Revenge and masochism are virtually indistinguishable on Bravo’s new reality show-cum-“social experiment” In a Man’s World. The show takes rather normative-presenting feminine women and piles pounds of prosthetics onto them (and gives them some mannerism-training) to transform them into normative-presenting men. The idea behind doing so is... well, I’m not sure exactly what the idea is after watching Tuesday’s premiere. The show already operates with the understanding that misogyny is real, so exposing it via a contrast of how a person is treated when she’s perceived as a woman versus how she’s treated when she’s perceived as a man is at the very least redundant. But the show’s conceit makes it worse than that. The depicted audition for basic civility from men requires hours of prep work, which makes In a Man’s World a cartoonishly exaggerated reiteration of what many women put themselves through before leaving the house and entering the world world. It’s the same old bullshit but now even more of a burden to wade through.
The premiere focused on Emily, a professional pool player who rather compellingly described her struggle to be taken seriously in a sporting world dominated by men. Because of drastic pay disparity between genders in pool, Emily nabs sponsorships by leveraging her looks: She markets herself as the “billiard bombshell.” This was the most informative, most believable part of the show, which went on to capture a match between Emily and William Finnegan, a New York-based pool player who calls himself “The Godfather” and wields his sexism like a pool cue. “When I lose to a woman I really don’t feel good,” is one of several asinine things said by a man who runs men-only pool tournaments. He hurled a number of insults and leering comments about Emily’s appearance during their game, which were caught on supposedly hidden cameras.
The episode worked its way up to an Emily-Finnegan rematch with her dressed as “Alex.” If the “experiment” was already questionable in concept, it became laughable in spirit when Alex’s final look was unveiled.
This is, above any expression of gender, a person in prosthetics. Full stop. With all due respect to the crew that helped Emily transform... no. I kept thinking of the Rocky Dennis biopic Mask. Who would be fooled?
You may be interested to learn that they gave Alex a giant dick, though.
The mannerism and speech training Emily endured (and, no offense to Emily, barely took to) reminded me of some conversion-therapy bullshit in its goal to sap her of her femininity. She was taught how to walk like a man, how to be terse like a man, how to refrain from kicking her leg up to the ceiling after she takes her shot like a man. “Just by virtue of decreasing your words, you were able to access your dude energy a little more,” said her speech teacher. At a certain point, when you’re doggedly subscribing to gender norms for the sake of destroying them, you have to ask yourself what the hell you’re doing and whether it’s worth it.
Emily (as Alex) and Finnegan met again and their rather civil match was cut with flashbacks to contrast how Finnegan treated a woman opponent versus one he (supposedly) thought was a man.
The results? He was sexist to a woman and not to a man. Wow. Mind blown.
There was something completely perverted in the way this match resolved: by revealing the ruse to Finnegan (something tells me he already knew, though!) and gauging his reactions. Basing the “success” of this “experiment” on how it affects a man seems... kind of misogynistic. “She proved to us how we look at women, which now it shows to me that we’re wrong,” said Finnegan. “Women can compete in the man’s world of pool and now I understand. My tournaments that like I said I only invite men, as of today, will change.” Hashtag progress.
To be fair, Emily claimed that becoming Alex made her feel like “a changed person,” but like all things on any reality show, she also might have just said that because a camera was pointed at her. I just don’t buy that all of the effort that went into this taught anyone anything that they didn’t already know.