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Monday, 24 September 2012

The Mistress

I recently watched a new television show called "The Mistress". Starring Sarah Symonds, a former mistress, the programme showcases women who are looking to get out of the lifestyle of being in a relationship with a married man.

The show is terrible on numerous levels, but the most outrageous implication of the show is that affairs are the fault of women. It is the wife or the mistress, but oddly never men (who evidently can't control themselves), who provide an environment for men to cheat. Men, naturally, are only acting on their evolutionary imperatives.

As such, Symonds has hosted various seminars, written articles, appeared on talk shows, telling women to "affair-proof" their relationships. This idea is at the heart of what "The Mistress" is effectively about. Men are apparently naturally promiscuous and the only way to keep a man is to constantly work on making sure that his every need is met. Not only does this have serious practical ramifications, it also means that women have to saddle yet another responsibility. Women are already often forced to take on work outside the home while simultaneously taking care of the household, the so-called double burden. I would argue that Symonds, along with numerous other personalities like Oprah Winfrey and Tammy Nelson, is advancing a triple burden. Women are responsible for taking care of the home, making money, and preventing their partners from straying from the relationship.

It is common knowledge that both men and women are attracted to people they meet on a daily basis. These attractions are not inherently scary, nor are they dangerous to a relationship. Our society, however, doesn't give individuals the tools to really examine attraction outside of relationships and move forward with it. Effectively, we are taught that these feelings will destabilise a relationship and that it is best to keep them secret. In that sense, the discourse that comes from so-called relationship experts like Symonds is that we should be valuing monogamy over honesty.

Beyond this, there are also some rather odd suggestions that Symonds makes on the show. The first is the wedding dress. She has the mistress don a white dress and look at herself in the mirror in order to instill a sense that she should find a man who can give her a stable, monogamous, marriage. Marriage is supposed to embody all the cultural attitudes about love that are instilled in us from childhood. Think Disney, romantic comedies, and popular loves songs.

What's perhaps even more troubling is Symonds suggestion that women put themselves in certain positions to meet men. Here's a secret for any woman looking to land a man, evidently all you have to do is go to a place where men are doing things they enjoy. Golfing is a perfect example of such a place, and for more than the aforementioned reason. Women should be putting themselves in positions where they are inferior to men. Symonds tells these women that they should find men to share interests with by having them take on submissive roles, like student for example. It is absolutely crazy to suggest meeting men through sharing men's activities, rather than something both men and women can enjoy together.

I was unimpressed with the show, but I feel that this sort of dim television is more than just harmless entertainment. It actively reinforces the attitudes that men and women have towards each other, that people have toward relationships, and that shape our concepts of morality.

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