Why it's time to give 'While the Men Watch' a game misconduct

| June 6, 2012
Infographic by Jaela Bernstien.

It's membership time. Cultivate Canada's media. Support rabble.ca. Become a member.

"We recognize that it's not meant for everyone," co-host Lena Sutherland explains in an interview on CBC's The Current about her new controversial program While the Men Watch.

But the show has been marketed as just that: a program for all the "ladies" out there, to keep them entertained while their men watch the game. While it may be the result of a transparent marketing ploy, CBC's new online program While the Men Watch has garnered much attention. The blogosphere and Twitterverse are buzzing with criticisms of Hockey Night in Canada's new colour commentary duo - Lena Sutherland and Jules Mancuso.

When it comes to on-air performance, the show is not so much controversial as it is lacklustre in delivery and commentary. Their tagline "where girl talk is a sport" suggests a fast-paced, entertaining commentary on hockey. Instead, viewers watch two inexperienced TV hosts, without basic hockey know-how, visibly struggle to make conversation, complete with awkward pauses on live TV to check the roster. Sutherland said it best on The Current when she explained, "our show is not scripted, so we don't really plan what we're going to say."

Unpreparedness and inexperience aside, the main problem with While the Men Watch resides in the language used to promote the show. The show's name alone carries a surplus of sexist, heteronormative assumptions. The CBC could have just as easily ran with 'While the Fans Watch' and avoided much of the backlash, but that would have meant missing out on all those extra webpage hits and views.

An advertisement aired on CBC announces: "Ladies, is your man addicted to watching sports? Then check out whilethemenwatch.com - it's live sports commentary for women."

Note that the promotion uses the terms "ladies" and "women" without exceptions. It doesn't say: "live sports commentary for women who aren't fans" or "for women who would rather go shopping." The wording unapologetically sweeps all females under its umbrella archetypal "ladies."

HBO's new show Girls drew similar criticism when viewers realized it was not representative of all women, but rather a small niche of white, self-conscious, twenty-something women living in New York City. "Girls ... was supposed to encapsulate all of womankind ... but it didn't do these things. Because no show ever could," argues Carly Lewis in Maisonneuve Magazine.

Likewise, it is unfair to expect female sports colour commentary to uphold all definitions of women. While the Men Watch does represent a legitimate segment of the female population, and it is hardly fair to judge a woman simply for being married, loving fashion and liking the type of man who knows more about sports than books.

Some of the blogs responding to CBC's new colour commentary program are so filled with vitriol they border on being almost as sexist as the show itself. Perhaps some of us are so accustomed to struggling against patriarchal norms, that when we see two women willingly embracing them we react without thinking.

That said, While the Men Watch is not merely embracing norms, it is forcing them on others - and this is why it has created such a firestorm.

While CBC's new program may have drawn much attention, a show can be carried only so far on controversy and buzz. During Game Two of the Stanley Cup playoffs, While the Men Watch had a grand total of four people joining in their chat room discussion and about ten tweets praising their show.

If Internet participation is a fair judgment of an online program's longevity, CBC will be lucky if anyone is watching While the Men Watch by the end of the Stanley Cup Finals. 

 

Jaela Bernstien is a contributing editor for rabble.ca. She graduated with Honors from Western University, where she also worked as managing editor for the Western Gazette. Now she lives in Montreal and freelances as a writer, editor and graphic designer.

Tomorrow, Kaitlin McNabb will examine what While the Men Watch means in terms of the bigger picture with our public broadcaster, the CBC. Earlier this week, Kaitlin summarized the discussion this show has ignited. 

 

embedded_video