Published on
the Toronto Star

Without Us, They'd Just Fight and Eat out of Cans

Imagine a world suddenly – very suddenly – without men.

Planes would drop out of the sky as pilots disappeared. Cities would grow cold and dark as power generators stopped. No fire trucks would come to deal with the inevitable disasters. Legislatures would empty. Wars would end.

Now imagine the flip side.

Babies would fall out of vanished mother's arms. Things would get dirty and dusty. Men would eat out of cans. Liquor stores and bars would be booming. Drag queens would always have dates.

In the short term, women would suffer.

But, in the long run, men would turn on each other.

These were the parallel worlds that Philip Wylie described in his 1951 what-if book, The Disappearance. For protagonist Bill Gaunt, a university professor, in one instant his educated stay-at-home wife Paula vanishes, along with their daughter, granddaughter and housemaid.

He scarcely notices, at first.

For Paula, after Bill vanishes, the effect is immediate. A driverless car smashes into the front of the house – and nobody comes to help.

Two years later, the women's world is under control whereas the men's, despite its distinct physical advantage, descends into deadly conflict and chaos.

When I discovered The Disappearance in 1974 or 1975, I was struck by what it said about the place of women and the nature of men on the eve of the Cold War.

I've been thinking about it while watching The Week the Women Went, CBC's eight-part reality show that sends most of the women of Hardisty, Alta., packing off to a Rocky Mountains resort for a week. Their men are left to fend for themselves, their kids, their pets, their homes and their jobs.

The series airs Mondays at 8 p.m.; the four episodes that have aired so far are available online.

It started out strongly, with an average of 770,000 viewers for its debut and 858,000 on its second outing. By Episode 3, the ratings dropped to 548,000.

Who knows? Maybe Canadians would rather watch Americans eat bugs on U.S. reality shows than see Alberta oil patch workers cope with their toddlers. Sure, one shoots himself with a nail gun and another takes a BB pellet to the butt, but Survivor this isn't.

Billed as "a social experiment,'' TWTWW doesn't go all the way. Here was an opportunity to bust through the stereotypes and show how the genders are interdependent – or not.

Instead, the producers keep throwing the men a lifeline. For example, many of them rely on their mothers, sisters or teenage daughters to get them out of their parenting jams. Not all the women are gone.

As for the women who did leave, they're out whitewater rafting, not fighting for survival in a world where there are no men to do the heavy lifting.

Admittedly, much has changed since 1951 when very, very few women piloted commercial jets, were civil engineers or performed neurosurgery.

But, sadly, not everything is different.

One Hardisty husband complains about his wife "getting her panties in a knot'' over his fishing trips while another talks about "putting her in her place.'' Most of the men fail to appreciate how difficult their week will be, dismissing how much their wives do both inside and outside the home.

So far at least, nobody has learned anything from the experience. No lightbulbs have gone off. No insights are lent. Not even about how women are the guilt and the glue that hold communities together, despite not running the towns.

Too bad.

One thing The Disappearance made clear is how women's interpersonal connectivity can get them through anything, while men's talent for action and technology can get them into trouble.

That's not just a comment on the sexes, but also on foreign policy in a dangerous time.

Wylie's book should be required reading.

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Antonia Zerbisias

Antonia Zerbisias is a former columnist for the Toronto Star and is the co-creator of #BeenRapedNeverReported.


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