‘Up All Night’: Feminism Is For Everyone

I think James Poniewozick gets it exactly right in his look at Up All Night and television’s approach to feminism for men:

Up All Night is one of those shows created by a female writer, Emily Spivey. And its impressive achievement in its handling of the labor division between Reagan and Chris is how matter-of-fact it is. Up All Night is a show with a stay-a-home dad and a work-in-the-office mom; it’s not a show about a stay-a-home dad and a work-in-the-office mom. That is, it’s a show about the challenges of new parenting, not the Mr. Mom weirdness of gender role reversal. (Compare the upcoming ABC sitcom Work It, in which the male stars literally dress in drag to get jobs in female-dominated pharmaceutical sales. Because they’re doing lady work!)

The easiest ways for TV to deal with gender differences (like race or anything else) is to ignore them or obsess over them. What’s tougher, and what Up All Night has been pulling off well (even if it’s still finding its way as a comedy) is treating them as simply one factor among many, sometimes more important than others.

There’s a huge difference between treating people and issues like they’re anthropological specimens because you assume that no one in your audience could possibly relate to them, and approaching people and issues with the assumption that they represent your audience and the things they’re grappling with. The idea of stay-at-home dads is not inherently ridiculous. But that doesn’t mean it’s issue- or anxiety-free. Sexism, among many other things, doesn’t automatically vanish just because some women work outside the home and return to their jobs after giving birth. It just takes different forms, and requires different remedies. It’s not all court battles and pickets. And it’s more ridiculous to pretend that men and women don’t have issues than it is to mine realistic and engaging conflict out of the things that we all navigate every day.

And, as James points out, sexism doesn’t only affect women — and when men futz with their gender roles, it can illuminate how ridiculous those roles for women are, too. In Up All Night, Chris worries about how he’s dressing so Reagan will be attracted to him, whether he’s become boring staying at home, whether his decision to leave his job is the right one. It is really insane that we haven’t figured out a way to cycle people into and out of the workforce to accommodate something that many, if not all, people want: to have children. It’s too bad that it takes men making sacrifices to underscore that forcefully, but if it’s the way to get men and women on board for a common cause, then bring on the television stay-at-home dads.