True story: I go to Saturday yoga and the woman next to me starts chatting me up before class. Somehow she gets onto gurus and we have a chuckle about people electing themselves as gurus -- a subject I touch on from a comedic angle in my forthcoming novel, Blockbuster. At any rate, somehow my new yoga acquaintance and I get onto self-help. This woman is a huge fan of Bethenny from Bravo TV. I tell her I wrote a blog about the Real Housewives of New York last year for The Huffington Post and she insists I watch Bethenny's new show. So I DVR the show, sit down and watch most of them.
I return to class the following week and the woman is there again. I tell her I watched the show and found it entertaining for the most part. She seems pretty pleased with herself that she has converted another fan for her idol's team... until I start to question a few things.
Bethenny calls her father-in-law an idiot on Thanksgiving because she didn't notice the turkey wasn't cooking then she goes to therapy and blames the tantrum on her childhood, I point out.
To this my newfound yoga buddy replies, and I swear to heaven this is the truth, she says, Well, I've called my son an idiot when I've gotten frustrated.
I don't conceal my disapproval. The woman has to be about 40.
We all make mistakes, she continues. And we all choose our path. We all said yes to our lives before we got here. My son said yes to a life with me as his mother.
I admit I had to count it down. I go silent rather abruptly. Luckily, the class starts and we get into our individual practice and I preoccupy my mind with all the things I have going on and nothingness to balance it all out. After class we're rolling up our mats, getting ready to leave and she continues her justification. I stop her.
Yes, I live in LA. Yes, I do yoga. I like to hike. I give to PBS. But when you start spouting some hippy-dippy faux Nietzsche quasi-existential bull as a justification for verbal abuse of your children, I'm going to have to shut you down. We are grown women and while the women exalted on television may present childish behavior as perfectly acceptable, I live in the real world where most men think women who cry all the time and lash out are crazy shrews (by another name), and verbal abuse of children has detrimental consequences.
For centuries, in some cultures, being a grown woman didn't mean much. Women were little more than children, confined to never-ending youth. They didn't take care of themselves financially. There was no need for intellectual development. Women were a form of chattel who tended to their kids like dolls without the ability to provide much direction or purpose -- after all, how could they provide guidance for a world they themselves were excluded from? In some cultures and socio-economic classes it is perfectly acceptable for women to act like children and plenty of men appreciate this behavior. But, we live in the new world where more than any time in history women are living on their own, and the economy requires both parents to work outside the home. Women and men today stand shoulder to shoulder in the professional world. Hence, women must be grownups who are accountable for their behavior.
As an adult you should never call someone an idiot out loud, least of all your kid or your doting father-in-law. In the real world constantly assailing the people around you will have very grave consequences. As someone who has experience with verbal abuse, I assure you it's not harmless. It's actually quite time-consuming and expensive to undo. It puts your kids at a disadvantage. There is no shortage of people in this world poised to tell us we are worthless. The last thing any child needs is to be convinced of that from the one person who is supposed to love them unconditionally.
Tantrum behavior should be parented out of children. There is no excuse for it in adults. Any therapist that tells you that you are not responsible for bad behavior because you had a terrible childhood is not a good therapist. Any pseudo-spiritual philosophy that suggests solipsism is more valuable than altruism is really not a sound spiritual philosophy. Women have been liberated long enough to be held accountable for their actions. No one gets a pass. Who hasn't had a crappy childhood? I consider mine to have been blessed compared to some of the horror stories I've heard and read about. Are these fans of reality even aware of the anguish children are growing up in around the world? I'm guessing not so much. Let's be real, if many of these mothers were as concerned about the dismal state of the public schools their kids attend everyday as they are about the feuds on the Real Housewives, the education problem in this country would be fixed.
I hate to sound like a Victorian, and Lord knows Bethenny has made more money in the past year than I will probably ever make in my life, but if my yoga buddy is any indication, it's starting to look like the fans of the Real Housewives are finding in these dysfunctional role models a justification for destructive behavior. It could be that Bravo is holding up a mirror to the female population to encourage us to change some long-standing habits. Unfortunately, the die-hard fans may not be picking up on the message.
These shows are replacing soap operas. Conventionalizing maladjusted behavior may be good for ratings but the downside is the impact it has on the rest of us who have to endure the verbal abuse from a parent or derisive remarks from a girlfriend or bullying at school or the office. Ultimately though, it's the women and teenagers watching that are responsible for their behavior. They have to distinguish what is productive and healthy to take away from these shows and what is just entertainment. They also have to question what it is exactly they are being entertained by.
As for the shows themselves, I admire Nene's strength but the raging is not good stuff. Just ask 14 year old Teonna Brown who has just been indicted on a hate crime what handing out beatdowns will get you. I admire Bethenny for her business acumen but the constant name-calling and character assassination are not qualities to emulate. I'm afraid to watch The Real Housewives of New Jersey from what I saw of a promo. Unless you've just heard someone has died there's no need to turn over a table at a restaurant. Of course, there are more to these women than the callow teenage antics displayed weekly on these shows. However, it's time they get mindful of what they are selling to the world and to whom they're selling it.
Vanessa Carmichael's debut novel Blockbuster will be released this summer. Blockbuster is a fictional tale of life behind-the-scenes of Hollywood, where the treacherous business of show business meets the rarefied world of celebrity.