TV Talk: Real Housewives of…Everywhere

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If you follow me on Twitter (come on, I know you want to) you’ve been subjected to my barrage of Real Housewives tweets. Real Housewives of Orange County (RHOC); Real Housewives of New York (RHONY) and Real Housewives of Melbourne (RHOMelbourne) are currently on rotation. Real Housewives of Beverly Hills joins in when there are new episodes.

Recently, someone I follow (I can’t find the tweet or I’d post it, so if it was you, please let me know so I can edit this and add it) asked what I thought was a really good question: Why do women watch the Real Housewives when it depicts women so poorly?

I definitely didn’t have an immediate answer. As a feminist, it made me stop and wonder at myself. What am I getting out of these shows?

More than you’d think. And a lot of that stems from the audience watching with me.

First, though, I think it’s pretty clear that the Housewives, as a whole, don’t represent women, let alone all women. They live in a world of fantasy and casual inch-thick makeup, where real is a word that always has implied quotes.

They’re pushed together under artificial circumstances for which they’re perpetually overdressed, where glances from amused, regular guests shatter any illusion of normalcy. I’ve yet to meet someone who knows someone like a “Real” Housewife in real life. They have a job, and they do it.

There’s a reason they feel so familiar from franchise to franchise. They are meant to entertain, and they do.

Which brings me to the best part of these shows. The audience.

While the Housewives can embody the worst stereotypes about women, together we get to dismantle them in delicious, technicolor snark. Take Countess Luann, for example, who, like quick-dry crazy glue, stuck to a man who’d “dated” several of her friends, even after seeing photographic proof of him kissing another woman after their engagement.

Who does she blame? The woman who told her — who cultivates her own nest of mean girl stereotypes — and the “clutches” of the woman he kissed. Not the rather aptly-named “Tom,” who left her after an evening together to meet this other woman.

Yep.

But the beauty of it? The number of viewers, men and women alike, pointing out the ridiculousness of that route to denial. It’s the opportunity, publicly, to smash that idea of convenience that it’s man-grabbing women, and not wandering men, who deserve the scorn.

Is now a good time to mention that Luann and Tom were on dates with other people when they met? Hmm. Moving on.

And then there’s the flip side to the show, the opportunity for women who are eternally the objects of other people’s gossip to show their genuine selves, like RHOMelbourne’s Gamble Breaux (Wolfe). A woman who enjoys gilding herself in full high-glamour glitz and married to a much older man, Gamble’s been a target of all of the possible permutations of rumors.

And she’s shed them with grace and humor. She seems to be a what-you-see-is-what-you-get person, faithfully interacting on Twitter week-to-week without any negativity toward her costars. Rather than reinforcing stereotypes, she crushes ideas we might have had about “someone like her.”

Is Real Housewives harmful to the perception of women? I doubt it, frankly. I think the depictions of women as window-dressing and little more than accessories is far worse. With the Housewives, the women are entire people, some good, some kinda unbearable. But people.

And that’s all feminism is about at its most fundamental level. Women being seen and treated as people.

Check out  my full-length novels,  Her Cousin Much Removed,  The Great Paradox and the Innies and Outies of Time Management and Aunty Ida’s Full-Service Mental Institution (by Invitation Only), and the sequel, Aunty Ida’s Holey Amazing Sleeping Preparation (Not Doctor Recommended) which is now available!

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‘Real Housewives of Melbourne’ Back to Beginnings

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There is a certain magic to the first season of a Real Housewives show. And when I say “first,” I don’t mean a franchise, but rather the first one ever to grace the airwaves. Here in the U.S., it was “Real Housewives of Orange County.” In that first season, the women had no idea what the show would look like, how they would come off, how others would react to what they said. There was a certain almost innocence to it, as the cast said things that they thought would be amusing without a single consideration of the after effects.

Of course those days are long gone.

Unless you manage to catch the first season of the “Real Housewives of Melbourne,” that is. It. Was. Fantastic.

As the first Housewives franchise in Australia, it’s pretty clear these women had little idea what to expect. Unlike new Housewives here, they probably didn’t have the ability to talk to veterans beforehand, not the way the women can now. It was like watching the wheel be invented all over again.

Glorious.

What is so wonderful and so fleeting is the chance to watch self-awareness bloom. Not through the regular season, of course, since at that time, they’re still living it, and it’s amazing to watch. When you get to the reunion, you can see the beginnings of the transformation, because by then, these women have had an entire season to see what the rest of the world sees.

And there goes the innocence. Yes, by season 2, much weight has been lost, makeup notched up, and the uniform-issued false eyelashes applied. More structured facades have been built, with hearty patches over the bits that shone too raw the first go around.

They are entertainers, set to entertain. “Being themselves” is no longer the goal. Nope, now it’s the “storylines” and the screen time. Now they are famous people who feel they’ve earned their fame.

Granted, the more experienced Housewives here still have their moments, those cracks in the armor, the times when, in trying to be clever, they expose a part of themselves that they’d rather hide. But it’s not the same show as it was when they were all just giddy with the idea of being themselves on TV.

Now, for example, the “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” is packed to the maximum FDA-approved Botox dose with professional actors. Not just aspiring actors. Professional ones. It’s impossible to know if Lisa Rinna’s lunging, wine-throwing, glass-shattering outburst in defense of her husband Harry Hamlin was emotion or great use of her soap opera days.

She was the iconic incarnation of Billie on “Days of Our Lives,” after all. RHOBH Cast-mate Eileen Davidson won an Emmy for her soap opera efforts. We already know there’s not a ton of reality in reality television, how do we know we haven’t shifted to scripted drama?

Does it matter? Well, yes and no. Until RHOM came along, I was still entertained, but had forgotten completely what drew me to the Housewives in the first place. It’s a reality TV version of the garden of Eden, before the apple of knowledge, a disappearing moment before the cast sees themselves as the world sees them and the gaming begins.

Check out  my full-length novels,  Her Cousin Much Removed,  The Great Paradox and the Innies and Outies of Time Management and Aunty Ida’s Full-Service Mental Institution (by Invitation Only), and the sequel, Aunty Ida’s Holey Amazing Sleeping Preparation (Not Doctor Recommended) which is now available!

Sign up for my spamless newsletter. And download Better Living Through GRAVY and Other Oddities, it’s free!