One thing that all the RHW (Real Housewives) shows have in common are women with incredibly strong personalities and material wealth. They are powerful. They are driven. They are rich. They are beautiful. They are evil at times. These women are either making the money for their household, or they are the women behind very successful men. Not the typical housewife - staying home to raise the children while their husbands are off breadwinning - these women all went from wives dependent on rich men, to being rich and independent. Is this reality, though? Are the RHW actually examples of successful women that we - people like me, watching these shows - should designate as their role models?
Undoubtedly the most successful characters of all the RHW casts, NeNe Leaks from Atlanta is a women who went from being a former-stripper turned kept-wife of her real estate investor husband Greg, to a larger-than-life, successful, powerful, independent, in-charge woman. She is someone who has seized every opportunity, from acting gigs to reality shows to book deals, and makes her own money now. She is often referred to in the media as an example of a woman who is doing everything right - she struggled, she fought, and she won at life. One of NeNe's quotes from an article about female empowerment said, "I sold a fantasy, not p***y. I felt powerful. I made a ton of money and I couldn't stop. I went and bought a brand new car, I was paying for my son's tuition. I thought of the men as an ATM machine." Are the RHW shows selling another fantasy - that women can be self-serving, selfish, narcissistic, ruthless, bad-mouthing bitches, and be successful too?
Not only is Nene a "bad girl" who has a sordid past, she is also the agitator of many situations on her RHW of Atlanta show. She fights with the other women, she insults them, she speaks poorly of them behind their backs, she mocks them, she belittles them, and she has no apologies for being selfish and denigrating. That, however, is part of why the show is so popular. And part of what I realized is a major problem for women who see these types of characters as role models. How likely is it that any real real housewife could act this way, and become successful? How likely is it that ANYONE could act this way, and become successful?
All of the RHW casts from each city, New Jersey to New York, Atlanta to Beverly Hills, feeding into the negative stereotypes people have about women - that they are catty, petty, brainless, materialistic, looks-obsessed - and the programs are so successful, that these behaviors are made to seem almost normal. These women are quite possibly the worst role-models that any normal woman could have. Imitating reality housewives would arguably be a recipe for disaster. If your daughter were to imitate a reality show character - Snooki or the Jersey Shore women, the RHW, any of the Bad Girls, a Kardashian - what would your reaction to your child be?
RHW are women that may be viewed for the "I can't believe some people are this awful" factor, but if we want to teach young girls (or even old girls like me) how to act, we might use role models like Beyonce or Jennifer Hudson. What's the difference between a Vanderpump or a Leaks, and a Knowles or a Hudson? One set of women are impossible to work with, and the other set seem like genuinely nice women. If there is one thing women need to be taught about success, it's that being assertive and nice or kind to the people you work with will help you achieve, and being assertive and catty or petty will stifle your career. Think of the success of Ellen, the quirky and fun talk show host who dances with her audience, and Kris Jenner, the Kardashian mom who is shallow, materialistic, and selling her children. Who's show is still on the air?
It may be true that the old adage "Garbage in, garbage out" is not just something my mother chided me with while growing up (I think she used to say that about MTV...). If you put reality shows into your brain, how likely is it for success to come out? If you view Lisa Vanderpump and NeNe Leaks for entertainment, how likely are you to end up uber wealthy and happy? Maybe there is a reason women on reality shows are always fighting or crying? Tonight, I'll read Sheryl Sandburg's book "Lean In" and try to keep the garbage out.