[Op Ed] Reality TV may Damage Our Girls’ Future
Reality TV is redefining what it means to be a woman...and it isn't pretty
The views expressed in this Op-Ed do not reflect that of Loop 21.
Basketball Wives and Love and Hip-Hop are VH1’s highest-ranking shows. Every week, a group of women -- who are somehow associated with basketball players or rappers and ironically oftentimes not their wives -- discuss love, careers and failed relationships. Without fail, each episode involves a train wreck that can be hard to turn away from. But there’s also something else in these shows that I believe is providing far more than just entertainment: it is loosening the parameter of acceptable behavior for women in the eyes of young girls.
Fighting on reality television and the ratings game is par for the course. And while I’m certain that these woman are under the control of the network to a degree, I’m still waiting for someone, whether a network executive or onscreen character, to say, “No. Ladies, this is enough. Young women are watching this. We have power.”
They have power because entertainment has power. It’s the same vehicle that is keeping many people quiet while our government bickers, unemployment fluctuates, and human contact is replaced by text messaging and Facebook. We watch characters on our screens create illogical situations for themselves, then magically scramble their way out. It’s a voyeuristic escape to a world that we could never afford. It’s also a risky world, riddled with non-accountability, irascible personalities and lots of punches to the face. I often wonder what these women tell their daughters. “Mommy lost her cool on television. Yes, millions of people watched, but you must understand, when someone threatens you, throwing wine in their face, punching them, and issuing an oozie of curse words is sometimes your only option. Now, go and do your homework, sweetie.”
In a society where even educated women make 20% less than men, it’s crucial that we equip our daughters with more than catty comebacks. There are far-reaching consequences for actions in real life that reality television ignores. What are we teaching our girls when sex tapes and fighting brings fame and money? The average young woman will not have their intimate moments lead to fame and riches like Kim Kardashian. Instead, she will be labeled a whore, ostracized from her peers and fired from her job. She’ll face obstacles that require more than just looks and connections. She’ll be challenged to use her mind, to create a path of opportunity for herself, and to do this in a calm and mature manner. Throwing a drink in someone’s face when they say something she doesn’t like won’t be an option.
I mentor teenage girls in Manhattan. One day during a group session, I overheard a group discuss a Real Housewives episode. “Did you see how she smacked that b**ch?!?” one girl exclaimed. “She deserved it! She talks too damn much!” My heart sunk. I wanted to believe that these young women shuddered the same way I did whenever I witnessed grown women lash out at each other. I wanted them to understand that “talking too much” does not automatically warrant a smack in the face. But in their eyes, these actions were admirable, understood and even applauded.
Growing up, I wasn’t exposed to these types of women on TV. Characters like Rosanne Barr and Claire Huxtable relied on words and wit to make their point .They were strong-headed women, imperfectly perfect in relaying a message, meaning it and garnering their own self-respect in the process. I wanted to be like Claire Huxtable, not because she had a successful career and was a great mother and wife, but because she was eloquent and logical in expressing her emotions, even when she was wrong. And even when she did lose her cool, she was still cool to watch, because her fiery spirit did not require violence or disparaging words. Claire Huxtable could silence you with just a simple glance. She demanded respect, because she gave respect.
Human beings have the right to defend themselves. But every human being also has the right to exercise their minds instead of their fists, and we should remind easily impressionable young people of this truth, whenever we can. I recently called my mentee and to congratulate her on completing her college essay. “You convinced me with words why you’re deserving of that scholarship. You should be very proud of yourself,” I said. She was humbled by the compliment. “I am finding my voice,” she replied. A simple, yet poignant statement. Perhaps the closer we are to finding our own voice, the more likely we’ll be to respecting others’. In turn, we can raise a generation of women who use their voices to shake the foundations of this world for good, instead of their fists.
If we cannot change what’s on TV, let’s change the conversation in our homes, schools and even circle of friends. Because young people are listening, they are watching and they are imitating much of what they say and hear. So I ask you: What are you saying and showing them?
Kristin Braswell is a writer and cook. Her writing portfolio includes food articles, travel reviews, film critiques and political analysis. She is especially passionate about education, race and gender equality, as well as the promotion of healthy living and relationships. Follow her on Twitter @brooklynwriter1
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