While the Men Watch: The CBC panders and our hearts sink

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This week rabble has been taking a critical look at the discussion sparked by the CBC's decision to promote the show While the Men Watch as part of their showcase coverage of the Stanley Cup Finals. Yesterday, rabble contributing editor Jaela Bernstien made the case for giving this show a 'game misconduct.' 

Today, Kaitlin McNabb follows up by exploring what in the world the CBC was thinking in aligning themselves with this show. Kaitlin is deeply supportive of the CBC and has been a participant in both the ReImagine CBC night in Vancouver, BC and the online campaign #CBCWeWant. She was disappointed and embarrassed by this programming choice and ultimately blames Stephen Harper for forcing this gambit.

The CBC promoted program While the Men Watch has been live now since the start of the Stanley Cup Playoff Finals, and it seems all the controversy it has raised as a self-proclaimed program built to help women enjoy sports is not going away.

The show raises concerns about sexism, heteronormativity, reinforced gender roles and harmful stereotypes, disguising deeply rooted misogyny as "playful banter" and irresponsible generalizations as everyday problems. With all these issues of blatant sexism and ridiculous misogyny exposed, one question races to the forefront: Why would CBC choose to air this program?

Co-hosts Lena Sutherland and Jules Mancuso, and their supporters, are aware their program is "not for everyone." However, the generalized language of their tagline and title make this program inherently exclusionary. Declaring that all women don't watch sports and all men do and then broadcasting this diatribe nationally on the CBC serves to further alienate female fans and male non-fans from their respective identities and places them into a binary system with finite characteristics that not everybody (no one) fits.

This supposed attempt to include women in the conversation also excludes those women who are already part of the conversation and have had to overcome the "exact obstacles that are being trotted around in While the Men Watch". Hockey analysts Cassie Campbell-Pascal and Andi Petrillo, who work for CBC Hockey Night in Canada, are among the disproportionately low numbers of women that are represented in sports media. Female analysts like Campbell-Pascal and Petrillo are periphery members of an overly male dominated team who give game highlights, players interviews and pre- and post-game reactions.

In the wake of the While the Men Watch controversy, the presence of analysts like Petrillo and Campbell-Pascal almost seems like a tokenized representation by the CBC rather than a legitimate effort to represent women as key members in sports media. Petrillo and Campbell-Pascal are well-informed and professional analysts who provide insight and commentary beyond the scope of just their gender. Did the CBC think or consider these women when they decided to air a program that characterizes all women as caricatures of themselves?

As a non-partisan broadcaster, the CBC has failed to present both sides of this conversation accurately because, currently, While the Men Watch is the dominant mainstream representation of women in hockey. There are no other shows dedicated to women's opinions on hockey, save for the ten minute after-show that Petrillo does, if P.J. Stock is not arbitrarily placed beside her. Thinking hockey players are cute and not having interest in hockey is not inherently bad, but it is a problem when it is the only mainstream representation of women's relationship to hockey and sports.

So it comes to this: why did the CBC do this? The CBC is a smart broadcaster, known for displaying a diversity of well-informed opinions. So why now a program that is uninformed and trivializes both the hockey world and media representations of women? I think the answer lies in the fact that the CBC is a smart broadcaster. They are a well-informed, calculating broadcaster that knew a controversial program would get them website views, ad revenues and attention.

I cannot see any other reason for CBC's validation of this program other than those increased ad revenues and exponential page views; I refuse to believe the CBC could be so naive, so ingrained in misogyny, so pathetic.

Well, I guess they are? The moral ambiguity displayed by the CBC disappointed supporters who were rallying for them under such causes as ReImagine CBC and the #CBCWeWant. The CBC I want won't pander for ads and page views, but will stand by the integrity of their programming.

So what does this all stem from? Disintegrating values in what households will turn on? After all audiences will only watch shows about books if they are pitted against one another. An appeal to the lowest common denominator of reality TV shows? Or is it the devastating cuts of $115 million over three years carried out against the CBC by our current conservative government?

Maybe it is a culmination of all these things, and with that we have entered the new age of the CBC, a broadcaster shackled between a rock and hard place and forced to consider private funding and lowly promotional tactics. With private funding comes accountability to private investors, not the public. The public sphere Canada will be marginalized and shows that are not representative, like While the Men Watch, could become the norm.

Maybe While the Men Watch is just harmless fun, inviting ladies to joke around with their man, or maybe it's insulting and naive drivel that perpetuates harmful stereotypes. Either way this seems to be the direction our national broadcaster is taking, regardless of public outcry or reinvention campaigns.

The fact remains that without funding, the CBC thinks that in order to stay relevant and profitable they must convolute and blur the lines of responsible broadcasting.

So congratulations CBC, we're all talking about While the Men Watch. The joke's on us.


Kaitlin McNabb is rabble's Babble Book Club moderator and a contributor to the book lounge.

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