This is my essay for our study of Mythologies, by Roland Barthes. We had to choose an everyday ‘myth’ (read ‘Myth Today’ by Roland Barthes if you want a full understanding of how he defines myths – it’s pretty complex, and, I must confess, confuses me) and analyse it in the style of Barthes’ essays. Enjoy!

When Women Rule The World

What would happen if, by some strange twist of fate, women ended up in charge? What would occur if men were deemed the weaker sex, and women became dominant? Would women handle the task better than the men of the past? When Women Rule The World, a series on Channel Four, claims to ask (and, perhaps more importantly, answer) these questions. It takes 8 women and 10 men and puts them on a desert island. The women are given dominance; the men must work for them and bend to their every wish. Here, then, is the perfect gender experiment – what does happen when women are in charge?

One is frequently reminded, when watching this programme, that this is an experiment to show ‘how women cope with power’, and ‘how men cope with being the weaker sex’. Instantly, the assumption that women are not in positions of power in our modern society, that this is an example of an alternate reality, is put forward as truth. Equally, one is expected to accept without question the idea of men taking on the role of ‘the weaker sex’, with its implication that this goes against the natural order of things and that women are, in reality, the weaker of the sexes. For a supposed gender study, then, this programme fails at the first base. Instead of using gender neutral terms, and approaching the ‘experiment’ with a view to gaining real results, When Women Rule The World has only one aim: good television. For this reason, the women and men chosen are not representative of society, but handpicked ‘strong’ women (where ‘strong’ here means loud or stubborn) and ‘anti-feminist’ or arrogant men. The desire to cause hostility between the sexes in order to make good tv should be clear, yet it is disregarded by the public as they are spoon fed the idea of a ‘social experiment’ by an equally easily led presenter.

Steve Jones, who claims that When Women Rule The World is ‘all about the journey’, ignoring the large cash prize given to the winning man, throws a spanner in the works by his presence alone. Having a male presenter, who gives the women tasks to give the men, who tells the women when to call council and who calls the weekly sacrifice, undermines the idea of a matriarchy. Instead, one is presented with a group of women who take orders from one man, who in turn takes his orders from a television crew who will be, at the very least, a combination of women and men, if not entirely men. This crew aims to make television that will sell, which means that it needs to be something which will appeal to the masses. In effect, the crew takes its orders from the society it works within, a society which is perceived to be male-dominated. How, then, can one legitimately claim that this is a fair representation of how women would fare if our society were a matriarchy? Clearly, one cannot.

When Women Rule The World reinforces the gender divide through the prejudices that run throughout the programme. In one episode the viewer is reminded that women are emotional, whereas men are intelligent, that women really should be in the kitchen, that men cannot follow orders, that women cannot draw or understand maps and that ultimately, women need men to tell them what to do. Instead of presenting a ‘social experiment’, this seems to be a veiled attempt to broadcast negative gender stereotypes to the masses as though they have been proven by psychological experimentation.

When Women Rule The World also raises issues of identification. This experiment does not build up a faux-city, with women as figures of authority, nor does it even create a village setting. Instead, it creates a tribal setting, on an unnamed desert island. The contestants wear very little clothing, and what is worn is simple enough to conform to the idea of ‘primitive’ living. Added to this aesthetic ‘tribe’, comes the idea of a weekly sacrifice. The women choose one man who is to leave the group, and his dismissal is declared by each woman painting a line of red paint, reminiscent of blood, across said man’s bare chest. This places the idea of a matriarchy in a realm of ‘otherness’, a society unlike our own, and demeans the tribal societies which still exist today by portraying the society as dysfunctional and oppressive. In a similar vein, though initially called servants, the men are often called the women’s ‘slaves’. The very use of a word as emotionally, historically and morally loaded as ‘slave’ in a context of light hearted reality television undermines its power, and belittles the sufferings of slaves by coining the term in reference to men in a game show. Much like the sacrifice seems to mock religious sacrifices, be they to a god or goddess, calling contestants slaves mocks the history of an entire people, justified under the all encompassing explanation: ‘it’s a social experiment’.

Not only does When Women Rule The World deprive the black race of its history, it twists the terms of feminism to fit its own agenda. Feminism, a belief that all people should be treated equally, becomes something altogether different when associated with this programme. By claiming feminism as its own, it reinforces the negative attitudes in society towards feminism, which claim that it is about female superiority rather than equality. By tying feminism to a show which can be seen to advocate female superiority, the myth of man-hating feminists is perpetuated. To tie it with a show which reveals female leadership to be a shambles, as this programme seems to claim, is to both perpetuate the myth and mock feminism because of it.

The myth that When Women Rule The World is merely a social experiment conceals something much deeper. As well as inoculating people to gender stereotyping by presenting it under the guise of a psychological experiment, it presents history in its own light by attaching the idea of feminism to something directly opposed to it. This is no bid for equality, nor is it an attempt to show that women are capable of leadership – it is simply a reality television show with delusions of grandeur.