MILF Manor is gross – but not for the reason most people think | Nancy Jo Sales

The titillating reality series hinges on a bizarre oedipal twist. But the show, at its core, is actually reactionary and sexist

Milf Manor is making viewers upset and causing the media to collectively clutch its pearls – but not, I think, for the reasons they should be recoiling. If you’ve been spared hearing about TLC’s latest contribution to the reality television garbage heap, here is the recap: Eight “hot moms”, all women in their 40s or 50s, are sent to live in a seaside villa in Mexico, where, they’re told, they’re going to be dating younger guys (the ol’ hookup house conceit). When the guys, all studs in their 20s, appear, it turns out that they’re these same women’s sons in real life.

“You are not exactly on the show you thought were on,” a text from the producers tells them. Everyone looks shocked. “Wait, they’re our moms?” asks one of the sons. “Holy shit!”

Most reality shows are heavily staged, so who knows if the participants had fair warning. In any case, Milf Manor, which premiered on 15 January, has been deemed “a new low for reality TV, perhaps even a rock bottom” by the New Yorker, which called it “gross” and “disturbing”. Rolling Stone likened the show to “incest porn”, clucking: “Casual sex is no longer enough; kink must become mainstream.” Milf Manor has only 17% approval on Rotten Tomatoes, with audience reviewers split, describing it as both “degenerate” and “tantalizing”. On TikTok, users have called it “disgusting” and “great”. Meanwhile, some male commenters just talk about what smokeshows they think the Milfs are.

First of all, one wonders why TLC didn’t just make a show about older women dating younger men who were not each other’s kids? Why throw this bizarre, oedipal twist into a soup that’s already plenty hot? Milf porn has been a mainstay of the online porn industry for over 20 years; it’s no surprise that younger men find older women attractive, and vice versa. Just ask Brigitte and Emmanuel Macron (she’s 69, he’s 45). Or Cher and Alexander Edwards (she’s 76, he’s 36). Or Madonna and Andrew Darnell (she’s 64, he’s 23).

Oh, but wait. All of those couples, at various times, have been mocked and shamed for their age gap, which continues to be taboo. At a time when nothing seems out of bounds for anybody else any more, older women are once again being told to put on some sensible shoes and act their age. The real outrage of Milf Manor isn’t that the sons are nearby when their mothers are dating younger guys; it’s that the sons have been sent there to shame the mothers for wanting to date younger men.

It’s the very presence of the sons in the house that makes the women’s (healthy, ordinary) desire for sex and love with younger men seem icky. Not to mention the sons’ frequent expressions of outrage (“Mom!”) at their mothers’ flirting, as well as their petulant “cock-blocking”, as one of the mothers calls it. Despite some earnest conversations between its characters about double standards and female empowerment, Milf Manor, is, values-wise, a deeply conservative show, as so much of reality TV winds up being. Its actual premise (intentional or not) is: “How dare these women try to date men who are young enough to be their sons?”

A sense of this is driven home in every awkward “challenge” the cast undergoes, wherein the sons are subjected to a series of Freudian horrors: watching their mothers, blindfolded, feel up all the shirtless sons in order to identify which one is hers; hearing their mothers confess their sexual secrets. One of the moms admits to having slept with her son’s best friend, which causes him considerable distress.

The moms themselves (except for the requisite “wild girl”) seem to find all this quite uncomfortable. As soon as their sons arrive in the pilot episode, the moms’ demeanor goes from Girls Trip to I Remember Mama. They pat their boys and make sure they’re not getting into any trouble. It will be a surprise if any of these women actually sleeps with these young men – which is kind of the point: how would it look to their sons? But then, Milf Manor already has a reputation to live up to.

  • Nancy Jo Sales is a writer at Vanity Fair and the author of American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers


Nancy Jo Sales

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Is Milf Manor the queasiest new dating show on TV?
Moms watch their sons flirt with other moms in strange reality competition series that feels like a 30 Rock joke made real

Lauren Mechling

18, Jan, 2023 @4:50 PM

Article image
Dystopia has arrived: a reality show where men compete to impregnate a woman
The men must humiliate themselves to prove their worth. The spectacle is cathartic – yet disturbing

Jessa Crispin

18, Jun, 2020 @10:30 AM

Article image
The Milf is back, are you ready?
Shows such as Milf Manor have pushed the reality TV format to the absolute brink. But what does the return of the Milf tell us about women and sexuality?

Eva Wiseman

05, Feb, 2023 @8:00 AM

Article image
Finally, a gay Blind Date. What took so long? | Rebecca Nicholson
Freelance writer Rebecca Nicholson unpacks the dating show’s revamped debut – its first LGBT programme

Rebecca Nicholson

07, Jul, 2017 @8:00 AM

Article image
Why these female Apprentice finalists give me nothing to cheer about | Lara Whyte
Lara Whyte: Both Luisa Zissman and Leah Totton's ideas for profit, like their grooming regimes, are profoundly dispiriting

Lara Whyte

16, Jul, 2013 @11:26 AM

Article image
The rise of performative activism has reached reality TV – but it’s not all bad | Arwa Mahdawi
The Activist, a new TV show, is another example that activism has been consumed by the corporate world – but that’s something to celebrate

Arwa Mahdawi

11, Sep, 2021 @12:00 PM

Article image
From Mrs America to Rodham, America's in love with feminist paper dolls | Jessa Crispin
Pop culture has embraced good-girl versions of complex figures in stories that undermine real feminist ideology

Jessa Crispin

19, May, 2020 @10:21 AM

Article image
Don’t scoff at Love Island. It’s British society laid bare | Leah Green
Love Island was more than the sum of its beautiful contestants’ body parts. It held up a mirror to some uncomfortable truths, writes Guardian journalist Leah Green

Leah Green

31, Jul, 2018 @11:25 AM

Article image
Will we be able to look away from the mummy issues raised on Milf Manor? | Bidisha Mamata
The reality show in which mothers and sons live together and start flirting is weirdly kinky but also oddly natural

Bidisha Mamata

21, Jan, 2023 @4:00 PM

Article image
Donald Trump's presidential transition is basically reality television | Richard Wolffe
Trump just bought and sold a bag full of career politicians in this president-elect episode of The Apprentice

Richard Wolffe

14, Dec, 2016 @7:34 PM