As they have become more rampant over the years, I now find myself questioning television shows like "The Bachelor," "Bad Girls Club," "Housewives of ____" (fill in the blank), "Love and Hip Hop," "Rock of Love," or "Mob Wives" in regards to the portrayal of women. The cast of female characters are often showcased as competitive, catty and as having tumultuous relationships with each other.
This piece is less about the trashy antics if reality television and more about what is being presented in regards to female relationships. Are female friendships strained? Even I write this piece I can't pretend that I don't have my own horror stories of my relationships with female friends that started in the second grade. It was early morning around 7:05 a.m. in the front schoolyard of Mark Twain Elementary as Keona (a pseudonym) and I played hopscotch. This was our morning ritual, but on a particular day, Keona said to me, "You have to choose, me or Pam (another pseudonym). If you are going to be friends with Pam, I can't be your friend." I looked down at the hopscotch board that was etched into the concrete confused. I remembered making the choice to be friends with Pam not really taking Keona's ultimatum too seriously. As a result, I watched Keona turn her back and walk away -- it was the end of our friendship.
This incident was perhaps a foreshadowing of my life with other girls and women. Incidents that included: having a boyfriend taken
Brattleboro has also wonderfully given me its share of this same behavior.
While these indeed have been my experiences, I find myself going through a range of emotion mixed with voyeurism, validation and disbelief as I view these female-centered reality shows. At certain times, the fighting and angst might be explained away in a shows like "Rock of Love" in which a cadre of women have to compete for the love and affection of one man. Many of these shows range from verbal to severe physical fights. There are also other types of antics similar to what was displayed in a recent season of "The Bachelor" in which a model named Courtney Roberston made sure to manipulate and one-up every female in the competition for bachelor Ben's affections. Many times, a man never has to be the at the center of these brawls. In any given moment, I've observed "Basketball Wives" which is filled with grown women separating themselves into cliques, forming alliances and/or being physically held back by other gal pals in order to avoid a physical altercation to "Love and Hip Hop" in which a woman in her early 40s declares to her younger friends that she is going to wait outside of a night club so she can physically confront another female.
The on-again off-again friendships get even more dizzying with the train wreck known as "Mob Wives." The common theme with all of these shows is the difficulty in figuring the real communication break down between the yelling, screaming and frequent meltdowns. Sometimes the viewing of these various melodramatic-real-yet-somewhat-staged interactions leave me feeling like I given up time that I can't retrieve. Yet, seeing these interactions gives me an opportunity to take a mental break, view this behavior from a safe distance and ask more questions about the so-called reality being presented. Do these shows just illustrate what some have written about and what many of us have whispered about in our female circles all along? Do women really despise each other?
Long before reality television, girls and women have competed with each other in private and public arenas for careers, partners/affection, etc.
I would often say to many friends and acquaintances that the relationships between women are in fact filled with strife. Usually after making this statement, there is often excessive head nodding in agreement and many chiming in to share their stories about relationships with frienemies (a friend and enemy all rolled up into one). However, I now question if this is eve a truth or something many of us have chose to uphold rather than change as we create an ongoing collage of strained female relationships. Is my validation of what I am seeing contributing to the pervasive story of girl meets girl, they form a friendship and, at some point, the friendship becomes strained and eventually explodes in a verbal/physical altercation or an ongoing series of defacing the said friend behind her back to other female friends? Perhaps the question goes much deeper as I can relate to being a part of the problem rather than the solution within the web of female friendships.
Can any of you relate to or recall a time when:
You said you were happy for a friend yet turned to another friend to talk or "vent" about the many ways you disagree with how your friend is living her life?
You have seen another female that you don't know and have never had a conversation with, but you participate in contributing to harmful rumors about her or who you think she is as a person?
Formed an alliance or connection with another female due to a shared disagreement or distaste for another woman?
Found yourself in a social situation (be it a dinner, club, party, or in an office building) strutting around as best you could to metaphorically knock out other competition in hopes of securing the attention of a love interest?
I don't know about you, but as a young woman, I was guilty of a few of these offenses. These days, I often find myself attempting to reflect upon my past and present friendships especially as I view what I sometimes see as life imitating life through the screen of reality television.
I also think about what type of stories we are creating and re-creating for our children, especially our girls. We have all become transfixed by the illustrated female dramas as we nod in agreement to what we want to call the "truths" of female friendships. Reality television, media and anything else isn't to blame. The bigger question is what is systemically making women feel like they have to compete in such a way? How can we more genuine opportunities to lessen or eliminate female competition? Perhaps the key is in watering our daughters with confidence rather than encouraging the perpetual less-than feeling that is carried to the playgrounds, high schools and offices.
We can, in fact, create our own truths rather than aimlessly validate what we are seeing. It is time to take personal responsibility and recognize the numerous ways that many of us may in fact be those women in the realm of reality television as they are in fact us. And as the actresses upon this stage, we can be involved in changing how we tell the story of our relationships with each other.
Shanta Crowley writes from Brattleboro. You can follow her blog at www.reformer802.com/realtalk.