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Real Housewives: The Business of Discrediting Women

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Okay, I'll admit before last week I had never watched a single episode of the Real Housewives of any place. I knew that Anderson Cooper had affection for the Real Housewives of Atlanta and Jimmy Fallon does a spoof of the series on his show, but beyond that I had only seen snippets on entertainment shows I was passing on the channel surf. For the past week, I have done my research and well, I can confirm mean girls are not going out of style anytime soon in America.

These are not the shows you want to watch with, or even within earshot of, a husband, boyfriend, or even male acquaintance. These broads call female credibility into question and will provide good authority that any disagreement you may have with your partner in and around your cycle, is the fault of estrogen. The 'mone madness you see displayed on these shows make the UFC look like a sewing circle.

One would think we'd gotten beyond televised catfights. For a while it seemed the catfights of Dynasty and Melrose Place no longer did it for female audiences. Women just look better when we are supporting one another as opposed to the contorted faces we make when clawing one another's eyes out. Case in point, last month Sex and the City 2 opened to droves of fans who most likely appreciate female solidarity. It was great to see the ladies again. While the lifestyles of Carrie & Co. may be out of touch with most women, the character's personalities are relatable and their inner life accessible. Even with the unmitigated materialism of SATC that can easily be dismissed as a running fashion show throughout the latest installment, the scripted world of Sex and the City feels far more authentic than the reality of Real Housewives.

Watching this season of Real Housewives of New York and then daring to watch remnants of other seasons for research, I am disheartened to see women creating brands and making a livelihood out of backbiting and berating one another. Really ladies, since when is duplicity a quality to aspire to?

I am particularly shocked by Bethenny Frankel, a woman with the temperament of a feral pit bull who Bravo recently rewarded with a spin-off television show for her exceptional skills at tearing people down. In her words, "it doesn't take Angela Landsbury" to discover that not only has Bethenny Frankel gnawed at the jugular of her cast mates on RHNY but she has also publicly disparaged her ex-husband; Martha Stewart, who gave her a spot on her first reality television show; Rachel Zoe who, apparently, hosts another show on Bravo; and Gwyneth Paltrow.

This is all good business for Bravo, which gives you some clue that it may not be empowered, even-keeled women filling the producers' chairs on this franchise. Rather, the people who create these shows may be the kind that have no concern whatsoever that children in America are growing up in a much harsher world these days where bullying and harassment has led to a spike in suicide amongst teenagers.

But we really can't blame Bravo for the prevalence of negativity in American society. I mean, there is a demand for programming that celebrates animosity and betrayal. Besides the fact that both Access Hollywood and Extra are also owned by NBC and regularly run spots on Bethenny to promote her show, Bravo isn't doing anything outrageous to get two million viewers to watch Real Housewives. The fact of the matter is many Americans, even some with deep religious convictions, love conflict. This is not surprising, considering even in Greece and Rome, the forbearers of democratic civilization, people enjoyed an evening of good killing at the coliseum.

We enjoy seeing the metamorphosis of Alex who went from a dignified adult woman to the Shannon Doherty Heather. We like to see Kelly pick fights with women she is no match for who in turn eat her alive. We like to see the Countess picking on everyone's manners, which isn't good manners, by the way; Jill Zarin mastering one-upmanship; and we like to see Ramona turn into a messy mean drunk. Above all, we love to see Bethenny Frankel slay her cast mates with one venomous comment after another.

Bethenny Frankel is at least funny, which masks the cruelty in some of her remarks. But make no mistake she is caustic, which for me makes the only spin-off I want to see concerning Bethenny Frankel one entitled, Bethenny Taking the High Road. Let's see a series where for forty days Bethenny Frankel doesn't disparage other people, where she diffuses conflict rather than stirring it up. Let's see her dealing with life without the crutch of cynicism and snarky commentary. Let's hear her running dialogue as a healthy-minded, grounded woman who celebrates other women rather than lying about other women's ages to make them look bad, or carping on someone's husband or haranguing someone at a fashion show or berating someone at the top of her lungs. Let's see a show where Bethenny shows self-restraint, where she deals with her issues of insecurity by not approaching life as if it's a competition against every woman that crosses her path and she doesn't blame everyone around her for being so miserable. Because, honestly, watching her needle her husband or sexually harass a male assistant is not the best example for young women or of women in general for that much.

It could be argued that Real Housewives is the antithesis of reality since these women are stirring up drama in their real lives to stay relevant for ratings to promote their business ventures. If that is true, there is more authenticity in a scripted show that is crafted by writers and acted out by professionals in honest betrayals of the human experience. Bottom line, these may be regular people but they are regular people who are doing anything for money. They are as about as honest as a prostitute who tells her John he is the best lover she ever had. It's a hustle and America is eating it up... for now.

It's not to say that women need to be accommodating to be likable or that we have to subjugate our integrity to get along or our strength to be vulnerable, even. Our relationships shouldn't come at the expense of our self-respect. And, there are some people you just shouldn't have in your life because they will work your last nerve. However, there is value in magnanimity. There is value in forgiveness. There is value in rising above. And those are values that should be promoted in these stressful times. There is latitude in determining how exactly those values manifest in your life, nobody's perfect and self-interest isn't a dirty hyphenate. But I am almost certain that an attempt at civility would result in a state of being that doesn't involve an adult temper tantrum every other day and does not present women as witches and harridans who have no control whatsoever over their emotions.