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Dr. Boyce Watkins Headshot

Reality TV's Role in the Creation of Young Female Bullies

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I find myself consistently fascinated at how angry and ugly women can be on Vh-1 reality shows. Rather than attempting to understand the inner beauty that makes a human being lovable, too many seem to think that attraction comes down to long hair, a short dress and a shapely backside.

The women on these reality shows actually scare me. They seem determined to remain consistently angry at someone about something. There is almost nothing that would make me proud to have them as daughters, sisters or mothers in my own family. The idea that these women are serving as role models for an entire generation of young women is sad, sick and disturbing.

"Unfortunately I do think that reality TV has spawned a whole culture of bullying," Phaedra Parks told the Associated Press. "I believe that the behavior you see on reality TV does not exactly exemplify how adults should be conducting themselves."

Many reality TV shows, most specifically Real Housewives and Basketball Wives, are being accused of the promotion of bullying among young girls who are still learning how to resolve their disputes with one another. Young women may find it fashionable and powerful to engage in consistent outbursts of anger, intimidation and name-calling in order to achieve dominance, rather than attempting to make peace and support one another.

Kandi Burress of the Real Housewives of Atlanta does not agree with my assessment.

"A lot of people try to find reasons or ways to blame people or situations for their grief or sadness," Burruss said. "Personally, I think reality TV is a mimic of what's happening in real life, not the other way around. People have always had arguments, and there's always been cliques."

Even though reality television didn't invent bullying, it certainly glorified, elevated, and mass marketed the concept. I was once forced by a woman I dated to watch shows like Basketball Wives every night (the things we do for love). I figured that watching the show might be good research for the things I write about, so I agreed. I admit that I spent much of my time in awe, wondering how women could be so treacherous toward one another.

As I observed  the show, I noticed that exactly 100% of the promotional segments featured some kind of confrontation: In every case, someone was being physically attacked, verbally assaulted, double crossed or gossiped into the ground. The women seemed to form glamor mafia factions against one another, always planning their next invasion. I can't imagine the stress of living under that kind of pressure.

Terrie Williams, author of Black Pain, once made a profound statement to me: "Hurt people, tend to hurt people," she said. So, when I think about the women on Basketball Wives, I wonder what kind of pain they've experienced to make them so determined to mutilate the soul of another human being. When you consider how many women of color have had their hearts broken by the first man in their life (daddy), it puts this rampant emotional violation into context.

When I see shows like Basketball Wives, I think about my own daughters and behavior I'd seen from them when they were at their worst. When one makes the connection, you can't help but see the direct impact that these shows can have on impressionable young minds. It seems ironic that at the highest levels of government, we are seeking to bring bullying to an end (even criminalizing it), yet on television, we are actually encouraging it.

Since sex and violence always sell, there's no point in expecting these shows to go off the air. But perhaps we can turn the television off when our kids are watching this kind of stuff, and talk to one another about being loving and supporting, rather than trying to find someone to smack upside the head. It's damn stressful to be angry all the time, and there's nothing appealing about an 'ignant' woman always looking for a fight.

We have GOT to do better.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Professor at Syracuse University and founder of the Your Black World Coalition.  To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.