One of the ongoing conversations we have had throughout this blog is how norms in the community contribute to a climate in which sexual violence takes place. A random or benign moment or comment says something about the attitudes, beliefs, and ways we treat others in our communities. These moments teach us about the world we live in and how we live in it. I think a clear example of how our culture affects us is the media. The messages that the media put out about sexual violence influence our beliefs and attitudes about both survivors and perpetrators. But the media also impacts our beliefs and attitudes about men and women. Above all, media helps teach us how it expects men and women to show up.
The Discovery Channel produces a reality series called "Naked and Afraid." Episodes focus on two survivalists, often a man and a woman, who brave the elements in a remote area containing hazards and wildlife. The two survivalists are strangers at the beginning of the episode and are left on their own with no food or water, no clothing, and no shelter. They are left to fend for themselves with a camera crew observing them, like a documentary educating an audience about survival skills.
The two must survive on their own for 21 days. The episode chronicles their triumphs, strengths, and struggles as they brave the terrain. At the end of an episode, both survivalists are scored on their performances via a primitive survival rating, or PSR. The first time I heard someone explain this show I thought it was absurd, but after watching an episode recently, I found it interesting. “Naked and Afraid” seems inspired by reality mainstay "Survivor," but it is a grittier show. The stakes seem higher, as a phrase stated during the titles boasts, "we are not in paradise; we are in hell."
The third episode of season seven, titled "Hangry," featured a Marine named Timothy and a Stonemason named Shannon. Notable elements of the episode featured them avoiding massive colonies of stinging red ants and mud volcanoes in Trinidad. Before meeting Shannon, Tim said that he hoped he had a partner "who was not a know-it-all, my way or the highway kind of person that tells him what to do." The biggest struggle in the episode was not the terrain or the heat, but the two survivalists. They worked well together when deciding where to search for fresh water and build their shelter but began to argue with one another about the construction of the shelter. After things got heated, Shannon said, "strong women get ignored unless they talk over someone." A major theme of the episode was Shannon getting frustrated with Tim because he didn't contribute to their survival and spent a disturbingly excessive amount of time passive-aggressively conserving energy.
Shannon struggled with how much to ask of Tim saying, "you should not have to tell people what to do. He knows what needs to be done". Eventually, Shannon decided to tell Tim to get wood to start a fire so they could boil water, and he said, "I don't feel like it." In a candid moment alone with the camera, Tim said about Shannon, "she does not like teamwork, she likes being the boss." And that belief came out during an argument where Tim yelled, "shut up, I don't need your input. I'm not your employee. I'm better off by myself." After that exchange, Tim walked off and said, "I'm a 28-year-old man. I can take care of myself, and I've been doing survival for a long time. She's such a boss." Shannon, alone back at camp, retorted, "A better partner for Tim would be a male version of me. He can't handle a chick busting his balls." Things continued to break down between the two of them as their partnership fizzled. Eventually, Tim decided to pull his weight because he realized his negative attitude towards his partner was not getting them anywhere as a team. The episode ended with them navigating some difficult terrain together and him being helpful with duties around camp.
At the end of the episode, the narrator chronicled the interactions by saying Tim "struggled with his partner’s assertiveness," and Shannon's "overbearing attitude alienated her partner.” While the narrator noted that Shannon was the superior survivalist, her assertive nature was challenged.
So, I do not love this. This television show is giving people a toolkit for how to move through the world as adults. There is something to Shannon being cast as the bossy woman who wanted to be in charge. Instead of a survivalist with just as much skill as her male partner, she was portrayed like a nagging wife who was keeping Tim from his fun and what he wanted to do. Maybe the producers did not mean anything malicious here, but the result is still damaging because when we tell women that they can not be assertive, what does that mean for men and women? There is nothing wrong with a woman being bossy or in charge. Men are allowed to be bossy and in charge, and no one goes after men for it. Those men are seen as strong leaders. Men are allowed to flaunt their knowledge. In fact, men are assumed to be knowledgeable about certain things just because they are male. Women are often expected to prove that they are knowledgeable about the same things. This disparity is an example of how society often silences and disregards women's voices. And, when women speak up, they catch hell. They are seen as bossy or wanting to be in charge instead of being in their place. In essence, Shannon was shamed for saying what was coming up for her and expecting her partner to pull his weight. In my mind, a partnership is about both people pulling their weight, so there is nothing wrong with Shannon demanding that. Lastly, Shannon expected not to be heard or respected without talking over Tim because she is used to men not hearing her. She is used to men not respecting her. These exchanges are examples of how men and women are told how to behave based on little more than their gender.
So, there was a lot that was bad here, but it is an example of how beliefs and attitudes about how men and women are supposed to behave are systemic. What does it mean for women when they expect men to not respect what they have to say? No woman should ever be told that her voice is not as important as a man's. That is not equality. It is telling women that their voices, thoughts, and knowledge are not as important as men's. Women should never get that message, but men should not get that message either as it is just as damaging to us. That message is at its best misguided, and at its worst is an example of historical gender nonsense. Will we stand up and challenge similar beliefs when we hear them? Will we think about what is being presented to us, or say that's the way it is?