Women have got to get their acts together on “reality” TV. While cat fights and confrontation bring in the ratings, are women desperate to gain pop culture immortality, as a gender, perpetuating negative stereotypes for 15 minutes of fame? Even die hard fans of the Housewives franchise must have noticed the show devolving into mean girls and wannabees, a mentality that should dissipate after caps are tossed at high school graduations, if not eradicated altogether.
The Atlanta and New Jersey installments are, by far, the biggest offenders. During The Real Housewives of New Jersey’s season 1 finale, Teresa Giudice, goaded by ex-stripper and fellow housewife Danielle Staub, flipped a table and had to be restrained by her husband. This was the most violent outburst witnessed by viewers since the birth of the entire franchise. Bravo viewers were hooked. Just the promise of possible physical confrontation was the final piece of the puzzle. The entire season has solidified the stereotypes about tough Jersey girls who talk funny, dress badly and have outdated hair and outlandishly bad taste.
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Ever since, with the exception of the Giudices’ legal woes, all of Teresa Giudices’ storylines have focused on feuds with family members, who were more than likely brought on board for just that purpose. She overshadowed the story arcs of Caroline Manzo and Jacqueline Laurita, neither of whom are exactly shrinking violets. Surprisingly, despite Giudice’s very convincing posturing, it was Laurita’s daughter who drew first blood when she yank out one of Staub’s hair extensions. Otherwise, it’s only been the husbands who have come to physical blows.
Atlanta’s inaugural cast was, overall, a calm bunch, with the exception of verbal sparring between NeNe Leakes, Sheree Whitfield and Kim Zolciak. As time wore on, verbal threats evolved into physical altercations, if you consider trying to remove a woman’s wig as assault. The actual hands-on violence that occurred between Leakes and Zolciak during season two wasn’t aired, and the women had differing accounts on what exactly went down. It couldn’t have been too bad because both were camera ready the following day and still managed to patch up their friendship for another season.
When Zolciak departed the show early in season five, Bravo already had another polarizing figure on standby, Kenya Moore. In her short tenure, Moore has created a firestorm of controversy and has taken umbrage with every member of the cast over some issue. She singled out Porsha Stewart early, and the two have been at odds ever since.
Sensing they were onto something lucrative, Bravo made some changes. Snooze-worthy cast members like Christy Rice and Karent Sierra from The Real Housewives of Miami were replaced in favor of volatile Polish model Joanna Krupa and real life Barbie Lisa Hochstein.
The Real Housewives of New York are a volatile bunch, and the infusion of crazy-pants Aviva Drescher gives original cast mate Ramona Singer a run for her money. This Vassar educated attorney turned stay-at-home mom and the bulging-eyed bully are big on confrontation and aggressive behavior.
Just a few episodes into the current season, some hanger on half-heartedly made a threat to pop Heather Thomson. When the series regular called the woman out, the offender backed down quickly. It’s unlikely any of these ladies would ever resort to violence unless you count throwing a drink in someone’s face violent. Still, their incessant tongue lashings have resulted in verbal confrontations every episode thus far.
Just because nobody has come out swinging on the RHONY and The Real Housewives of Orange County, the lack of camaraderie between the women reinforces the idea that women are unable to maintain friendships or even behave cordially towards one another. New wives are likely to be the object of scorn, especially if they are younger, more attractive or more successful. This is illustrated time and time again by Vicki Gunvalson, Ramona Singer, and most recently, even by Sonja Morgan.
The onslaught of emotional outbursts that continue to bring these women fame and fortune sends the message that there isn’t much to be gained from self control. On a recent episode of Watch What Happens Live, Leakes admitted that someone like Moore, who brings the drama, is good for the show. She believes the best cast members are the ones who don’t hold back.
RHOA and RHONJ reunions have been tense from the beginning. During the Real Housewives of Atlanta season one epilogue, the previously mellow Lisa Hartwell threatened physical violence against Zolciak as did Leakes. Host Andy Cohen was pushed aside by an irate Giudice, who was determined to get with smackdown distance of Staub during the show’s season two reunion. Usually able to keep his ladies in control, with the aid of security and other cast members, one has to question if Cohen’s failure to prevent the assault on Moore was due to him genuinely underestimating Stewart’s propensity towards violence or an intentional oversight.
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Leakes, who had a front row seat to the fight, told Cohen she doesn’t condone violence. But, that Kenya kept “trying” Stewart. She also stated that you can’t violate someone repeatedly (particularly, invading their personal space) and not expect a reaction. The ex-beauty queen used obnoxious props and accused Stewart of being unfaithful to ex-husband Kordell Stewart. Moore also took endless jabs at Stewart’s lack of intelligence, true or not, the comments were demeaning.
While Moore may not be likable, it’s hard to argue with her take on the incident. She believes grown women should be able to control themselves and fight with their words. “We should all stick together when it comes to violence against women, whether it’s men on women or women on women. Violence against women, on any level, is worn,” Moore stated during part two of the reunion.
Bravo may change the players, but the game remains the same. Bravo’s once groundbreaking series has given birth to an entire genre of shows with a premise of sisterhood that are ironically misogynistic. This means upping the ante when it comes to retaining fans. All these women could benefit from twentysomething writer/producer and star of Girls Lena Dunham’s philosophy. She recently told Glamour , “We live in a society that wants to pit women against each other, and it’s our job to resist the tyranny of that.”
(Image courtesy of Bravo)