They say all literary conflicts can be boiled down to Man vs. Self, Man vs. Man, Man vs. Nature, Man vs. Society, Man vs. Fate. And we wonder why women feel so left out. It’s fitting that the Lifetime Network would upend these conventions a bit, and more than just replacing “Man” with “Woman.” Although that is some of it.
I have yet to watch a Lifetime movie that’s Woman vs. Fate, and despite the sexism endemic in even some of the smallest social interactions, Woman vs. Society has yet to appear. I imagine the former is harder to do with Lifetime’s implicit mission statement, which is to make movies that are still understandable even if you miss chunks of them while occupied with household chores. The latter is likely too “political” for the aggressively middle-of-the-road Lifetime network, because it’s apparently controversial that women get a raw deal.
What you do see are Woman vs. Man, Woman vs. Woman, Woman vs. Child, and Woman vs. Self. Woman vs. Man is the most obvious of these, as they’re the ones we think of when we hear “Lifetime movie.” An abusive husband, a cheating husband, a husband running an underground arena where runaways fight angry raccoons… the possibilities are endless, and Lifetime, and its many imitators, have mined the concept almost to oblivion. Woman vs. Child sounds wrong, as it’s attacking the very traditional ideas of femininity Lifetime likes to support, but in these cases the child has an issue, whether it’s drug use, autism, or fighting raccoons in underground arenas. For Woman vs. Self, it’s the main character who is dealing with a personal problem, like drug use, autism, or fighting raccoons in underground arenas. I, for one, will never forget Valerie Bertinelli in One Woman’s Struggle Against Addiction: The Bernice “Fuck Raccoons” Jackson Story.
Woman vs. Woman is the oddball among these. Part of Lifetime’s assumed mission statement is female empowerment. Considering how many networks, and swaths of the culture at large, are devoted to male empowerment, there is absolutely nothing wrong with having a channel (or, gasp, several!) devoted to this. But women are, at least stereotypically, team players, while the men are the rugged individualists, or objectivist assholes depending on your taste. While Man might happily be versus Man, shouldn’t Woman get along with Woman? After all, they’re in this together.
This is where Lifetime gets weird. And maybe a little sexist. (Side note here: as a guy, I find it weird calling out sexism unprompted like this. Am I right? Who knows? I’m far more comfortable having a woman tell me something is sexist and understanding it from that angle. So bear that in mind as I move on.) Woman vs. Woman stories are almost invariably of a single type: the nightmare scenario when a younger, more sexually adventurous, probably more glamorous, woman wants to steal your man.
That’s a little gross, right? I mean, women have way more going on in their lives than just their guys? Take Jamie Smith, the heroine of this week’s entry. She’s working two jobs, (she says, though I only see one, which is enough) as a social worker for troubled kids in the wilds of Seattle, British Columbia. When she comes home, she often finds that her out-of-work husband has neglected to take care of their son, or forgotten dinner, while he stares at his computer.
You probably guessed what’s going on here as soon as you read the title. Or else you took it to literally mean a virtual lie. As in something that’s not a lie. No, the husband is having an affair online with some woman calling herself Hotstuff26 who has the weirdly disturbing habit of typing in all caps, giving the impression all her sexy notes are shouted into the screen. They’ve never met in the flesh as she lives in New York, but they’ve been exchanging a few PG-rated pictures. It is possibly the tamest affair that’s ever happened.
Jamie has the husband cut the affair off, and after a few rocky scenes, seems to have mostly forgiven him. Jamie is a saint. Like a straight up, living saint. Her tears can cure the shingles, and if you pray to her at night, your internet connection is faster.
The other side of the affair turns out to be Ashley, a highly unstable young woman who works as a nurse at the kid’s pediatrician (who, in the cold open, we saw getting murdered… or possibly transformed into a mannequin. The FX are really bad.) Ashley decides it’s go time, and proceeds to harass Jamie online by somehow mocking up a weird stripper youtube video, setting her up on a Craigslist date with a rapist, and planting articles about her affairs with students. Ashley escalates to murder when the doctor discovers her looking into the Smiths’ files, and later kidnaps the husband and duct tapes him to an antique wheelchair. Here’s the thing: if you have an antique wheelchair in your home, you’re a villain. No two ways about it.
Jamie, of course, triumphs against this homewrecker, although it does require a heroic second wind from her husband, when he hilariously clubs Ashley over the back of the head to rescue his wife. The movie ends with the nuclear family together again, and Ashley getting the help she needs, both for the mental illness and the blunt force trauma to her thinkin’ blob.
This is a case of Woman vs. Woman, with the man as the ultimate prize. As odd as this is, it still places the man in a better position than most mainstream movies place a woman. In a Man vs. Man story, it’s likely that the woman (the love interest, and possibly only female speaking role), is an ancillary goal, and something the hero gets as an additional prize for his eventual victory. This is true for anything from Karate Kid, to Die Hard, to any Indiana Jones or James Bond movie. At least here the guy is the goal. Although why, I can hardly imagine. It’s not like guys are hard to come by, and this one has already proven to be substandard.
So what did we learn? Well, if someone says they’re from New York that doesn’t make it so. If one of your employees is looking at records they shouldn’t, just let that shit slide. She’s probably a few seconds from murdering you. And lastly, your husband might be having an affair, and she might be insane. So really measure how much he’s worth to you before committing.