In this three-part documentary series, men and women changed their appearance and behaviour in order to test the extent to which experience is affected by gender. However, after watching the first programme, it became clear that what was really being revealed was not what being a man or woman was actually like, but rather what the opposite sex think it is like.
Thus, women being men were hard, tough, boorish, grumpy, and unfriendly. For them, maleness was portrayed as being monosyllabic in conversation, strutting, swaggering, twitching, and leering and letching. They freely admitted they became characters they would despise if they met them in real life. Weird, huh? Men being women were highly sexualised, with men on the brain, and, bless ’em, were almost indistinguishable from drag queens; they looked more like Lily Savage or Pauline Calf than real women. For them, being a woman was all about applying mascara, wearing bright-red lipstick and tight-fitting, short dresses, giggling, flirting, talking about how they cant get a man, and (surely the defining female experience) going to the toilet in a group!
Neither gender did the other much justice. However, it was the first show, things may improve. At the minute, I cant relate to the image of male or female being portrayed. They seemed to be extreme stereotypes at either end of the gender spectrum. The idea put forward by the programme from one expert is that we are all somewhere on a scale of very masculine, to very feminine. Thats fair enough, but I’m not really sure its true. Who’s to say what is truly ‘feminine’ behaviour and what is ‘masculine’? If I am strong, powerful, self-assure, am I un-feminine? We were told that the women, by pretending to be men, had been “given permission to take up space”. They acted assertive, talked about how they could look people in the eye, be more “straightforward” and “direct”. And all this from having a rolled-up sock shoved down their pants! Amazing.
“One of the hardest things a woman has to do is be seen without her make-up” we were told
It will probably end up proving the thing feminists have argued for ages; that male or female is what you physically are, but ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ are social constructs. However, the programme itself sometimes falls into the trap of accepting these constructs as fact. We were told by the authoritative narrator that “one of the hardest things a woman has to do is be seen without her make-up.” Sheesh!
Update: 13th February
Having now seen the second programme, similar things have emerged. We were told “men tend to have a cockiness about them.” The women were told that they should act more "attacking and arrogant" when chatting up other women if they wanted to avoid being "caught out". Nice! Whilst having their hair cut short, "to be believeable" as a man, we were told this was the "biggest sacrifice the girls have been asked to make". One of the female participants was eliminated for having too weak a handshake and being too "soft". The men were told how to "walk like a woman", which seemed to involve a hell of a lot of "wiggling"! I’m sure I don’t walk like that, do I?
Just an excuse to see men wearing bras
Update: 18th February
The series was discussed on Channel 4s Right to Reply. To my amazement, someone was on screen saying exactly the same comments I had written above! The other complaint the women doing the report made was that the series had cynically taken the form of a documentary game-show, with fly-on-the-wall scenes and competitive "eliminations". She reckoned it was probably just an excuse to see men in bras getting their chests waxed, and not a pseudo-scientific “unique experiment” examination of gender roles as it seemed to imply.