Mom and I don't much care for Lisa Ling. Ling is the twentysomething co-host of Barbara Walters' all-female chat show, The View, which I'm attempting to watch while home visiting my parents during the holidays. Mom will have none of it. She's a not-so-patient 62-year-old who calls Ling a "dumb bunny," while I, firmly enthroned in my 30s, dismiss The View co-host's sweeping, overly confident statements and opinions as that of a twentysomething seated around a table of women who have, simply put, spent many more days walking the planet than she has.

"She's supposed to sound like a dumb bunny," I protest mildly as my mother grapples for the remote. I remember a dinner party a few years back when a bunch of friends were gathered at a high-caloric restaurant to discuss the goings-on in the local music scene. Feeling hospitable that night, I'd invited a new colleague in her early 20s. When conversation turned, inevitably, to fitness fads and diets, the wide-eyed ingenue piped in with, "I'm so glad I don't have to worry about those things yet. I can just eat and eat and eat and never gain an ounce." The conversation ground to an abrupt, disgusted halt as the diner to my left remarked under her breath, "It all goes into that hollow head of hers." The diner to my right simply spat "cunt" into her napkin. Another brazenly opined that she was thankful to be in her 30s because they afforded her the hindsight wisdom she lacked in her 20s.

Never was it more apparent to me than at that moment that, despite "the sisterhood," generations of women are very different from one another. It strikes me that Lisa Ling is eternally in the hot seat each day on The View, and while she makes those of us past the age of 25 cringe at our past bravado, we can only hope she sets an example for those not yet intimate with eye cream that one should consider the consequences of time before one speaks. I venture my theory aloud to my mother. She looks at me just as we had all looked at the wide-eyed ingenue, and The View is switched off with deafening silence.

Which got me thinking about all the "women's networks" out there on cable these days. Lifetime has been around longest, with its dramas about abduction, cheating husbands, and seductive therapists, but the advent of digital cable has afforded women a multitude of targeted programming hoping to capture the very female audience that defies being united--except perhaps in the deepest, or most superficial, of terms.

In addition to Lifetime, there's Lifetime Movie Network, which retreads past Lifetime original movies; Romance Classics, which not only shows wall-to-wall romantic-themed fare but also boasts shorts on royalty, Hollywood romances, and entertaining; Love Stories and its sister network, Love Stories' Mysteries; and Oxygen, Geraldine Laybourne's troubled network/website (in which Oprah is an investor).

Despite her satellite dish, my mother refused to tune into these women's networks while I was visiting, and I was piqued. A glutton for punishment in the name of research, I resolved then to watch nothing but such programming when I returned to the comfort of my own remote. To see if I could do it, mostly, and--if I could do it--what I could learn from it.

Tuesday, 10:00 a.m.

Still in my pajamas, I head to the couch and settle in for Woman on the Ledge on Lifetime. It features soap stars from General Hospital, Days of Our Lives, and One Life to Live, and concerns three lifelong friends, their cheating husbands, their endometriosis, and their careers. Midway, I fall asleep and have a dream about fighting with my mother--something I still do, but hardly ever dream about anymore. I awake feeling guilty and grumpy, but laugh when a commercial for an early pregnancy test comes on in which the woman literally exclaims, "Doh!" when she finds out she's pregnant. That's how it should be, I think. Not so much of this crying and hugging.

The next commercial features a woman asking her date such questions as, "Is that your favorite team? What was the score?" then looking smug because she, a "smart" Lifetime-watching woman of 2001, has got this whole dating thing in the bag because she's so cleverly purchased Direct TV's NBA package. Chagrined, I settle back into the movie only to be reminded of the afternoon I read a book called The Breakup (in which a woman chronicles the minutia of the demise of her relationship) and proceeded to drink an entire bottle of red wine and then capsize my own relationship by accusing my boyfriend of all sorts of imagined infidelities simply because I'd fueled minor, everyday insecurities with the flames of rampant mistrust laid out in the book. How daunting it must be, I think now, for men or significant others to come home to someone who has been watching Lifetime movies all day. Regardless of whether she's been sipping the sauce, all those stories of infidelity, heartache, and misery can make any woman suspicious of her own seemingly content life.

Back on the TV screen, Marlena from Days of Our Lives is standing high above the ground on a window ledge outside of her gynecologist's office, about to jump because she gave up a child for adoption years ago, and now, desperate to have another and having made an unsuccessful pass at her best friend's husband, she's getting the bad news that her endometriosis warrants a hysterectomy. So she's gonna jump. Both of her lifelong friends are pleading with her to come in, but it's a man who rescues her in the end. I'm all pissed off about that because until then, most of the men in the movie had been jerks, but I'm even angrier at myself because in spite of the exasperating ending, I shed a tear or two for Marlena. Disgusted and a sucker, I make a mental note to tune in tonight for Lifetime's "Moment of Truth Movie," Stand Against Fear, about a cheerleader who fights back after the football team sexually harasses her.

5:00 p.m.

I'm watching a late-teen/early-20s- oriented talk show called Trackers on Oxygen, and tonight's topic is hazing. Fraternity and sorority system representatives duke it out verbally while a host asks stupid questions of each. As with most programs on Oxygen, the show is presented in letterbox format while messages, sound bites, or the addresses to related websites run underneath. During commercials, the advertised products' tag lines are flashed, keeping Oxygen's connection to commerce irritatingly evident.

Frankly, Oxygen as a whole is irritating, and I defy anyone to sit still with it for even an hour. Its programs, save for Exhale, an intimate, aromatherapy candle-burning talk show featuring host Candice Bergen with such guests as Patti Smith or Janeane Garofalo, are all unwatchable. Most hideous is Friday and Saturday nights' Pajama Party, Oxygen's version of The Man Show in which women dressed in baby-dolls and mules discuss girly issues and men dance around in their boxer shorts. Normally I would thrill to such slumber-party escapades, but the vapidness pervading Pajama Party, with its backward payback to stag parties and guys' nights, is sadly ineffective and just plain unimaginative. Back on Trackers, a band named Nine Days plays while idiotic messages scroll underneath: "The singer is a Scorpio." "The bass player's favorite drink is water." And this nugget: "The singer's favorite author is Stephen King, but the album was inspired by Thomas Hardy's book Far from the Madding Crowd." It's all so wussy I can hardly stand it. For the second time that day I fall asleep watching women's programming. When I wake up, I feel so guilty I do two loads of laundry and bake a pan of brownies.

Wednesday, 8:50 a.m.

I'm watching Pure Oxygen on guess what network. It's the channel's version of a morning talk show, featuring various water-cooler-type topics. Today's is Teen Virginity Pledges. During the commercials (which I've come to look forward to once I realized that they're just like flipping through a copy of Allure magazine: strictly makeup and fashion) a promo comes on praising women whose shining achievements came late in life: "Diana Vreeland was 62 when she became editor of Vogue." Go sister. Next, some wisdom from Cher: "The trouble with some women is that they get all excited about nothing and then marry them." This is what I want Pajama Party to be about. A bunch of sage women waxing savvy because they've lived and learned, not because they can shimmy into a baby-doll and mules and because they have a degree in telecommunications and read the new feminists while taking women's studies as an elective.

I recall during the first weeks of Oxygen seeing a summit between the neo-feminists and the old guard. A 50-ish member of the latter sat courteously through a new new feminist's speech on how staying home with your children instead of pursuing a career is the ultimate in righteous feminism. When it was her turn to speak, the proud member of the old guard replied simply, "You ungrateful bitches." Sadly, moments like that are few and far between on Oxygen.

Next up we have Inhale, a play-along yoga show. I do not wish to play along. I flip to Lifetime's morning game show Who Knows You Best, which pits best friends against each other in order to prove they know you better than you know yourself. It's a complete ripoff of The Newlywed Game, just without the whoopee whistle. Everyone's fat today, and frankly, they're all lying or stupid. Sample question: "What's changed most about you since high school: bank account, hairstyle, or booty?" You better hope it's your bank account, given all that food you've been putting away, I think. Surprisingly, they all answer "hairstyle." A commercial comes on for Jenny Craig featuring Peter Frampton's "Show Me the Way." Fuck the women's channels, I'm watching The View.

The ladies on The View are arguing about not being able to get a date after reaching a certain age. Lisa Ling is sitting smugly. Fergie is the guest. There is more butt talk as Meredith Viera previews an upcoming segment on finding the right pair of jeans. A commercial for Slim-Fast comes on, and I reflect on the pan of brownies I made during Trackers last night. I sheepishly decide to pack them up and take them to work tomorrow. Back on the show, Lisa Ling is asking Fergie about Prince William because she's the only one who won't look like a chicken hawk while going on about how hot he is. The jeans segment comes on, and they all discuss the round rear and the flat rear while Ling sits quietly until she can contain herself no longer and yaps, "I wear Earl! I love Earl!" I wonder if I still seem like a dumb bunny to my mom every time I open my mouth. Next comes a man who claims to be able to cure what ails you just by observing your walk. Ling has just been told she walks with her head sticking out like a turtle, and she looks horrified but secretly disbelieving. He makes Meredith walk for him and in doing so she reveals to her audience that not only does she have a flat ass, but a huge wedgie, too.


Lifetime Live, "a program by, for, and about women," begins with a horrible story about an expectant mother who was murdered so the baby could be stolen from her womb.

1:00 p.m.

Baby Jessica has fallen down a well (!) and Lifetime Movies has devoted two hours and gallons of tears to the ancient event. Over on Oxygen, Oprah, who's been spending too much time nourishing her soul apparently, is just now learning how to send an e-mail on Oprah Goes Online. "Do people know about this?!" she crows as she sends an e-mail to "Hil" (Clinton). Jesus. Is it just boredom that makes me decide to clean the cat box and do the dishes?

Later that afternoon when I tune in to Romance Classics, I'm confused for a moment because the name has been changed to WE, for Women's Entertainment. Same shows, just a "smarter" name. I can't take it anymore. I call my mother to apologize for still being a dumb bunny but get her answering machine because, being impatient and only 62, she's happily at work.