Real Simple Real Life?

Is anyone else as disturbed by the new TLC show “Real Simple. Real Life.” as I am? Maybe I’m just sensitive but… doesn’t it reek of 1950′s bitter nostalgia? Sort of like those mini cocktail wieners. Of course there are your standard style shows, cooking shows, and home improvement shows. But this one differentiates itself from the slew of “life improvement” shows by having all the “experts” rolled up into one show. Now, if you can’t organize your cupboards OR dress yourself, you needn’t apply for many shows. There’s one that covers it all.
This is where it begins to haunt me. The women who come on this show are usually very busy moms. Their husbands all work, and some of women do too. Take for instance “Gabi”. She is a mother, wife, and Major in the air force. But as TLC helpfully points out on their website, “she’s had to juggle several roles, leaving her home, style and confidence out of balance.” Please, let’s ignore for one moment the glaring question “why can’t her husband help with the home?” and ask ourselves… why is it that a woman who is obviously very smart and successful balances her level of confidence on how her house and style look? How is it possible that this woman can rise to a high rank in a male-dominated profession, have children, run a home, and then feel insecure because her STYLE is out-of-date? Does anyone else agree that something is wrong here? Then she goes on national television and allows these so-called experts to rip her up on TV, and then build her into a brand-spanking new Mom.
The tearing down, then building up closely resembles the method the armed forces use to train cadets. It’s the notion that if you break them all down together, they will be completely unified when they come back up. Except these women aren’t training to go to war. They are simply running a household. But really, how could you ever be satisfied with yourself when there are garbage television shows on all day long that tell you what you’re doing isn’t good enough. You can do it better. Cleaner. Faster. Cuter.
TLC also proclaims that the hour long episodes will “share strategies to help make life easier.” So, supposedly one might draw from this the conclusion that if you are a woman, you should learn how to run a household while looking gorgeous every second of the day, and then your life will be easier? Now, I agree, organizing your closet would probably make your life easier. A pair of great fitting jeans does make you feel more confident. Learning how to make healthy meals for you and your family does probably make you feel like a more responsible parent. Of course it does. But why must this show be marketed ONLY to women? Do men not feel better in a pair of jeans that makes their ass look great? Aren’t there single dads out there who might want to learn to cook for their children? Again, of course there are! But they would never watch such a show. Perhaps because these shows are BORING. Perhaps because it would never be acceptable in our society for a man to watch such a show unless it was all machoed-up. (Case in point- “Guy’s Big Bite.”)
Haven’t we come a long way baby? So why are there shows on television (that take themselves seriously) teaching women how to be Stepford Wives? This show seems one step away from The Handmaid’s Tale. Not only does the show tell women that unless they can mother, partner, work, cook, and clean perfectly, all while wearing a sassy dress, they should have no confidence.
I see people roll their eyes when I say I’m a feminist. “What are you talking about? Women are equal.” they say. How can I possibly explain that the bastards are grinding us down by making us watch shit on TV? Get skinny. Dress pretty. Clean the goddamn house. Aren’t you fulfilled yet?

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23 Comments

  1. Steven
    Posted July 6, 2009 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

    How can I possibly explain that the bastards are grinding us down by making us watch shit on TV?
    Have you no free will?
    No ability to take responsibility for sitting in front of the TV?
    You cannot explain how people make you watch t.v. The notion is preposterous.
    I admit, it can be hard. But my local cable company made the switch to digital in February… of last year. And I just stopped watching TV. It was great. I did that for eight months before I got a roommate that ordered digital cable. Now I watch four shows a week.
    I have enough time to work full time and take full time university courses, and still have time to fritter time away on the internet and with real life people.
    I feel like having a ‘Network’ moment sometimes…. your shackled by the privilege of watching t.v.
    Let it go.

  2. basketcasey
    Posted July 6, 2009 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

    Yeah, this has little to nothing to do with choosing to watch TV or not. The ideas on this show are not constrained to the TV set.

  3. Gopher
    Posted July 6, 2009 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

    I totally agree with the author except for one thing; why would only single fathers want to learn how to make food for their kids? Married fathers should want to do that too.
    Its not always the womans ‘role’ to cook for the family.

  4. Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi
    Posted July 6, 2009 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

    Have you nothing better to do than troll feminist blogs?
    And are you so unobservant of the culture around you that you can’t see that stupid sexist TV shows are one more way of reinforcing the general media message to women that they need to “Get skinny. Dress pretty. Clean the goddamn house.”? Yes, I can turn off the TV. (Not that anyone should have to do that just to avoid being inundated with get-back-in-the-kitchen propaganda while, IDK, waiting for the next episode of Battlestar Galactica to air, but whatever.) What I can’t do is go to the drugstore to buy some goddamn toothpaste without having the Real Simple magazine and a dozen other “women’s” periodicals telling me how much I need to lose weight, get sexy for my (nonexistent) man, and cook fabulous non-fattening dinners for my (nonexistent) family. Or drive down the highway without having a bunch of beauty-product billboards clamoring for my attention. Or browse a feminist blog whose owners do everything they can to control their advertising and still can’t get rid of the creepy weight loss ads.
    They’re all symptoms of an underlying illness. And anyone who wants to avoid them has to opt out of culture altogether.
    Yes, I can turn the TV off to avoid being barraged with perfect-homemaker crap. Yes, I can send someone else to the drugstore for me and avoid driving and never read magazines or blogs and never go out in public. But why should I have to?

  5. Elizabeth
    Posted July 6, 2009 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

    The TV only reflects what everyone just assumes as normal. They wouldn’t make those shows if there weren’t a market for them. It is normal that a woman has a full-time job and still does the majority of the housework and is still expected to still look like she did before she had children and a disproportionate amounts of responsibilities. I think the sociological term “multiple shifts” explains it–women now have jobs, children, and still take care of their children…oh, and eventually, they’ll likely take care of their parents, too. And they are still taught to value themselves mainly based on how they look—but if they actually take the time to do anything about it, they’re bad mothers.
    “why can’t her husband help with the home?”
    I don’t know why he can’t. But he should. And this isn’t just happening on TV. I think this is one reason why so many people call feminists bitches: of course I would be a bitch to my husband if he made me live a life like that without assuming any of the responsibility. And of course I’m angry that this is happening. Oh, but I’m just supposed to take it, right?
    Ever notice how almost every household cleaning product is targeted towards women? I wonder how that can be when the majority of American women, these days, work just as many hours as their husbands.

  6. Athenia
    Posted July 6, 2009 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

    Like any good reality show, I doubt the audience actually gets hints from the show, but rather is used to feel better about themselves.
    It’s the continual problem: Mothers are judged on how clean and organized their house is and fathers on how much money they bring home.
    Question: When does this show air? Sometimes I laugh when they air at 3pm in the afternoon…I mean, if you work or are a busy mom, are you really watching that?

  7. Steven
    Posted July 6, 2009 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

    Have you nothing better to do than troll feminist blogs?
    Actually, today is my day off, and until the normal class sessions start at the university I have some free time on the weekends.
    I have already cleaned up, checked the garden, and pressed out my clothes for the next week.
    In a few hours I am going to my brother’s a practice wedding dinner… I will be feeding his cats when he goes on his honeymoon….
    So I do have some time to burn.
    There is a difference in knowing there is stupid stuff in the world, and the damage it causes, and actually participating in the in what damages you.
    I know there is meth out there… I don’t smoke the stuff.
    I know most stuff on TV is crap, so I have a reduced diet of T.V.
    The important thing is world view… The OP thinks that some bastard out there is forcing her to watch crap on T.V. and make her insecure.
    A lot of feminist veer so severely towards social determinism that they seem to forget that there is a free will component to human decision making.
    If you, as an informed person, knows that subtle biases are represented in a medium then you get a choice to avoid that medium.
    You should not blame some faceless ‘bastard’ that ‘forces’ you to watch the show.
    And really, I responded to a question in her conclusion by disagreeing with the basis of that question.
    Why is that so jacked up?

  8. Gopher
    Posted July 6, 2009 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

    This isnt about how healthy tv watching is or isnt. Its about whats on tv when you want to watch it. If a woman wants to ‘sit in front of the tv’ and watch a show to relax she should be able to do so without having to swallow a bunch of sexist crap lobbed at her own gender. Homophobia and racism exist, but they dont show a well-liked character beating up a homosexual, or a white character lynching a black American even though these two societal ills exist outside of the tv medium. These ideas stay in society when theyre rehashed and perpetuated via television shows. They make Americans think this is common and is to be accepted. It also constructs the self-reflection women have about themselves. TV is not only for men.

  9. Steven
    Posted July 6, 2009 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

    This isnt about how healthy tv watching is or isnt.
    I am not going to let you spin me.
    Its about the OP portraying a complete lack of agency.
    T.V. is still very much a information pull environment, especially when it comes to selecting the show one is going to watch.
    Sure, commercials are an information push… but only when you have started watching T.V. in the first place.
    The OP thinks bastards are grinding her down by forcing her to watch T.V.
    I disagree.
    And I disagree with the mindset that produces that world view.

  10. Gopher
    Posted July 6, 2009 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

    TV isnt about representing reality. If that were the case we’d have talking horses, genies and people winning the lottery everyday. When a tv show that women routinely watch chastize women and reinforce a 50′s concept of her gender there is a problem. These archaic ideas are maintained and reinforced by the media. I doubt that males would be so objectifying of women if the media did not help that along. Women should be able to break from the past, but instead, for high ratings and viewership these tv shows keep women glued to the past via articifcial guilt and impractical ideology. These TV shows exploit remnants of the past that women have not been freed from because the media refuses to represent progress. A weird dichotomy is created in which, though women may be leading progressive lives, they are kept from asserting it publicly via media representation.It keeps them from being freed from the past and makes them susceptible to succumbing to guilt that shows like this create.
    I think its too dismissive to deny the importance of media in establishing and maintaining societal ideas.

  11. Gopher
    Posted July 6, 2009 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

    “Yes, I can turn the TV off to avoid being barraged with perfect-homemaker crap. Yes, I can send someone else to the drugstore for me and avoid driving and never read magazines or blogs and never go out in public. But why should I have to?”
    Perfect summary! Exactly. Women would have to completely disengage from their society to avoid anything sexist! Women should be entitled to not have to deal with this shit in the first place and should never have to detach from what is theres to have automatically.

  12. Gopher
    Posted July 6, 2009 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

    “I know there is meth out there… I don’t smoke the stuff.”
    Right. Because TV and meth are the same thing.
    Gawd. Can’t wait till they get back from their honeyoon. Poor cats.

  13. Gopher
    Posted July 6, 2009 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

    “The OP thinks that some bastard out there is forcing her to watch crap on T.V.”
    Where would you get that idea from? I dont think that the majority of readers whove read her post got that idea. I think you need to take away the distortions and read again. Theres nothing in the post to say that some weird alien creature is holding her neck to the TV screen and plucking her eyelids open with machines and ‘forcing’ her to watch tv shows.Its that she’d like to watch TV without the sexism. Only YOU would find some way to make THAT wrong.

  14. Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi
    Posted July 6, 2009 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

    I agree that “making us watch shit on TV” was poorly worded, but I’m not going to ignore the rest of the post because of one lapse into hyperbole, or be so overly literal as to think she meant the Patriarchy Bogeyman was chaining her to the couch to watch crap. Yes, it would’ve worked better as “How can I possibly explain that the bastards are grinding us down by inundating the airwaves with this shit?” or “grinding us down by giving us only/mostly shit to watch on TV,” but it is indeed “jacked up” to pounce on one badly-worded exaggeration and take it as literally as possible so you can dismiss the entire post.
    If I, as an informed person, am aware of the subtle biases that crop up in the many media I run into every day, I may or may not be able to avoid them, but whatever I choose to do I’m still going to be annoyed (or unsettled or offended or what-have-you) with what I saw before I changed the channel, and if I want to analyze what exactly was problematic about it, what better place to do that than on a site like Feministing? Not to mention that while I might be ‘informed’, and lucky enough to have grown up in a family that actively warned me away from the Teen Cosmo mold, there are plenty of uninformed and misinformed people out there who are perfectly willing to hold me to Cosmo/Real Simple/Good Housekeeping standards. (Where did their misinformation come from? Take a guess.) At that point it stops being all about me and my oh-so-enlightened decision to wrinkle my nose at the grocery-store checkout magazines.

  15. Disarm33
    Posted July 6, 2009 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

    Ok, no one forces women to watch a certain show or read a certain magazine. But, the problem is that this kind of stuff in everywhere. When I go grocery shopping, magazine covers advertise ways to lose weight, be a better partner, and improve my look for the summer. Self improvement tv shows are on nearly every channel. Even news websites have articles about this stuff. You can try to escape it but some of it inevitably seeps in. While media is a reflection of our culture, it also perpetuates ideas too; it’s a cycle. The only way to stop this is for women to stop buying this stuff, unfortunately it seems to to be selling very well.
    I also think portraying working moms as always busy and stressed is problematic. It reinforces the idea women can’t have it all and must choose between work and family. While many men do help out around the house, more need to step up and take some of the responsibility too. If men and women contributed equally to both household finances and work, things would be a lot easier for everyone.

  16. basketcasey
    Posted July 6, 2009 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

    Notice how I said “The ideas on this show are not CONSTRAINED to the TV set,” meaning they’re on TV as well as in real life.

  17. Gopher
    Posted July 6, 2009 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

    “I also think portraying working moms as always busy and stressed is problematic. It reinforces the idea women can’t have it all and must choose between work and family.”
    Exactly. The commercials typict the working woman either as a frantic mom or a lonely spinster. one commercial simply showed a lonely woman coming home from work and popping a microwave meal for her sole self after her tired, busy, stressful day (narrators words). Compare that to commercials aimed at men who come home and are seen as hero’s or are depicted as unapologetic, empowered, successful and assertive men at work (such as the deoderant commercials).

  18. marie123
    Posted July 6, 2009 at 10:59 pm | Permalink

    The OP exaggerated and used a poor choice of words in one sentence. That doesn’t seem like such a big deal to me. It’s obvious that they don’t actually think someone’s literally forcing them to watch tv. Why not focus on the entire post rather than nitpicking?

  19. Steven
    Posted July 7, 2009 at 1:44 am | Permalink

    I guess you did not read the OP final paragraph.

  20. Steven
    Posted July 7, 2009 at 2:12 am | Permalink

    I focus on the conclusion because
    1) Its one of the most important parts of a essay.
    Even more importantly, and as I indicated above
    2) I think that statement represents the OPs world view.
    Very important, world view. And I am not so willing to write it off as probability as some do.
    Some people throw out racial slurs when they get angry then claim they are not really racist.
    The OP apparently says bastards force her to watch T.V. when she gets angry.
    World view.

  21. Gopher
    Posted July 7, 2009 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    I think you took it too literal. She means that when we watch tv, why does it always have to endorse sexist shit. Its similar to force because theres no escape. She didnt mean it literally, but abstractly.

  22. Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi
    Posted July 7, 2009 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

    So, to recap: the OP made an overall rational and coherent post about what’s sexist about this TV show and how it’s contributing to the enforcement of gender roles. The post centers not on anyone’s lack of agency, but on why the show’s message comes across as “get back in the kitchen” and why it is harmful and misleading to present that skewed viewpoint as “simple tips for daily life.” At the end of the post, she got angry and let slip her true feelings, which were…
    …a sense of helplessness and coercion from being bombarded with sexist claptrap day in and day out?
    Yeah, utterly inexcusable. Why doesn’t she just exercise her free will and change the channel, instead of… exercising her free will and writing a post exposing the bullshit and helping other people make informed decisions? Gawd, I’m just so overwhelmed by the victim mentality I can hardly contain myself.

  23. Lynne C.
    Posted July 7, 2009 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

    What bothers me is that these shows are on “The LEARNING channel.” Also, the DISCOVERY channel is becoming almost just as bad. Hardly anything that is on these channels anymore is educational. I have to refer to my local college channel to find something that say, has to do with science, or history. As a matter of fact, the only channel that actually shows anything remotely interesting, from time to time, is the History channel.
    I mean, what is educational about Ice Road trucking, Home makeovers, frazzled moms, and wardrobe styles?
    Talk about brainwashing.
    Why not just refer to these channels as something else, instead of being so deceptive?

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