Riffing off one of the most infamous break-up lines in history, It's Not You, It's Men premiered back in January on Oprah's OWN network. The show is hosted by Furious 7's Tyrese Gibson and Run D.M.C.'s Joseph "Rev. Run" Simmons, with a premise that suggests an Odd Couple-type situation. A single father of one and a happily married reverend sitting down to talk about sex and relationships is simple enough.
In practice, however, It's Not You, It's Men shows us precisely why conversations between men about what's best for women can easily reinforce the most deeply entrenched sexist beliefs.
The show is equally fascinating and frustrating. At heart, it's a clear attempt at offering a male-focused alternative to what is often the domain of talk shows like The View, The Real, and The Talk, which tackle love and relationships while addressing a mostly female audience. You can almost see the appeal of a show aimed at men that tries to dispel the notion that openly talking about things like consent and commitment somehow undercuts one's manhood.
It reads like the type of male feminist revolution that Emma Watson champions with her HeForShe campaign, or that celebrities like Aziz Ansari and Matt McGorry exemplify with their attempts at highlighting the work men need to do in order to change the sexist culture around us. Unfortunately, the talk show mostly serves up conversations about men and women lacking any real insight.
On their Jan. 30 episode, which focused on marriage, the two hosts talked about the importance of the engagement ring ("Not About the Bling," a helpful side banner informed the audience). Why do women put such focus on the ring? Rev. Run wanted to know. "The focus is, it comes down to, validation," Gibson offered. He then followed it up with a clear assertion that suggested he's all but solved this question. "You want all your homegirls looking at you and say, 'Oh wow, he loved me enough to take me off the market.'"
It's just one of the many instances in the show where both men turn to gender-normative generalizations that are presented as epiphanies but that instead showcase a tone-deaf approach to the very complex issues and questions they are raising. That "take me off the market" line undermines any agency the girlfriend in question might yet have. The entire conversation seems to revolve around the very important issue of not valuing superficial aspects of commitment like rings and weddings but this is only discussed as a problem women need to resolve.
Both men turn to gender-normative generalizations and present them as epiphanies. In reality, they showcase a tone-deaf approach to very complex issues and questions.
More often than not, the show is most insightful when these two men sit back and welcome guests into the conversation. Later in that same episode, they talked to Mona Scott-Young, the CEO of Monami Entertainment and producer of Love and Hip Hop. The conversation eventually turned to the role-reversal which characterizes her marriage and she talked about how secure her husband was in his own skin to take and embrace the role of stay-at-home dad.
That didn't stop Rev. Run from still wanting to make a point about how a man's masculinity is tied to what a woman can offer him, of course. "I think it takes a special woman to be able to make a man feel secure," he noted before Scott-Young tried to stress again that it was mutual. "It has to be two secure people who are clear about who they are and what they want out of the relationship." It was a sentiment perhaps oddly undercut by the graphics on screen, which asked, "How do you make your man feel like a man?"
Scott-Young did this throughout the interview, highlighting how it's about partnership and understanding one another ("I need to take care of him as much as he takes care of me") in response to Gibson's gender-normative views of (hypothetical) strong female attorneys who should leave their aggressiveness behind and be "girly and soft like men like them" when they get home.
More recently, Amber Rose, self-proclaimed "feminist monster," talked about consent on the show and showed Gibson what is wrong with men's inability to understand that "no" is not contingent on anything other than a woman's decision.
In an earlier episode, a similar situation happened when these "two unorthodox experts on love and relationships," as per the show's own press release, invited Jordin Sparks to talk about the importance of sex in a budding relationship. It's a conversation she's long been associated with given her vocal commitment to remaining a virgin until marriage — even sporting a purity ring until a few years ago.
While Gibson kept pushing her to admit that sex was integral to the start of a relationship, Sparks didn't budge in her assertion that "it" — she really dances around the word sex — isn't the be-all and end-all. "I think there's something to be said about building a relationship without that because it complicates so many things," she said in a comment in which Gibson felt compelled to respond with the clichéd notion that "there's nothing sexier than a smart woman." Sparks bemused looks throughout the segment make this bizarre exchange all the more enjoyable.
Just as in the Rose and Mona clips, it shows Gibson and Rev. Run offering oppositional but equally troubling messages about female sexuality. In these exchanges, both male hosts often find that their well-intentioned if at times clueless musings run counter to what the women next to them are saying. It's a case of mansplaining suddenly and repeatedly being denied the full authority it bestows upon itself.
In trying to frame its discussions between the aw-shucks conservatism of Rev. Run and the bad boy liberalism of Gibson, It's Not You, It's Men emerges as yet another reminder of the importance of having open conversations about culturally ingrained male behavior without falling back on gender essentialism. It's Not You, It's Men needs to be the start of the conversation — not its foregone conclusion.