First of all it should be rather obvious to everyone by now that women on reality shows are not an entirely accurate depiction of women in reality. I had to get this out of the way because 1) I constantly meet people who are so oblivious the concept of scripting reality shows that they want to gag me and tie me up every time I mention it and 2) some people will say all the things I find distasteful are the point of reality TV as if I don’t know that and somehow makes them less harmful.
Like most people my age, I like to have my dose of reality entertainment now and then. A lot of it is absolutely dreadful in its portrayal of women especially. But the most unbearable to watch are the Reality Wives Series. Here are some of the reasons I find these so problematic in their tendencies to distort the image of women.
#1 Wife or Nothing
Most titles of these shows are along the lines of [Insert Husband’s Profession here] Wives. This in itself says something which is affirmed throughout these shows, and that’s “without these men there is no show, there is no you”. They imply that the biggest achievement of these women is getting married to whoever it is they married. I’m not saying husbands should not be an important part of their lives but surely a woman can have an identity outside of her husband’s shadow or spotlight. Be her own person – which I’m sure is possible for even housewives as I’m aware that no one is to say a housewife is less of a working woman than one with a professional career although the facts may differ in Hollywood.
#2 Idle Wives are the Ideal Wives
So much emphasis is placed on the careers of the men and their achievements that the women are inevitably seen as mere trophies. They are reduced to the pretty cherry on top to complete the impeccable image of the man. There is not a better example of this than Plastic Wives surgeon, David Matlock who proudly boasted “I’ve created my perfect wife”. His wife admits on the show that “being married to a cosmetic surgeon is full of pressure because I’m a reflection of him.” This is a woman not celebrating her vanity because it makes her feel good about herself but because she has accepted this blatant objectification from her spouse. How is this even okay?
This image of women as disempowered entities is maintained through depicting them as materialistic, petty, idle women who do nothing but shop, gossip and contemplate their next cosmetic surgery job (the one they will be receiving, not administering because this isn’t the show for working women, now is it?). What better way to stereotype women as subordinate and rightfully objectified? These women seldom have professional careers of their own and very little airtime is given to those who do. Instead their greatest preoccupations are planning getaway trips, parties, conspiring against one of their friends with another or, if we’re lucky, a charitable function.
#3 Cattiness Equals Strength
It doesn’t matter whether you’re watching Real Housewives of [Insert a City], Hockey Wives, Basketball Wives, Plastic Wives or Hollywood Exes… there will always be the one (or more) woman who is deliberately manipulative or hateful towards everyone else. This is usually the woman who is most popular on social media because her face is the beacon of “Don’t Mess with me” memes and gifs. the abundance of these never ceases to amaze me.
What bothers me is the fact that there is so much chaos and emotional vulnerability behind all of this entertainment which Hollywood just wants to make money out of. The best example of this is Basketball Wives Eva Lozada who had a reputation for being the aggressive, impulsive, vulgar favourite on the show. Fortunately, Lozada had a life-coaching session with Oprah’s spiritual guru Iyanla Vanzant on her show Iyanla: Fix My Life, where she confronted all the roots of her retaliations which included upbringing issues, previous relationships and a history of domestic violence. This just shows that these women aren’t just machines one can switch on and off for entertainment. They are humans with emotions and families who look to them as role models too. The media simply cares about making money and increasing views at the expense of their well-being. However, they only do this because they have a hungry audience that loves this kind of entertainment.
De-constructing negative perceptions of women in media is a collective effort and is near-impossible to achieve while we continue to be hypocritical about our stance towards these issues. Plus-size models became a thing because that’s what the audience agitated for. Likewise, we can have reality shows without the degradation of housewives and with empowered women with their own careers. We need to take back our agency as consumers and prove that we’re not slaves of the media but they need to give us what we want not what they want us to want.