It’s misogynistic. It’s trashy. It’s a hotbed of mean girl shenanigans, 80’s night-time soap worthy greed, and a variety of scenes straight out of the Body Dysmorphia Olympics. But I can’t help myself. There is a dichotomy in my world that pops up every Thursday night: I am a feminist who watches the Real Housewives of Orange County. But in last week’s episode, these two worlds began, just for a moment, to intersect.
In the last episode, Real Housewife Tamra receives a job offer, which is especially exciting because her family has been in a state of financial turmoil for almost a year. Unlike previous episodes, her husband’s botoxed serial killer facial expressions weren’t the most disturbing part of her segments on the show: it was the bizarre 1950s gender dynamic that was revealed in their household.
Her husband Simon, monotone he-man that he is, decides it’s time to put Tamra in her place. Instead of congratulating her, he insists repeatedly that she needs to focus on raising their children instead, and forces her to assure him that this her new job will be strictly part time. Simon knows Tamra’s new employer, and tells her that he was told by her new boss that she would be perfect for the job because she wouldn’t really have to do anything. When she tells him her job description, he keeps repeating his previous statement. The translation seems to be “You’re only good at standing around and looking pretty. Isn’t that what this job is?” He then lectures her on how she parents her 25 year old son. He puts the onus of blame for the adult son’s behaviors on her, insisting that her current lack of discipline is what has landed her son in a series of mishaps, culminating in a five day stay at the local prison. He closes the conversation by reminding her that she is not allowed to travel alone, and telling her that he will be accompanying her on an upcoming trip that was meant to just be with her female friends. After having her ability to work, parent, and go out by herself questioned, her proud smile has been replaced with a look of complete and utter dejection. Simon, on the other hand, looks infuriatingly smug.
Something happened to me during that episode. For the first time, I sympathized with Tamra. All of her back-stabbing and gossip-mongering aside, there were moments in the episode where I saw a woman in an unequal marriage: a marriage that gave her husband the freedom to golf with his buddies and pursue his Tequila business dreams, while she was discouraged from even working part time and forced to attend her girls weekend with a chaperone. She no longer has the resources to not work, nor the desire to stay at home, but she is being discouraged from breaking out of her housewife role because of her husband’s insistence on maintaining his patriarchal authority. While dysfunctional marriage is a hallmark of the Real Housewives series, Tamra is the first character to face this seemingly second wave issue.
I think the Real Housewives of Orange County are long overdue for a feminist awakening, and I hope it starts here. I’d love to see what would happen to this show if the women learned how to support each other and how to create more functional parternships with their spouses. How great would it be to watch self-proclaimed anti-aging junkie Lynn read “The Beauty Myth” and talk it over with her equally appearance-concerned teenage daughters? Or have Vicki provide (any) positive commentary on the other Housewives? What if their obviously-forced social get togethers included debates on reproductive rights or gender-neutral parenting? A girl can dream. Until then, I hope Tamra gets the job, the marriage, and the all-girls weekend she wants. And I hope that, just maybe, she takes her passionate, rebellious spirit and applies it to her home life instead of using it to trash her fellow Housewives. It’s a small gesture, but in the high-school-cafeteria, woman-hating world of the Real Housewives of Orange County, it just might be the start of something big.