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The Real Housewives: good or bad for feminism?

By Tia Ranftl

For over a decade, the “Real Housewives” has provided the world with pure quality entertainment. From the vicious arguments, wine throwing, wielding of prosthetic limbs as weapons and walking out at reunions, this spectacular show has made many viewers hysterically cry and wheeze in front of the TV.

Now inevitably there will be critics. Many people out there will maintain that reality TV is “rubbish” and unbearable to watch, and while it may not be the most intellectually stimulating, there is no reason to be ashamed of your entertainment preferences. Don’t be fooled, because as an avid reality TV watcher myself, I can confirm that there are worthwhile lessons to be learned from this show.

If you don’t trust me, listen to the former First Lady of the United States. In 2012 Michelle Obama was asked to name her favourite reality show, to which she candidly replied, “I do love a little Real Housewives every now and again.”

Once deemed one of TV’s trashiest shows, the Real Housewives franchise had found a new feminist following. Since the series premiered in 2006, viewers have quite frankly become obsessed with following the daily dramas and hardships of these wealthy white women living in New York City penthouses and Californian gated communities. Due to considerable success over the years the franchise has expanded, now including over 10 instalments.

“The Real Housewives franchise is built on an unholy marriage of city stereotypes and money, and that’s why we watch it,” says Australian writer Amy Gray.

Although, despite its immense popularity and cult following, the show has received significant criticism. The “Housewives” franchise has been characterised by many as ‘pretentious women viciously attacking each other over such trivial matters’, whilst being frequently slammed for its promotion of capitalist values and social stereotypes through reinforcing hierarchical gender and class distinctions. Even feminist leader Gloria Steinem shared her dislike of Real Housewives for “presenting women as rich, pampered, dependent and hateful towards each other,” and compared watching the show to “watching a train wreck.”

Though the show does contain a lot of drama and conflict, the opposing perspective argues that the Real Housewives franchise empowers women to be their true and authentic selves. American writer and feminist Roxane Gay disagrees with Steinem, “we see the mess, we see their amazing friendships and everything in between,” Gay said. “When women are allowed to be their fullest selves, that’s the most feminist thing we can do.”

Indeed, she has a point. The “Housewives” are genuinely staying true to their character, bad behaviour and all. Now, this does not necessarily mean we all should aspire to be on the next season of the Real Housewives of Sydney, but it does reiterate the important message of the freedom to be ourselves. However, despite the name “Real” Housewives, there is still an air of uncertainty regarding whether the “Housewives” truly act this way, or if it is an exaggerated on-camera persona. If it is, they are quite convincing.

Ultimately, what is certain is that there is an urgent need for more programming and media that celebrates strong female unity, and although the “Housewives” might quarrel now and again, there are underrated moments of true friendship, sisterhood and solidarity. Therefore, no longer do you have to conceal that you spent your entire weekend watching reruns. Proudly proclaim your allegiance to the Real Housewives!


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