From the moment she signed qualification papers to run for Sandy Springs City Council holding her infant on her hip, to later canvassing apartment communities on the campaign trail with her 17-month-old daughter and 7-year-old son in tow, Le’Dor Milteer faced questions.
How she could run for office and also be a good mom?
“I know I knocked on at least 1,000 doors,” said Milteer, 41. “I would say, ‘Hi, I’m Le’Dor’ and the entire conversation would be about me being a mom of young kids.
I thought, ‘don’t you want to talk about some of the things that you want to see done in this community?’ No, they wanted to know how I was going to multi-task raising a family while being a part of city council.”
These types of questions led to Milteer’s involvement in Bravo’s four-week docu-series, “In a Man’s World,” which premiered Oct. 1. The network selected Milteer and three other women who said they encountered gender bias at times in everyday life for a societal experiment to go undercover for two days as men and experience how they were treated differently.
Each of the four women cast will be the focus of a hourlong episode. Milteer’s episode airs Oct. 8. In addition to Milteer, the limited docu-series co-executive produced by Oscar-winning actress Viola Davis, features another Atlantan, Pastor Sabrina McKenzie.
“She felt like her male peers from seminary school were getting their own churches, while she was being disregarded,” said co-executive producer Kate Bernstein. “And that men were considered closer to God.”
Also featured is professional pool player Emily Duddy and Shital Patel, a first-generation Indian American and high-ranking technology executive.
The women were dressed in male prosthetics by Academy Award-winning makeup artists and underwent months of training with movement and voice coaches. They were then sent out in public, to their jobs and with their own unknowing families, before revealing ultimately revealing their true identities.
Milteer entered her political race two years ago ready to work, knowing she’d face some criticism as a newcomer to politics.
The stay-at-home mom, with a journalism background had formerly worked with Georgia Public Broadcasting and the Atlanta Association of Black Journalists. Her husband, Von, is a senior sales executive in telecommunications.
“I thought, ‘this would be a great time to run, I’m part of the PTA. I’m very involved in involved in the community,’” she said. “The reason why this election was so important was as you know, Sandy Springs is the sixth biggest city in Georgia … But, what I wasn’t prepared for was questions about me being able to run for office as a woman with kids.” Sandy Springs City Council seats had previously been held by women.
Milteer ultimately lost the race.
Bravo contacted Milteer after the campaign ended. “They said that they heard about my loss and wanted to do a project that would expose sexism and wanted to know if I wanted to be a part of [appearing in] prosthetics,” she said. When they explained it wasn’t a reality show I said, ‘so you want to turn me into a man and start a discussion?’ I was all in.”
Bravo camera’s followed Milteer and her family intermittently for a year starting in spring 2018 on occasions when she was wearing and not wearing prosthetics.
“They followed me working out, washing clothes, cleaning up, on a date with my husband,” said Milteer. “My daughter is not used to people hanging around but after a while she got so used to them that one of the producers changed her diaper.
“They even went to the salon with me to get my hair done. Turned out I couldn’t wear my extensions (with the prosthetics).”
As part of her experiment, Bravo assembled a focus group at Sandy Springs City Hall where Milteer appeared as a woman and separately as a man to pitch why “he” and “she” would be the best candidate for political office. Milteer’s male persona was named Roy. The two had the same political and professional experience, as well as family dynamics.
“It was really insightful for me,” said Bernstein, the co-executive producer. “As Le’Dor was working with the voice and speech coach, he said, ‘Ok, introduce yourself as a politician.’ She did both. As a woman, she cordially said, ‘Hello, I’m a mom, I’m running for political office.’ But as Roy, it was a firm, ‘I’m Roy. I’m running for office.’”
“Roy walked in the room and automatically he commanded respect. Because he had on a suit, the questions were different. They didn’t even ask about his kids or ‘How is your wife going to deal with you running for office?, ’” Milteer said. For “her,” they had questions about her home life and what her husband would think.”
A day of outdoor filming of “Roy” at The Shops of Buckhead, gave Milteer an opportunity to put him to the test by approaching passersby and her unknowing husband, Von, and children Phoenix and Christian, who are now ages 3 and 9,
“I asked a young lady for directions and she gave them to me and then walked very seductively and slowly right in front of me,” recalled Milteer. “I was on the mic saying ‘Do you guys see this?’”
Two men appeared suspicious when Roy asked for directions although they provided them. “They told me where to go and kind of backed up,” she said.
But it was her family that was most uncomfortable by Roy, the stranger, as they sat outside a gelato shop. Phoenix became fearful as Roy asked her father about the dessert.
“My daughter sensed that my husband was getting frustrated and jumped in his lap,” said Milteer.
Von Milteer agrees, something about Roy had him feeling on edge. “Between work and the kids, the day had already been long and exhausting,” said Von. “When he first approached us I immediately knew I didn’t know him and went into a defense mode. After asking about the gelato and a brief conversation, my wife revealed herself. I honestly wouldn’t have believed it was Le’Dor until I heard her voice. It creeped out both of my kids, seeing a man but hearing their mother’s voice. I thought it was cool but refused to kiss her.”
Von said his wife’s yearlong experiment enlightened him. “I now also share a new awareness on how there’s different aspects of sexism and how some sexism seems to still be an accepted prejudice in society,” he said.
Le’Dor Milteer was already a bold personality before the Bravo experience. However, she has learned a few things about both herself and the fictitious Roy.
“I am pretty comfortable in my skin” she said. “I never feel insecure. When they asked me to write my campaign speech. I gave myself little or no power and Roy all the power. I was almost begging you to listen to me. Roy’s conversation was ‘This is what I want’ and with respect and power he said, ‘And it’s in your best interest to give it to me.’”
Since the Bravo experiment, Milteer has concluded that in the past she unknowingly contributed to gender stereotypes through lessons or actions that she would impart to her children, and she intends to change that.
She said, “Now I am channeling something else. I am more empowering.”
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