While we might think we know the society we live in pretty well and assume that most of us within it live a fairly similar and unremarkable existence, there are many unseen and surprising parts of modern life hidden behind closed doors. In her usual ‘up for anything’ style, going behind closed doors is exactly the approach British presenter Stacey Dooley takes as she spends a couple of nights living alongside some extraordinary characters as part of the second series of her award-winning documentary, Stacey Dooley Sleeps Over.
Whether it’s a photoshoot with a child model, the observance of Shabbat with a strict Orthodox Jewish family with nine children or an off-grid adventure with eco-warriors on a remote island, Stacey makes herself at home, ready to embrace whatever comes her way with her signature brand of humour. It quickly becomes apparent that day-to-day life means something vastly different for each one of her hosts. There’s a bravery attached to inviting the world inside the most private aspects of your life, but these individuals are ready to show that despite living a less than typical existence, it is no less valid than the prevailing social norm.
In her first adventure of the series, Stacey moves in with the Sediles family, where mother of two Lilian is part of a growing community of ‘tradwives’, a group of women who reject financial freedom and independence in favour of obedience to their husbands and domestic duties. Lilian’s husband, Felipe, is regarded as the head of the family, with responsibility for most of the decisions, and the pair say that their embracing of long-held gender roles, now largely dismissed as archaic by much of society, is the secret to ten years of happy marriage. Lilian presents herself in a way that is demure and polished, and takes care of all household chores, appearing to gain great enjoyment and satisfaction from doing so. “It’s essentially everything I’m not,” Stacey laughs.
It’s true that this way of life, like many others shown throughout the series, is one that brings with it a significant amount of judgement and misrepresentation thanks to its unconventionality and rejection of what has become acceptable in a modern world. As a self-proclaimed feminist, Stacey must put her preconceived ideas about the ‘tradwife’ trend to one side to find out whether its surprising popularity signals the death of feminism or, as Lilian affirms, if choosing to be a ‘traditional’ wife can be an act of defiance in itself. Stacey’s willingness to listen and understand these perspectives doesn’t mean that she isn’t shocked by some of the ideas shared in her conversations with the couple, and her jaw does drop when she hears Lilian describe consulting her husband about purchases and giving up her successful career to cook and clean.
What endears Stacey to each of the households and sees her welcomed with open arms, even when there’s an unspoken consensus to agree to disagree, is that she acknowledges from the moment she arrives that these situations are rarely black and white. Admittedly, in Lilian’s case, she has gained uninterrupted time with her children that isn’t always a possibility for working mothers. She also claims that her life is much happier since giving up work, and that her relationship with Felipe is much stronger, but it is hard to ignore just how reliant she is upon her husband at times. There’s something about an educated, confident woman seeking the approval of a man that is so at odds with what we’ve become accustomed to in 21st century life and Stacey begins to wonder what is behind it. But, as she rightly points out, if it works for Lilian and Felipe, isn’t that all that matters?
As she tags along for the family’s daily routine, including prayer time, dinner preparation and home schooling, Stacey wonders if Lilian is taking a huge risk by depending on Felipe to the degree that she does. “I don’t want to find myself totally reliant on a man because that means if I’m not happy and I don’t feel fulfilled and complete I might have to stick around,” Stacey explains to Felipe. It’s an explanation met with some confusion. “It means you won’t be willing to persevere,” he replies. It’s this exchange that sums up the brilliance of the documentary; Stacey is in no way attempting to change the minds of her hosts, and likewise they understand that she may not ever comprehend their way of life. Instead, it’s a chance to see things from a completely different point of view. As Felipe and Lilian’s renewal of vows attests, using the traditional text rarely chosen by modern couples due to its inequity, they are confident and assured in their family dynamic.
It’s often advised to seek out those who challenge your opinions, and that’s exactly what Stacey does in each of the six episodes that make up this second series. Other visits see her stay with a man who moved two lions and a puma into his backyard, and ask him about what drives him to keep wild animals as pets, and learn about a different sort of parenting with a family in Wales.
She’s not afraid to admit when her assumptions have been wrong and relishes the opportunity to get to know the people she meets on a deeper level, never shying away from a tricky question when it is warranted. It’s a series that will turn your expectations of the households she visits on their head and prove that there is insight to be gained from viewing the way we live our lives in a whole new light.
Season 2 of Stacey Dooley Sleeps Over premieres Tuesday 26 October at 9:45pm on SBS VICELAND.