When I turned on the television earlier this week I thought I'd been transported back to 1950. What spurred the time warp was an ad for a new Lifetime show, The Client List. It stars Jennifer Love Hewitt as a single mother with two young children. She works at a massage parlor and because she can't make ends meet and doesn't want to lose the family home, she agrees to give her clients "happy endings," which is a nice way to say she's a prostitute.
Why are we sending the message that the only way for a single mom to make it financially is by selling her body for sex? And on Lifetime; isn't that a chick channel? Is this what the network execs think women want to see? What message are we sending to our daughters?
The show premieres on April 8 just two and a half weeks before Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day, a national public education program on April 26. Prostitutes don't need a special day to take their kids to work so that they can see what they do; their children and yours and mine can just tune in to Lifetime.
Of course, this is television. And having worked in a television newsroom for nearly 30 years, I am not naïve. I know that sex sells. I get it, it's Jennifer Love Hewitt. But still it's insulting.
It's not a new idea on television to have single mothers do desperate things. In Showtime's Weeds the mom is so hard up for cash she sells marijuana. But selling pot is not the same as selling yourself. What's next, single mom assassins?
This had to be an anomaly. Surely there are TV shows with strong women in a lead role. According to Nielsen ratings for March 26-April 1, the top 5 television shows were NCIS, Dancing with the Stars, American Idol, NCAA Basketball, and NCIS: Los Angeles. Jennifer Lopez as the token woman on American Idol actually presents the best role model for young women. She is wildly successful and is equal to the men on the show in her contribution, which is smarter and much less saccharin than that of her predecessor Paula Abdul. And she is a single mom.
But no show in the top 5 or even the top 10 had a woman as the lead character, much less a single mother. However, single moms are out there in large numbers. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2011, 20 million children under the age of 18 lived in a single parent household. Nearly all of them, roughly 17.5 million children, live with and are cared for by a single mother.
I have two very good friends who are single mothers of college-aged sons. Both have been single moms since the boys were small. They are successful, even if they are not wealthy. They work hard, very hard to put a roof over their families' heads, food on the table and send their kids to college. Do they put in horribly long hours, and juggle their schedule with their kids needs? Yes. Do they worry about finances? Yes.
Have they ever felt the only way to make it, was to prostitute themselves? No.
I challenge the networks to do a show about them, one that our daughters and our sons can be proud of. Now that's a happy ending.