Last week, well-known mega-church leader Bishop Eddie Long was accused of sexually abusing four young male congregants. The muscle-bound, gold chain-wearing Long is marked by his homophobia, opulence and maybe his less well-known ideas regarding modern relationships between men and women.

I was recently trolling through a gossip rag site which pointed out that the pastor has written an insightful book on this last topic, called “What Men Want, What Women Need.” To share several gems from the first few pages, what the “animalistic” man actually wants is “sex and control” in addition to a woman who is “the world’s best lover” and “the best cook in town.” This mythical creature ought to be subservient and bent on “[caring] for the little boy lingering in the hulking shell” of her man and supplement his life by allowing him to continue on his “destiny.”

I really hope I don’t have to spell out all the things that are wrong with this.

Unfortunately, views like this one seem to be getting increasing facetime in American popular culture and society. In our world, women pursue higher education and have prospects of forming careers in any field they choose. They have access to birth control and the morning-after pill and abortion is legal. Due to these areas of economic and sexual freedom, there is a definite backlash and a cry for more “traditional” roles for women.

TLC has two reality television shows that depict extreme versions of such roles. One is “19 Kids and Counting,” the other is “Sister Wives,” which just aired on Sunday. It’s difficult to decide which is more abhorrent. The first follows Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, who have nineteen children because they believe in leaving their fertility in “God’s hands.” However earnest these beliefs may be, the facts are damning for Jim Bob — every single child has a name that starts with J and almost every pregnancy is spaced by only a year or so. It’s pretty gross that this man has achieved notoriety and is making a living off the fact that he can’t leave his wife alone.

If at all possible, “Sister Wives,” starring polygamist Kody Brown and his three wives, is worse. The show asks America to “Rethink Marriage” and follows Brown, the wives and their thirteen children as they deal with everyday life and Kody’s decision to “marry” a fourth (younger and slimmer) woman. After watching an interview on the Today show as well as clips of the first episode, it’s not hard to imagine that Brown, with his shoulder-length blonde hair and quasi-good looks, probably manipulated these wide-eyed women by promising a community, family and, let’s not forget the biggest prize of all, one quarter of himself. It’s also clear that Brown is enjoying his proverbial cake just because he can — and that these women sacrifice for him to do so. The fact that either of these situations is portrayed by a major network at all is disgusting and its completely degrading that they are thought of as entertainment.

There’s a lot of trash TV these days, but anyone who supports the continuation of female equality should take particular offense to these two patriarchal caveman dramas. TLC markets its reality programs by exploiting the obvious differences of a group before saying, “Look at their lives, they’re just like you.” This pseudo-heartwarming approach may work for “Little People, Big World,” but frankly for “19 Kids” and especially for “Sister Wives,” it’s an unacceptable, tacky lie and the network knows it. Depicting an American man and his modern-day harem as a nice, happy family is vomit-inducing. These people are not normal, this is not okay and most of us will hopefully never be able to relate.

There is nothing wrong with big families or even traditional marriage roles. Many young women today elect to become housewives and homemakers rather than having a career. However, it’s toxic when these roles are expected — or even demanded — and couched in terms of duty to or inferiority. In a country in which women have the opportunities to have just as fast-paced careers as men and in which they can and do bring home the main paycheck, it’s sickening that there is still this attempt to keep women deferential and obedient in the name of tradition or ethics. Women’s proper place is wherever we discover it and our aspirations aren’t limited to talent in the kitchen or in the bedroom. Long, Duggar, Brown and men like them cannot handle these facts and so twist the lives of others to satisfy a pathetic need to feel superior. Guess what, boys: Real women don’t bow down to your ego.

Vanessa Rychlinski can be reached at vanrych@umich.edu

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