Reality TV and the Shaming of Women Who Love It

It’s a normal Monday. We go around, recounting our weekends, which for me, includes a detailed analysis of the season two dynamics in Vanderpump Rules, and how on Earth Jax Taylor is still allowed out in public. (He’s a public safety hazard, and he should be quarantined, but this is a subject for another essay.) And then it begins: “Ugh, how can you watch that mindless shit?” “Do you ever watch real TV?” “You know there’s scripted television, right?” Avoiding the sarcastic, get-me-fired response of “What?! Scripted TV you say? Tell me more of this magical scripted TV,” I simply fall quiet. The reality (pun hella intended) of this kind of shaming is, like so many things, deeply rooted in misogyny.

When a man asks “How can you watch that crap?”, my natural inclination is to respond, “how can you watch a bunch of bros throw an Arnold’s-head-shaped ball down a field while purposefully ramming their bodies into each other?” Men have a variety of comebacks to this. But the reality of why football is acceptable as entertainment and reality TV is not, is that it is curated by and for cis-hetero men. The world is curated by and for cis-hetero men.

Our careers, our safety, what news we receive and how we receive it is all often determined by men. And while this has been the case for centuries, this feels especially weighing as of late. I, along with the rest of the world, watched as Dr. Christine Blasey Ford told her story of assault at the hands of a man who would go on to be confirmed as a Justice on the Supreme Court of the United States. The way we heard this news was decided by men. Men ultimately decided to put Kavanaugh on the bench. I imagine the discussion in many workplaces regarding this event was led and dominated by men. It certainly was in mine. For women, the weight of the world often feels too great to bear, and yet we continue to bear it in order to survive. Three domestic terrorist attacks in the past month, all perpetrated by men, reported on by men, the fates of these terrorists in the hands of men. There is no escaping the ever-present power of misogyny.

How dare men feel entitled to comment on how we find air in this world? Men are not allowed a say in how we breathe. Men are not allowed to demean or diminish how we escape. Reality TV is escapism. Much needed, often hilarious escapism. It is also a genre often telling the stories (whether “real” or not) of women. As Her Highness Roxane Gay said on Bitch Sesh: A Real Housewives Breakdown Podcast, “It’s one of the few genres where women can be open and loud and messy and are rewarded for it. When normally, women are supposed to be dainty and polite and demure.”

Reality TV is not a sexism-free beacon of hope. It, like everything in this oft exhausting world, contains multitudes, many of which are deeply problematic. Despite how carefully their personas are curated, characters on reality TV often come off as racist, homophobic, fat-phobic and even sexist themselves. On Real Housewives of New York, Luann showed up to a party in blackface. Shannon Beador’s weight gain was treated akin to the death of a child, and her Real Housewives of Orange County co-stars used it to diminish her every chance they got. Gay men are often treated as tokens or party favors and straight men call each other “gay” to end any fight. I won’t even touch on the racist, sexist and heteronormative depths of The Bachelor franchise.

Reality TV is not perfect. But men’s insistence to demean it as worthless is an attempt to control every aspect of women’s lives, even down to the entertainment we consume. Men are so afraid, consciously or unconsciously, of losing the power they have dangerously wielded for so long that they subtly criticize our TV choices in an attempt to hold on to their ever-waning control. However you find a way to breathe in this ever-exhausting world, men have no right to take it from you. So as an act of pure defiance, I will now return to my 90 Day Fiancé: Before the 90 Days marathon.