This past Sunday, Bravo premiered its latest addition to its series of female-led cat-fight-prone reality shows, Princesses: Long Island. As a 26-year-old woman from Long Island who is currently living with her parents, this one hit a little too close to home.
Unlike the Real Housewives, who, however delusional, often pride themselves on being business women, excellent mothers, or exceptionally charitable, the story of these Princesses is more of a “cautionary tale about spoiled millennials” who are “pleased with themselves for living the high life off mom and dad.” Rather than glamorize their wealth and lack of ambition, apart from their hopes of marrying a NJB (Nice Jewish Boy), the show is largely implying that their lives are “stunted.” While I couldn’t agree more and happen to be personally offended by their betrayal of my home, I can’t help but feel slightly sorry for these girls.
Sure, the housewives are laughable in their own ways but for the most part they agreed to have their lives play out on TV as already established, successful women, with homes, husbands, and children whereas these girls , despite being in their late 20s, largely still do not have a clue. If it weren’t for their parents’ or future husbands’ money to fall back on would these girls have any shot at building their own careers outside of trying to stretch their fame as far as possible? Do they realize that their catty, immature, and even ignorant behavior will likely have a negative impact on their lives far longer than their show remains on the air?
While we all take the “real” in reality TV with more than a grain of salt, the artificial drama created on these shows, while no doubt increases ratings, has proven time and time again to spill over into the actual lives of these predominately female Bravolebrities. As the targets for these shows start to get younger and more targeted, is Bravo perpetuating stereotypes and creating new ones so much so that it is actually bad for women? And if so, why oh why are so many of us so obsessed with these shows?
It must be noted that while being on a Bravo show has undoubtedly brought a lot of drama to the lives of its leading ladies it has also brought momentous success to a handful. Most notably, Bethenny Frankel, who launched and later sold her own business of Skinnygirl Cocktails for reportedly over $100 million, has written 4 books, and starred in two Bravo spin-off shows Bethenny Getting Married and Bethenny Ever After, and now hosts her own talk show. Beyond her genius idea, her success is due in large part to her massive fan base. She won so many of us over with her down to earth demeanor, her humor, and the fact that she was more interested in building her career and her family than she was in fighting with her cast-mates. And while she lost a best friend and later her husband in the process, ultimately it launched her incredibly successful career and we as her fans still root for her.
Bethenny isn’t the only one to launch a career based on Housewife fame. Atlanta’s Nene Leakes landed a spot on the now cancelled NBC show the New Normal, Orange County’s Gretchen Rossi started her own makeup line, Gretchen Christine, and fourteen of the housewives have written books, several of which have made their way onto the New York Times best sellers list. For better or worse, these ladies are making bank and for many of them hitting rough financial times these opportunities have allowed them to support their families. Apart from the Housewives, Bravo has also highlighted some highly successful women on their own shows including Tabatha Takes Over, Patti Stanger’s Millionaire Matchmaker, Kelly Cutrone’s Kell on Earth, and the Rachel Zoe Project. Say what you will about them each but Bravo gave them a platform to display their unique skill sets and build upon their pre-existing success.
Many of us justify watching these shows simply as a guilty pleasure - a completely mindless exercise that we like to indulge in after a long day of work that at the end of the day just makes us laugh. Sometimes there is nothing quite like a Lisa Vanderpump quip or a Kelly Bensimon incomprehensible statement to brighten your day. We love them because they are ridiculous and a lot of times it is ridiculously funny.
The musical endeavors of the handful of housewives who have dared attempt it is perhaps my personal favorite. You have not lived until you have danced in a gay club to a live performance of the Countess’s Chic C’est La Vie, I would know. The funny, cringe-worthy, and embarrassing moments of each show are what make them endlessly entertaining to watch. They are the moments that remind you that it’s just a bad TV show, like so many others, meant solely to entertain you. It’s these moments that can make forgetting about the larger picture so tempting.
And then there are the moments that remind you that too many of these women are absolute train-wrecks, so much so that we can’t manage to take our eyes off of them.
Married to Medicine, a new hit Bravo show that features mostly black doctors’ wives and doctors has received a lot of criticism for its portrayal of African American women and doctors. Before the show even premiered, medical students from Howard University launched a petition calling for it to be taken off the air on the grounds that it “heavily associates black females in medicine with materialism, 'cat fights,' and unprofessionalism.” As fewer than 4% of practicing doctors in the U.S. are black and as of 2010 less than 2% are black and female, these students worry that negative portrayals of black female doctors will hurt their chances of being accepted into competitive residencies. Regardless the show aired and has become the most successful non-spin off show on Bravo.
While the two women fighting above are not doctors, the doctors’ association with this show and the potentially negative impact it could have on female students seeking a career in medicine is a legitimate fear. When a seemingly harmless reality show can affect the lives of real women in such a tangible way have we not gone too far?
We all know these shows have had a negative impact on the lives of many of the women who chose to star on them. Friends have become enemies, the divorce rate of the Real Housewives is double the national average, several have filed for bankruptcy, family feuds have been established, and domestic violence, alcoholism, and suicide have all been dealt with publicly and not exactly tactfully.
As Bravo starts to target younger and more specific subcultures of girls and women will the effect on us become stronger or more clear? Will it have a 16 and Pregnant effect where young impressionable girls seeking fame frame themselves to be a part of whatever subculture we deem worthy of the next show just in order to get a piece of the action? When the success of younger less established girls falls apart, like on last year’s Gallery Girls, will they have the ability to support themselves, financially and otherwise? Have the perceptions of certain subcultures of women created by these shows traveled into the real world so much so that even the worst show to hit the network could potentially have a negative impact on me? As I live at home on Long Island in order to re-pay my monstrous graduate student loans while I desperately try to find a job that will advance my career, will future employers simply write me off as just another privileged, lazy, Long Island Princess?
The idea of the Real Housewives had the potential to create a positive portrayal of powerful independent and successful women and mothers trying to balance their careers with their families while supporting each other in the process. But we ended up with a series of shows that display adult women reverting to the cattiness and immaturity of high school.
So to answer my own question: Is Bravo bad for women? Kinda, but it hasn’t stopped us from watching ... yet. I don’t think any of us watch reality TV looking for role models, or at least I hope not, but it would be nice if we could guarantee in the future that the caricatures depicted by Bravo don’t have the potential to negatively affect the real lives of who they claim to portray. Or at least give us more shows about women doing anything other than fighting and tearing each other down. As Hillary Clinton suggests, give us Project Pantsuit!