Women leave Canadian town, children in hands of men

TORONTO (Reuters Life!) - What would happen if all the women were to disappear from a town, leaving the men to not only work, but also take care of the family and the home?

A screenshot from the CBC television show "The Week the Women Went", released to Reuters on January 23, 2008. REUTERS/Canadian Broadcasting Corporation/Handout

“It will be a disaster, a complete disaster,” said Kelly Weatherly, who was sent off for a week at a resort, along with almost all the women in her community of 760, leaving the town and the children in the hands of the men.

The exodus was part of a social experiment filmed for Canada’s national broadcaster, the CBC. Touted as an exploration of gender issues in contemporary Canadian culture, “The Week the Women Went” is based on a BBC program by the same name.

Recent government statistics show that 70 percent of Canadian households are run by women. The majority of these women also hold full-time jobs.

In Hardisty, an oil-patch town in the prairie province of Alberta where the program was shot, many of the men work away from home for days at a time.

“They don’t get to hang out with Daddy,” said stay-at-home mother Heather Miller of her two young sons in the first episode. “I don’t even know if he’s had them for a whole day.”

While Miller worried about her husband Dustin’s ability to cope without her, he didn’t share her concern.

“Two people to take care of, both under the age of five,” he said. “How hard can it be?”

Dustin Miller’s comments may come off as misguided, but for some of the local men good planning made the process easy.

“It wasn’t that much of an ordeal,” said town administrator, and father of three, Tony Kulbisky. “We just pre-planned everything, or tried to be as organized as we could be.”

For the CBC’s creative chief Kristine Layfield, making a reality program presented a unique challenge.

“Whenever we do these kinds of shows, we want to stir conversation,” she said. “It’s never exploitative ... it’s always with a purpose to try to move people to talk about something after they watch the show.”

And the show has sparked discussion. Local media called it “sexist” and debate online has been lively.

“What a misandric (man hating) idea for show,” said a viewer identified as Andrew. “What is wrong with Canadian society that we need to continuously promote how important women are to society at the expense of men.”

While show producer Sally Aitken is delighted with both the positive and negative reaction the program is getting. She said the best part is how the experience has changed the relationships of the participants.

For one commitment phobic man, who after ten years together, and three children, was still refusing to marry his girlfriend, the time apart prompted him to plan a surprise wedding.

While viewers will have to wait to see if the wedding goes off without a hitch, Kulbisky is certain of at least one thing.

“It’s changed people. You can walk down the street now and you can say hi to people who you maybe never would have said hi to before,” he said. “It’s allowed the community to grow.”