When I snuggle up next to my boyfriend each night on the couch to watch some television, it isn’t to watch the newest episode of “Downton Abbey”. Instead we’re more likely to watch something like “Dance Moms” or “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” or basically any show that features women bickering and dissing each other for about an hour. It is always awful(ly entertaining) to watch, but after the episode has ended, I find myself kind of mentally exhausted and wondering, “Why am I getting pleasure from watching this?”
I feel like I’m at odds with myself because, you see, I’m all about female empowerment and women’s rights and the feminist agenda. And it has always been my understanding that women pitted against each other is a sign of a patriarchal society. So, why am I always watching these shows that are little more than women backstabbing and backbiting? It makes me feel like I’m not practicing what I’m preaching. Am I adding to the problem?
I sure hope not.
I mean, at the very least I can say that I get a weird sort of inspiration from shows like “Dance Moms” and “Toddlers & Tiaras” and the “real” housewife ladies. Things that weird me out and make me say out loud, “What the fuck?” are things that light a creative fire in me. Also, in the most basic sense, I’m mostly always inspired by women. And these shows are nothing but women. The men definitely take the backseat, and, hey, that’s cool with me.
And, while I always feel dirty saying it, I really do enjoy reality television. I’m interested in what people start doing when the camera starts rolling. That is, I’m interested in how much of their personal lives these people sacrifice for the sake of ratings and reality TV stardom. Reality television is also a very interesting genre for me to watch because I’m always trying to figure out what’s staged and what’s not, what is actually producer intervention and what is actually real in this “reality” television program.
So, reality television shows about women seem to be a natural thing for me to enjoy, right?
But there’s another problem I have: you do realize that most of these shows have titles that have to state a woman’s role, usually to a man, right? Real Housewives. Dance Moms. Basketball Wives. Bridezillas. There is even a show on NYC public access TV called Doggie Moms! Those ladies definitely know how to bring on doggie mom drama. And these are just some of the reality shows out there that thrive on women becoming crazy bitches. (I’m not even going to get into the fact that RuPaul’s Drag Race, though very entertaining, is a show full of men dressed like women who put the other shows to shame in the cattiness department.)
To be on these shows, these women really have to bring it. You must know how to yell, throw shade, bully, fight, and make a real fool of yourself. All of this equals success.
I don’t know if you guys follow the Atlanta housewives, but let’s consider DeShawn Snow. She was in the first season of the show. Only the first season, because she was the quiet one. What this actually means is that she was "the boring one" and added no spice to the show. I mean, I think the most interesting thing she did in the first season was interview governesses for her mansion. Governesses. Seriously.
In these terms, she isn’t as memorable as, say, NeNe Leakes, who is definitely the most successful/popular housewife. NeNe is tall, loud, outspoken, and extremely sensitive, which leads to some pretty intense situations. Her insults are witty and funny, and her temper is unmatched on the show. It’s pretty hard to stand up to NeNe when you have to look up to talk to her. So, it was no surprise that NeNe was cast in last season’s Celebrity Apprentice, where she brought her Atlanta realness to Manhattan and bullied LaToya Jackson and, most notably, Star Jones several times. And after NeNe left the show, she made her rounds on the talk show circuit, where all the hosts and audiences wanted to hear her shit-talk Star Jones. Everyone laughed and ate it up because NeNe was being a funny bitch.
This bitch talk reminds me of that line from that movie “Dolores Claiborne”: “Sometimes being a bitch is all a woman's got to hold on to.” Maybe that’s the problem. Maybe being a bitch is one of the few ways a woman can affirm herself in a man’s world. And maybe being a bitch is one of the only ways a woman can be successful on television.
I mean, look at Tabatha Coffey. She’s actually a very nice lady, but she’s constantly portrayed as a bitch because she’s firm and knows what she wants. Hell, she’s even played up the bitch role, and look where it’s gotten her: she went from a reality TV game show contestant to having her own show and doing red carpet coverage.
I do feel sufficiently confident with my feminism to be a spectator in this reality TV madness. There’s something entertaining enough about them to keep me hooked. But in the end, I’m still left with questions. Is being a bitch or being catty the only way women will be successful on television? Is not getting along with each other the only way a group of women can make a splash in reality TV world? Am I missing something?
Maybe a television show about people getting along is boring. I guess we all like conflict in some way. I guess that makes for more interesting stories. But it is necessary for me to evaluate my viewing choices every once in awhile. And perhaps the most important thing to do when watching these shows is to take them with a grain of salt.
*Please note that reality television is in fact not reality.