GENER ROLES: The cast of Sticks and Stones.

DO YOU remember the film Mrs Doubtfire? It was a Robin Williams classic and he played an old nanny so that he could see his kids after his divorce. What was amazing was how his kids warmed to him even though they didn’t know he was their father disguised as a woman.

Another classic of men playing women is White Chicks – Shawn and Marlon Wayans played white girls. Again, it was amazing how their “girlfriends” treated them when they thought the two were women, but things changed when the truth came out.

Whether we like to admit it or not, we judge each other based on several things, including gender. There are several stereotypes that come with that. There are arenas that only men can apparently excel in and women are said to have other skills. In fact, there is a thriving local insurance company that only offers services to women. Its adverts show men as irresponsible and therefore higher risk. That could be true in general, but the reality is there are irresponsible women and very responsible men, too.

Enter Stick and Stones, the new SABC1 show which sees a woman, Palesa (Talitha Ndima) who is unemployed and at the end of her professional road. She lives with her grandmother in a shack and it takes a freak accident that kills her neighbour to get Palesa to think of moving to safer accommodation.

The first place she tries to get a job is at a construction company, but she is told

manual labour is not for women. So Palesa pulls a reverse Mrs Doubtfire, turns herself into a man and, voilà, she gets the job!

“Men and women will never be equal in practice because of different cultural, religious and political interpretations. On paper, yes, but not practical,” said Neo Matsunyane, one of the directors of the show.

“Some practices don’t allow women to be at the helm – whether founded in truth and/or fallacy, some communities practice sexual segregation as a norm. The women are liberated in a work environment, but when they get home, the sexist rules haven’t changed,” he said.

Although the show may have some light-hearted parts here and there, it is Matsunyane’s hope that South Africans see the bigger picture of what Sticks and Stones is trying to show.

“I hope they take the challenges women face seriously and support initiatives that help propel women to positions of equality and respect,” said Matsunyane.

Litha Booi who plays Lwazi, a privileged boy, agrees. He says there has to be a shift in how gender is seen at work and in society.

“In the 21st century I believe that in business, roles have no gender bias. We have female engineers as well as mechanics, we have males who are chefs as well as interior designers. What matters most is how passionate you are because whatever career you choose you’ll be faced with many challenges and it’s the passion and determination which will propel you towards your success,” he said.

For him, since it is supposedly a “man’s world”, men have a huge role to play to change the perceptions of how women should be treated.

“As men we should constantly respect and help women in whatever field they find themselves as they bring different strengths and qualities to whatever they do. I think it’s unnecessary for men to put down women who want to follow career paths which, back in the day, were deemed to be for men,” said Booi.

• Sticks and Stones airs every Wednesday at 8.30pm on SABC1.