If… Women Ruled the World (review 2)

The BBC 'disaster' series If... included a programme called If... Women Ruled the World which attempted to predict gender relations in 2020. Did it make a valid point, or was it just an extended version of the old Harry Enfield 'Women: know your limits!' sketch? Reviewed by Jennifer Drew

, 20 April 2004

The docu-drama was set in 2020 wherein UK’s society had supposedly become female-dominated instead of male-dominated. The producers’ premise was that should women succeed in becoming the dominant gender, in their words, “it’s the men you’ve got to worry about”. However, 2020 is only 16 years in the future and it is highly unlikely women will achieve even a fraction of what the producers claimed.

It was a morality tale, warning women that attempting to seek gender equality is dangerous

The programme was in essence a fairy tale, or a morality tale, whereby it assumed all women were the same and warned women that even attempting to seek gender equality is dangerous and will have disastrous consequences for men. According to this programme, there would a violent male backlash towards all women, because women had taken over men’s traditional dominant roles and all women had successful, powerful careers. Men, however, had been reduced to a subordinate role. One young man was portrayed as working in a supposedly female role of secretary and his superior was a woman. In effect, this programme believed that so-called role reversals were very damaging to men’s egos and self-esteem. One segment of the programme portrayed men participating in pseudo war-games, in order that they could safely release their supposedly innate testosterone fuelled aggression and frustration towards such uppity women who had dared to take over their roles. Needless-to-say, testosterone is a hormone which is present in both women and men and hence is not a male hormone. Testosterone does not in fact cause aggression, levels only rise when aggression occurs. This is a scientific fact conveniently overlooked and denied by many male scientists.

One fact omitted from this programme is that even though the UK has had over thirty years of sex equality legislation and despite the fact women and girls consistently outperform men and boys, women are still paid less than men.

The programme makers obviously believe the UK in 2020 will be populated by white, middle-class, heterosexual women who all have successful, powerful careers. The programme focused extensively on two women, who were portrayed as stereotypes. One woman was a successful businesswoman, post-menopausal and actively considering having a child by IVF. The woman’s adult children all claimed their mother had neglected their welfare by putting her career first as opposed to opting for full-time motherhood. This woman was self-centered, neglected her ‘feminine duty’ by refusing to care for and nurture her elderly mother. Instead the mother had been placed in a Care Home. Overtly, the message was that caring is a role which is suitable only for women, because of their reproductive capabilities.

It implied women who have successful careers suffer extreme loneliness and depression

One of the business woman’s adult children was an MP, however she was actively considering resigning from her post because although she supposedly “had it all” i.e. a successful career and power, she was unhappy and lonely. The fact that not all women can become Members of Parliament was conveniently ignored, and so was the fact that irregular working hours adversely affect every MP’s home life. Instead the claim was made once again that women who have successful, powerful careers all become embittered and hard, suffering extreme loneliness and depression, since they have forgone their natural biological destinies in not marrying and having children. Women therefore were reduced to a universal sameness.

Men too, were reduced to a narrow socio-biological essentalism, wherein all men are white, middle-class heterosexuals. The UK apparently was no longer a multi-cultural society with differing sexual orientations. Masculinity was portrayed as naturally dominant, aggressive, independent and ambitious with men suffering depression, extreme anger, hatred of female domination and according to the producers, there would be a violent male backlash against women. In other words, women would be responsible once again for incurring male violence, since men would be reacting not acting and as such they cannot be held responsible or accountable for their violent actions.

The myth of the disappearing male y chromosome was also sited in order to add weight to the many ills and discrimination men would experience in 2020. In reality, the y chromosome will not disappear, since scientists have now disproved this hypothesis. In fact, scientists cannot even predict the y chromosome will disappear within the next million years.

Male violence towards women was seen as inevitable and excused

Complex issues of socio-economic poverty interlinking with racism, sexual orientation, class and homophobia had apparently been eradicated, since they were not mentioned. Everyday male violence towards women, such as rape, sexual harassment and other forms of intimidation presumably no longer existed. Instead, the only male violence towards women was seen as inevitable and excused, because women were blamed for causing violence to be perpetrated upon them by men. It seems some things have not changed by 2020 – women are still being blamed for male behaviour.

By defining women and men via socio-biological essentalism which claims gender roles are biologically given and not a complex combination of culture and biology, this programme was a dismal failure. All women were stereotyped as power hungry individuals who if allowed to gain gender equality would dominate and control men. The programme used male myths and fears of being dominated by women in order to reinforce the biological essentalism of women’s supposedly only “natural” role.

The programme was overtly anti-women and anti-feminist since women’s rights were portrayed as seeking dominance over men. Whereas in reality, gender equality and women’s rights seek a more egalitarian and power-sharing society, not one wherein one gender has hierachal power and domination over the other. The core message to all women, irrespective of their class and lives, was that women are not individuals with differing needs, beliefs, ambitions, social position etc., rather they are just women, whose only biological and natural destiny is to become wives and mothers, providing nurturance and care for their children and other dependants. Men’s natural given role is to be dominant, in charge of their families and seek to achieve successful careers, safe in the knowledge a wife will be available to take care of everyday needs.

To repeat what I said at the beginning of this review, the programme makers obviously believe that if women even obtain a tiny amount of equality rights, it is only men’s lives we have to worry about. Attempting to change the supposedly natural status quo will be damaging for men and there will be a violent male backlash. The fact women have resisted gender inequality and unequal power relations for centuries is irrelevant. The status quo must be maintained, power and domination must reside with men only, women’s roles are subordinate ones, with motherhood, children and nuture the only acceptable option for all women.

Fortunately, If… Women is only a fairy tale and such scare-mongering tactics will not prevent many women from continuing to seek gender equality, equal opportunities and a society wherein domination and power is not accorded to one gender, solely based on biological sex differentiation.

Contrary to belief, these programme makers cannot predict the future.

Jennifer Drew is active in various feminist campaigns. Amongst other things, she is Chair of Object, an organisation campaigning against the sexual objectification of women in the media

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