed valuable enough for a national audience), and is indeed the most difficult seven minutes and five seconds I’ve struggled through in a very long time.
They discuss how it originated:
“One afternoon…we were on the phone together while both of our men…were watching the football game and Jules and I started doing our own commentary…We talked about which coaches needed a makeover…We found it entertaining and so did our men, so we thought we’d take it to the next level.”
Fright is a great word to describe what I felt listening to that. Maybe their boyfriends find it endearing, but if it were me I’d find the way they said “our men” not just possessive but also treating me like I’m interchangeable (Listen to their voices when they say “our men”. Play it back a couple times. Ack). Do these men have names? We never do find out. No long term partner I’ve had would have felt valued if I’d called her “my woman”
Here’s a revealing quote from Lena:. “Women engage in the sport in their own way.” Yup. All women in a clump over here, all men in a clump over there. And here’s an example of their commentary on the woman who flashed a player in the penalty box at a Canucks game: “If you’re gonna flash, an icy cold arena where everything stands to attention is the best place to do it.”
While a picture of Roberto Luongo with his goalie stick between his legs is displayed onscreen, one of the women quips, “Well he is Italian.” (A Google search confirms that Italians do indeed have larger penises than the global average. Also, Canadians have bigger penises than Americans but smaller than Mexicans. Also, I would never date someone who gave a shit about any of this). Lena and Jules go on to discuss the “Team Boyfriend” feature of their commentary, which is another example of a point in their dialogue where if we switched the genders of everyone involved we’d be having a discussion about how predatory and gross this all is.
Besides wholeheartedly participating in the meme of women expressing docile enjoyment of being peripheral to a centrally male experience, and besides participating in the idea that a person’s primary value rests in their physical appearance (which curiously few are complaining about, fewer than those whose complaint is that much of what these two say is just mean!), Lena and Jules are insisting with a great deal of effort on a fundamental separateness between men and women. That serves them in a way I don’t know them well enough to pinpoint, but I’d guess it’s because it allows this to provide the deepest reflection they’re willing to have on their own relationships.
So, there’s that. But then there are the comments all over Twitter and Youtube claiming that Lena and Jules and WhileTheMenWatch ‘set women back’ 50 years. Like this one:
“Holy crap. Thanks for setting female sports fans back decades, CBC,” Andrew Bucholtz, who runs Yahoo! Canada’s CFL blog (@AndrewBucholtz).
What we say pisses us off and what we don’t mention so much says a lot about what we actually value. First of all, saying the CBC sets women back by airing this program puts an unnecessarily patriarchal kind of responsibility on them. If the CBC pulls WhileTheMenWatch is should be because they and enough viewers find it contrary to their values, and not for reasons rooted in a long-standing idea of female precariousness. CBC employs Mike Milbury and Don Cherry, two virulent misogynists, and they get a teensy fraction of the complaints Lena and Jules have gotten. So, misogyny in the voices of men on a national TV stage fails to get our attention, but when women buy into it on a peripheral and solely online platform we FREAK THE FUCK OUT? That seems less like a reaction to a deeply fucked value system and more like a reaction to what we think a woman ought to say.
Which brings me to my personal and totally wrecked version of an Anne Frank quote: “What one man does is his own responsibility, what one woman does is thrown back at all women”. By this I mean that if two men came up with something similarly inane to WhileTheMenWatch (hi, Coach’s Corner!), it might get some negative attention but we wouldn’t be rushing to the conversational altar of How Does This Ruin Everyone’s Image Of Everyone. By saying Lena and Jules “set women back”, we apply a scope of blame and responsibility to them that is both unfair and inaccurate.
What is fair and accurate to say is that the attention given and reactions to Lena and Jules are revealing of an already present lack of progress. Lena and Jules don’t have to set us back 50 years, because the very idea of “setting women back” is dependent on an assumption that we’re presently at a satisfactory level of equality. Sorry, we’re not. If we were, we’d have talked with equal voice at some point over the last twenty years about what Ron and Don do for everyone with a penis. I felt many judgements watching their interview, and more than a few of them were judgements of Lena and Jules As Bearers Of The Woman Flag. That was sexist. Lena and Jules are not stand-ins for all women, even if they insinuate they are.
If we’re going to challenge people who we feel exhibit internalized oppression, which is what we’re doing here, best we do it with a mindfulness of ourselves.