Meredith Holt, Published August 29 2012
'The Week the Women Went': Does Lifetime’s ‘social experiment’ just further gender role stereotypes?
The five-episode miniseries “The Week the Women Went” airs at 9 p.m. Tuesdays on Lifetime, Channel 29 in Fargo-Moorhead.
FARGO - Tammy Lane knows viewers of “The Week the Women Went” have labeled her a monster-in-law – and she embraces it.
“Monster-in-law is definitely a good name for me,” said the 46-year-old married mother of two from Yemassee, S.C.
Tammy’s is one of the families featured in the Lifetime reality TV series in which the women of the small Southern town leave the men and children to fend for themselves for a week.
The idea behind the “social experiment” is to see how well the men fare without them.
“I think the men did great,” Tammy said. “I think it was hard on the ones that had the small children. That was probably rough for them. … You have some Mr. Moms out there, but the majority of them, they all go to work, and the women, they take care of things.”
Ann Burnett, professor and director of the women and gender studies program at North Dakota State University, said the show’s premise is outdated and unrealistic.
“Everybody’s roles are really gender-stereotyped into the ’60s with 2012 scenarios,” she said.
Burnett said the people featured reinforce traditional roles.
“I thought all of the men in there were portrayed as being completely hapless, as though they had never had anything to do with the children until this time, and that the women, even though they worked (some of them worked!), seemed like they must have had all the responsibility of their children and never had the men in the house do anything,” she said.
The high point of the premiere episode of “The Week the Women Went” comes with a surprise proposal at the train station before the women depart for a weeklong vacation at a Florida resort.
There, Tammy’s 21-year-old son, Justin, asks his girlfriend of three years, Amy Daring, to marry him, and his mother’s none too pleased.
Partly it’s because she thinks he’s too young – she’d prefer he wait till he’s 28.
“I think then he’d be a little more financially set, and I feel like he would make some better decisions and choices, being older,” she said.
But there’s more to it than age or maturity level.
Justin, the town’s fire chief, lives at home, where his mother does everything for him, and she’d prefer to keep it that way. (Plus, he didn’t consult her before popping the question.)
“I want him to be perfect and have everything just right for him. Some people may call it a control thing, but I find it a comforting thing,” Tammy said.
After watching the first episode, Burnett said the Lanes are portrayed as a “very traditional Southern family” and Tammy a “momma bear” type who doesn’t want to lose her son to another woman.
“It wouldn’t be as believable if it were anywhere else but the South,” she said.
Burnett said although 21 may be a little young to get married, the bigger problem is Tammy’s need to be in control of her son’s day-to-day life.
“She wanted to be the one to take care of him,” she said. “She was always going to be the momma, and she didn’t want any other woman having anything to do with him, which I thought was a stretch.”
Tammy said Justin can take care of himself if he has to, but he’s perfectly content having the women in his life handle all the household duties.
“There are women, not just in the South, but certainly Southern women, who think of their sons as babies – ‘always my baby,’ ” Burnett said.
While Tammy was gone, Justin’s 17-year-old sister, Courtney, assumed her role and helped him get ready for work in the morning.
“She’s a take-charge-type person, and she gets things done; she’s not a procrastinator,” Tammy said of her daughter. “I feel like she’s a little Tammy, and that’s comforting to me.”
Justin said he was fine with his little sister doing things for him while his mom was out of town.
“I did want to do more stuff, but if she wanted to do it, that was even better. I’m a strong believer in the less I gotta do, the better,” he said with a chuckle.
In fact, he said, he fully expects his new wife to do all the cooking and cleaning once they get married and move in together.
“I’m pretty sure she’s understanding of that, because I made it pretty clear that I want her to go through a two-week training with my mom,” he said.
Neither Tammy nor Justin think the experience changed how they view each other’s roles.
“I did learn how to wash clothes pretty quickly,” Justin added.
Tammy said nobody could treat her son the way she does.
“You know the old saying, ‘A daughter is a daughter for life; a son is a son till he takes a wife’? I believe that,” she said.
Though he continues to wait for his mom’s blessing, Justin hopes to maintain a close relationship with both her and Amy.
“Me and Amy are close; me and my mom are still close. I don’t see where it would change a bit,” he said.
Burnett said that’ll be difficult for Justin and he’ll probably have to make a choice.
“She must be very proud that she is the mom that’s not going to give the blessing on the wedding and that she’s going to be the tough one,” she said of Tammy. “She must be very proud of that role.”
Readers can reach Forum reporter Meredith Holt at (701) 241-5590