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Oxygen Deprivation

Excerpt of an actual e-mail received by TeeVee:

MAN HUNT will debut on the Oxygen Network on Valentine's Eve (February 13 at 9:30 p.m. EST). It is an honest, raw look at the lives of single women who truly have put marriage at the top of their agenda. This is perhaps the only real and honest "reality show" out right now that addresses this issue (speaking to a large portion of the affected 48 million single women in the US).

The thing that kills me is that it's very easy for any self-identified Sensitive Feminist Commentator in America to bray about what an awful show Joe Millionaire is with its premise and its competitive gold-diggers blah-de-blah, but why hasn't anyone noticed that Oxygen is, insofar as "women's" programming goes, a misogynist's wet dream? Exhibit A, "Girls Behaving Badly," features tepid, so-called "comedy" in which women pull off such wacky pranks as selling cheeses made with imported breast milk, apparently not realizing that there's actually a thriving fetish market for that sort of thing. The whole point to this seems to be "Look at us! We're funny gals! We put people in socially awkward situations! Tee hee!"

Actual girls behaving badly are giving themselves -- or someone else -- a tattoo using only a Bic pen and the end of their electroplated belly button stud. Alternately, they're knocking over a bank, silk-screening "Valerie Solanas had a point" tees, or conducting themselves in a way that suggests they have neither knowledge of or respect for the mass-marketed demographic profiles of women. "Girls Behaving Badly," on the other hand, is all about legitimizing the idea that women are too "nice" to ever put anyone in an awkward situation by positing that women who don't play along are behaving badly and hilariously. There is absolutely nothing funny about that. Or the show, come to think of it.

Look at the rest of the programming -- it's shows about relationships, shopping, or birthin' babies. If this lineup were parodied on The Man Show, people would be foaming at the mouth over the sexist stereotyping of it all, but somehow, so long as the channel says it's "for women," these shows are somehow empowering. I love Carrie Fisher as much as the next person who marched in her kindergarten Halloween parade as Princess Leia, but having her -- or Xena, or AbFab -- does not give the channel any more cred.

Then again, I have a fundamental problem with television channels for "women," period. I have a problem with shows about women cops or women doctors or women soldiers or women in any vocation where the pitch is only three sentences away from "How does a hot woman make it in a man's field?" because these shows still make women seem like freaks for going into these professions instead of merely advance scouts for the wave of people to come. I have a problem with lineups which give the impression that women spend most of their emotional and intellectual resources on dating, dressing, decorating and procreating, because it's just another way to send the media message that women don't have a place in the "public" sphere of commerce, politics and culture because they'd rather keep house.

So where's the outcry over these channels and their programming? Why is it Joe Millionaire is somehow hailed as the epitome of knuckle-dragging sexism when the show is essentially an extended parody that skewers nearly every anti-woman idea -- from cattiness to competitive dating, from gold-digging to breadwinning -- out there? Those reality shows work because they drag those outdated ideas into the open and beat them into submission through overkill.

Given the choice between watching Evan the ersatz millionaire dealing with his princesses or watching a woman seemingly oblivious to her obvious thong-lines walking down a street as part of Girls Behaving Badly, I'll take Joe Millionaire any day. It's a lot more progressive.


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