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I watched me yet more reality TV this weekend. Last weekend I was avoiding things, or relaxing, whichev. This weekend I was sick. The kind of sick where I’m too sick to even think about work let alone feel bad for not doing any. We ended up spending 3 hours in Emergency on a Saturday night to find out that they don’t know what was going on. C says I take him on the best dates and apparently the TV had on Marley and Me which was the movie we saw on the day we met. I was mostly outside, not watching it,  due to the OCD panic attack and the not enjoying the whole ED vibe.

Anyway, I spent a lot of the weekend watching stuff I’d recorded on Foxtel for just this kind of day – Tori Spelling’s latest reality show, The Real Housewives of Atlanta, Tabitha Takes Over and Bethenny Ever After. And it only just occurred to me tonight that whilst Hollywood is still struggling to find roles for older women and for powerful women in lead roles, reality TV has no issue with it. And not only that, but in these shows we find complex women from a diverse array of backgrounds and living real lives – trying to balance being good mothers and partners with still following their personal dreams and all the guilt and difficulties that go with that. Well except for Tabitha, that’s not what her show is about. But I realised that when I’m looking around to see other women doing what I am working towards, I find a lot of awesome women in shows like this.

Take Tabitha for example – an Aussie in America, she’s strong and confident and knows a lot about business. She comes into struggling hair salons (though in her new series, I just saw her take over a bar), sizes up why it’s losing money, deals with staff issues, makes over the place and gives advice to the owner about what they’re screwing up. She does present herself as the Bitch, in her own words, and she owns that. But she knows a heck of a lot about running a business, both on the floor and behind the scenes, and I’ve learned a lot that can be applied to any other kind of business too. I even discovered my Dad watches that show (he used to run MBA programs) and he says that he learns a lot from her. And she’s gay – that’s actually not relevant, though she’s openly so on the show and often interacts with the gay community, but this speaks to the diversity of women role models on offer.

The Real Housewives of Atlanta is an interesting one. In this version of the franchise, only one of the “wives” (right now only 2 of the women are actually married) is white. So you have almost a whole cast of black women and it’s not often that that happens and what it does is it allows black women to play all the roles – in reality TV shows they edit the season so that there is an overarching narrative and usually different people end up being the good and the bad guys over a season. Sometimes one person acts as the agitator and next season they might be the peacemaker or everybody’s friend. I think there must be something in those contracts that demand drama of the women cat fighting variety and also some of those women don’t appear to be actual friends so they must have to have a set number of social events that all of them must attend etc. So you get the big fight somewhere in the season and then lots of episodes of groups of women gossiping and plotting and whatnot. But your sympathy towards characters seems to change over the course of the series. Aside from all that stuff – which I don’t really enjoy because they always seem to be such petty things that they’re fighting over and people never seem to have the whole conversation that you’d need to actually resolve the original conflict – I’m really interested in the women. They are socially powerful, some of them come from the socialites scene. Most of them are very wealthy – like I can’t comprehend the wealth of these wealthy (collections of $15k handbags and shoes) – and I’m fascinated how they came to it. Some married into it. Some seem to move from wealthy man to wealthy man and accumulate it and that’s not very interesting. Though some of those women then take the money and start businesses and so on, and that, I think can be empowering. If it’s sustainable. But some of those women really did make the money themselves – one is a successful song writer and music producer (though the only work I’ve heard of was the album she wrote for TLC). And another was a model. I enjoy watching their struggles to juggle parenting and life and work. And the choices they make about all of those and how they feel about them. Cause there’s no right answer in that stuff and mostly, I think, you/women end up feeling bad.

I have to confess that, though it took me a while to actually watch it, I’ve discovered that I really admire Tori Spelling after watching her ridiculous reality TV shows. She has a very bad rap, every one assumes she is rich cause of her father and that she is stupid because Donna was in 90210. But actually, her father left her almost none of his fortune and she got paid very poorly for her work for him, and got almost nothing in the syndication of that show. In watching her on her reality shows I’ve discovered she is smart and really really funny (I think you need to be smart to be funny) and she’s very ambitious. She works hard and she mucks in and raises her kids herself, well she has a nanny too because she still actually works full time. She is a very caring, compassionate and down to earth person, very aware of her identity in the public eye but also really solid and real. And she is constantly working on business deals and so on. I am enjoying watching and learning from her, both in how to deal with your real self versus your perceived self, and how to not let it get to you, and also in balancing work/life.

And Bethenny. I think I love her the most and was so hanging out for the next season of her show, which I’ve just discovered is now airing. She was originally on The Real Housewives of New York but it soon became clear she needed her own show. She was single, mostly, on the Housewives and then she met Jason and got a show for her wedding and then life after her wedding. She’s a chef who worked for celebrities, making them organic, nutritional, calorie controlled food and then she developed her own line of sugarfree and all the other free (gluten, dairy etc) baked goods. And then she invented the Skinny Margarita which became a whole brand and then she sold it to Jim Beam for a LOT of money. In the meantime, she was still doing speaking events and writing books on the back of her success of both the cooking and the Housewives stuff. But what’s to love about her is she is unbelievably hilarious, she will not miss an opportunity to make the joke, even if doing it will cost her (you know, making light of a bad situation etc) and she is smart, ambitious and successful. She had a baby straight after her wedding and so taking care of her baby has been thrown into the mix. And she just turned 40. So she’s you know, kind of where I would like to be (I don’t feel I need to be THAT rich!) and she’s still struggling with what we all struggle with – how you can fit that much into this little time and still give everyone what they need and want, and still do what you need to do for you.

There should be more women like any and all of these women written into the fictional TV and movies that are made. These women exist. Women exist across a whole spectrum other than just virgin and crone / girlfriend and mother. But until then, I think I’m going to feel less guilty about watching my reality TV.


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  • By Ju on 24 April 2012 at 10:00 am

    This was a really interesting post, and you make an excellent point regarding women’s roles and the respect/interestingness available to them that is so different from Hollywood.

    I also appreciate that there can be a lot to learn from people – regardless of who they are or their success when you talk to them, look at their lives and how they move through the world.

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