As a working mother who lives in the Washington-metro area,
I admit that I’m dreading Bravo’s new program The Real Housewives of D.C. (begins 8/05). I took some comfort in the Washington
Post’s scathing advance review of it:
Every word of the title is wrong, except “the” and “of.”
Real: What can that even mean anymore?
Housewives: Remember when that bordered on slur? The surgically taut eyes of certain Real Housewives must ache from wink-winking every time Bravo has them say the name of the show.
D.C.: Always the artificial
no place . . .
What woman in her right mind would submit to this charade?
Bravo’s botox-injected shouting match that makes women look
like idiots is coming to my town.
In their defense, Bravo insists that the D.C. series will have more
intellectual and political content, being socially relevant. But I doubt it.
Bravo, which used to toy with cultural irony regarding materialism now
cloys us with “real” Lindsey Lohans (sans the talent) and slightly better
educated Snookies as a way to up the ratings.
I’m no snob when it comes to reality TV. I love Top Chef (also
Bravo) and confess to have sobbed more than a few times while watching The
Biggest Loser–both of which actually have some moral content. What is the point of the Real Housewives? Is this pure escapism? Is it an alternative reality for
recession-weary women? A mirror
into middle-class aspirations? What
women secretly wish to be?
Whatever it is intended to be (my tween daughter says that
it is only supposed to be “funny”), the main problem with the Real Housewives
franchise is that it depicts women using stereotypes in a way to entertain
that, if inflicted on any racial or ethnic group, would give rise to legal
action, boycotts, and public outcry.
It pictures women as grown-up mean girls, the sort everyone hated in
high school and who have now parleyed their cruel social climbing to the bigger
stages of New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and D.C. The shows denigrate women by implying that they get ahead by
being materialistic gossips and marrying the right men. Even the criticism lends itself to demeaning
women. Example? The mostly-liberal Washington Post
likens the word “housewife” to a “slur” and asks what woman would “submit” to
Excuse me, both Bravo and WaPo, but “housewife” is neither
glam-reality nor a slur especially in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. And women here are not the submissive
type. Washington women toil at raising
their children, work at home and in offices, run businesses and the federal
government, volunteer at non-profits and serve in religious communities. The real women of D.C. spend their time
caring for others, nurturing the next generation, and trying to make the world
a better place. We sit in traffic
jams and on corporate boards. We
are creative, energetic, busy, and often overwhelmed. And, for what it is worth, we are too invested in working hard and doing good
too spend even an hour watching a show that does not come close to the reality
of our lives.
When I think of my D.C. housewife friends and neighbors (who
are politically and theologically liberal and conservative; who are Christians,
Jews, Muslims, and secularists), I do not think of some faux-Hollywood
glamour. Instead, they bring to
mind the description of the good wife of Proverbs 31. Although this passage is sometimes hijacked by conservative Christians, it is a surprisingly apt description of contemporary women–and most especially, religious feminists. In the words of the writer of Proverbs, the “capable” wife “works with willing
hands” and “rises while it is still night and provides food for her
household.” She is savvy, charitable, just, creative, strong,
and dignified; and she “opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is
on her tongue.” She “looks well to
the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness.”
The Real Housewives of Proverbs 31? It would be closer to reality
than any of the Bravo celebri-wives, who make a mockery of the ancient wise
words “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord
is to be praised.” Could that be
the actual point Bravo is trying to make?
Maybe. But I suspect not.