“Work It” Works Overtime Promoting Sex Stereotypes

Offender: New TV comedy “Work It”

Media Outlet: Premiered on ABC, 1/3/12

The Offense: Two out-of-work men dress up as women to get jobs selling pharmaceuticals. The first episode included lines such as: “Women are taking over the workforce. Soon they’ll start getting rid of men. They’ll just keep a few of us around as sex slaves . . . Not the kind of sex you like . . . Just kissing and cuddling and listening,” and “When women take over, they’ll make pride illegal.”

NOW’s Analysis: As one might expect from such an outdated and convoluted concept, “Work It” relies heavily on the presumption that viewers will crack up at the mere sight of two men dressed as women. The script is obsessed with ticking off every supposed difference between the sexes.

For instance, women eat itty-bitty lunches, while men crave giant subs. Men sit around and pound beers at pubs, while women drink cocktails and dance at clubs. And, of course: Men just don’t get women, even their long-suffering wives. They need to literally walk in women’s shoes to empathize with the other half of the population.

The stereotypical female characters in the office include the blonde princess, the driven bitch, and a slight variation on the Manic Pixie Dream Girl (this version’s on hand to help the lead male character, Lee, become a better man and woman).

Other clichés are trotted out, too, like straight men’s fascination with lesbians and this classic: “I’m Puerto Rican, I’d be great at selling drugs.” Even book clubs where women read about coming of age (and dying) in Rwanda are played for laughs. Aren’t women and their interests just silly?

“Work It” might be easy to write off, if it weren’t so offensive. The plot is kick-started when Lee runs into a prescription drug saleswoman in his doctor’s office, and she tells him: “We’re kind of just looking for girls . . . we’ve had some guys, but the doctors seem to want to nail them less.” And Lee’s wife has to remind him to “stop comparing prostate exams to the pinball scene in ‘The Accused'” — no matter how old the reference, is gang rape ever good fodder for a joke?

Set aside for the moment that the characters repeatedly refer to adult women as “girls.” And the ridiculously mocking way Lee’s friend, Angel, walks in heels and a skirt. Even worse than these superficial offenses, the show has a nonchalant attitude toward inappropriate sexual remarks and attitudes. At his interview, Angel tells the female boss: “Your ass looks tight in those pants” (is this ok because he’s presumed to be a woman?). Afterward, Angel tells Lee he was fighting an erection during the interview.

Perhaps the most insulting thread in the premise is how Lee gets hired. Vanessa, the boss, expresses surprise that Lee researched the company before his interview and actually understands its products. She confides: “Most of the girls who interview here think clinical trials are the things Lindsay Lohan keeps having to go to.” Lee replies: “I’m not your ordinary girl.”

So, ordinary “girls” are dumb and don’t know how to prep for interviews? But a man (especially one with experience selling macho cars) knows how to impress the boss? Were any women writers or producers present when this exchange was waved through?

This kind of sexist buffoonery is juvenile even in beer commercials. Thirty minutes of it is just pathetic.

Take Action: Tell ABC what you think about the outdated and offensive stereotypes of women and men in “Work It.” Update: ABC canceled “Work It” after two episodes, but it’s still ok to contact the network and tell them why shows like this are a big mistake!

Lisa Bennett, NOW Communications Director, January 9, 2012

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