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I Have Been Watching TV! Did You Know That It Has Sexism?

Hey, have you heard about this VH1 channel? They show the music video programming, apparently! Ha ha, no, they show things that are sexist and terrible, all the time. There is this one specific thing that I would like to talk to you about today, however. It is called Tool Academy.

So, the theory behind this show is that these guys are full-on emotionally abusive to their girlfriends, and the ladies want to break the cycle of abuse, so they… put the dudes on a reality show with the goal of getting them to say they feel bad about abusing? Right, because that always works out well. Abuse: If He Apologizes, It Will Never Happen Again! This has been yet another great, psychologically sound lesson from VH1 reality programming.

Yet for every girl who is on a reality show, there are about nine million girls who are not; at least this might open up some discussion about what emotional abuse looks like and how it works, and is overall less damaging to the female gender than, say, Rock of Love, wherein girls are chosen for their ability to conform to super-problematic “skank” stereotypes and then humiliated on camera for all to behold. I can totally see some woman tuning in and being like, “I had planned to laugh at the girls on this show for dating such douchebags… but lo, it is I who am dating an even bigger douchebag than the ones portrayed therein!” Then, in my fantasy, the girl will get some actual therapy and actually dump her abuser instead of STICKING AROUND BECAUSE SHE THINKS SHE HAS THE ABILITY AND RESPONSIBILITY TO CHANGE HIM, OH MY GOD. So, if it can help people in those ways, it is… almost kind of feminist, or feminist-friendly? Wow.

So then they have this other show! It is called Tough Love!

Remember that other show we just watched a part of, wherein the guy talked about using certain standard and universally recognized tactics of emotional abuse (giving and withholding approval depending on how the abused works to serve the abuser’s needs at the expense of his or her own; the abuser dealing out “punishment” disproportionate to the actual behavior of the abused, in order to keep the victim’s emotional stability and happiness contingent on his or her own; “keeping her in line,” and everything that is basically summed up within that phrase)? Well, good news! If you want to learn more about these tactics, you can watch this one douche employ them over and over again, for money, on the very same channel!

Because, you see, the problem with the women on Tough Love is not that they haven’t met the right person yet. The problem with these women is that they are trusting their own instincts, expressing their own priorities and desires, and not basing every single decision in their personal and/or public lives on the necessity to please men, all men, all the time, of which gender (“men,” of course) this one terrible douchebag asshole is the perfect representative. (Dudes are all terrible douchebag assholes, just like him! Or so say dudes who market themselves as “relationship experts” for the ladies, always; were I a dude, I would punch him in the tender vittles for misrepresenting my gender so, but whatevs.) He is therefore going to yell at them and say terrible things about them and encourage other dudes to say the same terrible things about them, and then he is sometimes going to physically administer shocks to them when they fail to please him (“be grateful I’m not your actual boyfriend! Because he would be allowed to punch you,” I imagine him saying quite cheerfully) because we can’t make the abuse parallels any more explicit unless some women are experiencing actual physical pain, and then, once he has entirely broken down their personalities and ruined their self-esteem and they have restructured their entire lives around meeting his bullshit standards, he is going to pat them on the head and call them good little girls. And then it will be time to watch Tool Academy!

This is the portion of Tiger Beatdown in which we learn that the market can never be relied upon to serve feminist values, because where misogyny is a dominant social force it will always be more salable and popular than its opposition. Also, that you maybe do not really need cable.


  1. Liz wrote:

    Sometimes I’m so glad I don’t have Cable!

    Tuesday, March 3, 2009 at 5:57 pm | Permalink
  2. Nora wrote:

    It sounds weird, but Tool Academy is actually working on other women in a feminist sort of way. I’ve got a friend who is about to haul her husband into counseling because of it.

    She works 55-60 hours a week, cares for their toddler, plus her 10 year old. And she winds up doing all the work around the house.

    He comes home and plays video games and does nothing.

    The whole Tool Academy let her clarify, that yes, the husband is taking advantage of and ignoring her needs much the same way as the tools on the show.

    The matchmaker? That’s just evil.

    Tuesday, March 3, 2009 at 9:36 pm | Permalink
  3. Sady wrote:

    I am really fascinated with your story about Tool Academy changing a lady’s life for the better. I should tell you that. I worry about a lot of “counseling” because (here is where I start to sound unbearably liberal-arts-major about the whole thing) I doubt many or most therapists’ abilities to frame certain problems as privilege-based, rather than just about, I don’t know, that guy’s mom neglecting him and him being a narcissist who demands constant care from the women in his life for that reason. Not to say that this is NOT going on there! Or that personal problems aren’t central! But unless you talk about gender roles, you aren’t getting to the whole problem. END DIGRESSION: NOW.

    Thursday, March 5, 2009 at 3:09 pm | Permalink
  4. Nora wrote:


    In this case, they haven’t gone to therapy. But at least she’s thinking about it. I think it is more the acknowledgment that “it doesn’t have to be like this” which is motivating my friend.

    Will she ever believe that she is being set up by the nature of the system? Maybe.

    But in the short term, getting him to take out the damn trash, and help with his own child would still be an improvement of her quality of life.

    So in that form, the low expectations mean they are more likely to succeeed.

    Sunday, March 8, 2009 at 8:39 pm | Permalink