The Try Guys do exactly what their name implies. They are a group of four guys making videos for BuzzFeed in which they try things. Their YouTube channel includes 22 videos. The Try Guys have tried women’s underwear, UFC fighting, makeup tutorials, nude modeling, and a variety of other interesting social and cultural experiences.
Last month, in celebration of Mother’s Day, the Try Guys tried motherhood. In a five-part series, the funny quartet attempted to get inside the heads of moms. The motherhood special included pregnancy bellies, robot babies, an actual baby, simulated labor pains, and a heartwarming video in which the guys called their moms and said thanks.
At first, I thought this was simply a funny experiment designed to make viewers laugh, create buzz, and support the millions of moms out there on Mother’s Day. But then I found out that the Try Guys are not the only men who have tried to experience pregnancy. Three Pregnant Dads is a group of three guys who wore pregnancy bellies for an entire month to see what pregnancy is like. They, too, are making videos and posting them online to share the experience with anyone who cares to watch.
These two groups are not unique. There are tons of YouTube videos dedicated to men experiencing the pain of childbirth.
As I watched these videos, I couldn’t help but wonder, “what is going on here?! Is this really a sincere attempt to understand women?”
There is obviously sincerity to Motherhood: Part 5, in which the Try Guys thank their moms. One of the guys even cries, really cries. Tears, red face, a bit of a snort. It’s adorable. It also seems like most of the men who have chosen to undergo electric shocks in order to feel what labor might be like are sincere, too, in their desire to understand the female experience. But (and this is a big but) how realistic are these simulations? And, further, what do these types of simulations and sensationalized videos do to support women?
The reality is that wearing a pregnancy belly for a day or even a month is a far cry from being pregnant. There is no true simulation for being pregnant. The only way anyone gets to know what pregnancy is like is to experience it. And the simple fact is that men cannot experience pregnancy. Wearing a pregnancy belly for a month is a far cry from giving up your body for nine months to support burgeoning life.
Similarly, the labor simulation is probably far from the real thing. Jennifer Ashton, a medical contributor for ABC News, said in an article about two Dutch television hosts trying labor simulation, “Is it as painful as labor? My opinion would be it isn’t.” I have to second her opinion. I might not be a doctor, but I have experienced labor pains twice. And I never had a safe word.
In the Try Guys labor pain simulation video, their chosen safe word was “epidural.” An appropriate choice to be sure, but women in labor have no safe word. While we can ask for epidurals or pain management medications, the discretion of the doctor dictates when and whether we receive them. It certainly isn’t an instantaneous fix. Rather, women have to endure.
So the simulations aren’t realistic. So what? Well, the problem with unrealistic simulations is that these men have the idea that they now understand women and mothers better when in fact the opposite may be true. Thinking that you understand the calling of motherhood after a night with a robot baby and a short jolt of electricity precludes the reality of motherhood. In addition, the very idea that any of these simulations create real understanding trivializes motherhood and women in general.
The truth is that no man will ever know what it is like to be a mother. This is not to try to argue that women are better than men, but rather our experiences as mothers and women are unique. Embracing uniqueness and practicing empathy without the false assumptions simulations create are ways to truly support mothers and women.