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Real Housewives: Pro-Patriarchy?

April 9, 2011

Mill argues that natural differences explain social and political hierarchies, but that these natural inequalities should not justify the subordination of women in society. The Real Housewives shows portray wealthy women as often inferior to their husbands and unable to support themselves. Although some of the women on the show have personal careers, the majority of the women rely on their husbands to provide  the money and status to support their extravagant lifestyles.

200 years ago when Mill wrote The Subjection of Women, he encouraged society to shift gender relationships from a patriarchal structure to emancipation for women. Although women have gained the right to vote and other freedoms since Mill wrote this, women still struggle in the private and public spheres of society to gain full equality. The Real Housewives give a glimpse of these inequalities that are present even in luxurious environments.

For the most part, I believe the US workforce functions as a meritocracy- women and men of different backgrounds, ages and races are given equal opportunity to attain any career based on their abilities. However, the women of the Real Housewives show seem to prefer to not work and have their husbands provide their luxurious lifestyle. These women portray an image of extravagance in which their husbands are the sole breadwinners and they reap the benefits of being married to a successful man. There seems to be no incentive for women to provide for themselves or pursue their own interests if they have husbands who financially support them. Personally, I believe this is a damaging idea to portray to millions of women across the country. Although women have gained the right to pursue practically any interest, the women on Real Housewives make it seem more enjoyable to live in a patriarchal society.

Last season, one of the cast members, Tamara, was struggling with her marriage and controlling husband. Although it was evident from the show that the marriage was not going to last, Tamara explicitly admitted that she did not want to get a divorce because she did not know if she could support herself and her children and she enjoyed the lifestyle her husband provided. Although Tamara possessed the legal “right to exit” her marriage, the show portrays her marriage as a “lordship.” Mill, whose own marriage was based on equality, encouraged the idea that marriages be thought of as a partnership rather than the husband dominating. Although these Real Housewives are living in modern surroundings, it is evident that gender inequalities that have existed for centuries are still prevalent in marriages.

Is this show going against everything Mill strived for and the efforts of women over the past two centuries? Yes. Although the show entices audiences with dramatic scenarios and comedic value, it undermines the progress society has made in terms of gender relationships. The Real Housewives display that some women choose to not take advantage of the freedom they legally possess. As society has shifted from a patriarchy to equality, these women are drifting the gender roles of American society back to a place where men dominate and women are dependent. I think it’s safe to say Mill would not support the principle of this show.

  1. Emily Slaga permalink
    April 10, 2011 9:47 AM

    Yeah, I agree with you that Mill probably wouldn’t support the show because the women are basically keeping the ‘inequality’ chains on themselves when they could be roaming free and be independent of their husbands. At the same time though, they have the right to choose their lifestyles and nobody understands a relationship unless you’re one of the people in it. The housewives obviously bring something to the table in the marriage, and maybe that’s all they want to provide. We don’t know for sure, but maybe when they got married, they decided their roles collectively and the woman had equal say in what she wanted to do.
    In the case of Tamara, you may be right that it is more of a lordship since it’s a failing marriage, etc. But I don’t think necessarily everyone of the Housewives is in a lordship.

    Interesting post!

  2. Bri Kovan permalink
    April 10, 2011 3:27 PM

    This example is a very interesting take on Mill’s ideas, and representative of so many other reality TV shows that are manipulating the minds of our society.

    And while many will say we’re able to laugh at these women, that they’re used to show the problems with their lifestyles, there’s always an undercurrent of concern. So many people are watching these shows and hoping for similar lifestyles, because “they would live them better.”

    It creates a huge problem for our society, and I agree with the poster — it’s taking us back to where we worked so hard to break away from.

    Great post! Very interesting to think about.

  3. D. Conde permalink
    May 8, 2011 12:06 PM

    Wrong. If Tamara lived in a ‘lordship’ she would not be able to leave her husband unless he allowed it. She has chosen to remain there to put herself and her children in the best financial position. So what? How many people stay in their JOBS (get over this ‘every woman who works has a career’ fantasy) for the same reason and are exhausted every day of their lives. The insidious lie that women who work for others are superior to housewives who share the bank account but not the burden has been exposed. And in case you’re wondering I do have a job that pays me very well but ties me to a chair in front of a computer parked in a gray cubicle for at least 8 hours a day.
    You need a dose of reality.

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