“There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women” Madeline Albright
Dear Bravo Network,
I was hopping around channels last summer and I ran into one of your series, “The Real Housewives of Orange County” and I’ve been meaning to write you ever since that day. So, here it is.
First, let me congratulate you on a successful franchise. You’ve hit on a business model that looks like it’s working. And, I have to admit, once I started watching, it was hard to turn away. It’s kind of like watching a train wreck, or Big Edie and Little Edie of “Grey Gardens” for the first time. You can’t actually believe what you’re seeing, but it kind of grabs you by the throat and pulls you in. So, I tuned in a couple more times to some other “Housewives”, and I also went online to watch various clips of the “Housewives” of Beverly Hills, New York, Miami, and New Jersey.
I got the impression early on that some of them kind of wondered why they got into the shows in the first place. In fact, as I watched clip after clip of various shows, I asked myself the same question that O.C. Housewife Vicki Gunvalson asked herself in a story in The Wrap, -”…why the hell am I doing this?” I thought at that point, I had enough information.
On the positive side, the shows have some stunning scenery, in the homes, the parties, and the fashions The women are a beautiful bunch, many seemed bright and charming, some seem to display depth of character in certain scenes, and some had real words of wisdom. I liked some of them very much. Like my friends, many are mothers, a lot have been through hard times, some have experienced loss, divorce, widowhood, and they all deal with navigating the day to day experiences of just being women.
The down side? My friends have much in common with the “Housewives”, but there’s one big difference. We’re kind of… hold on, this is big… supportive of each other. The women pictured here are some of my dearest friends, and although we’ve had disagreements, I’ve never seen a single “mean girls all grown up” moment from any of them, so I wouldn’t think we’d hold much interest in the world of reality T.V. We help each other through sometimes horrendous challenges, and for us “supportive” works. My guess is that without the cameras, the “Housewives” might be more supportive of each other too.
I recognize (or should I say, “redneckognize”, I’m from Iowa), that reality shows constitute a somewhat unfortunately large percentage of original cable and network programming these days, and you caught the wave at the right time when you started up in 2006. And, to be fair, your show isn’t the worst I’ve heard of, as far as titles. Here’s a couple of my particular favorites…”Bridalplasty”, “Are You Hot?” and “Who’s Your Daddy?”
But, in my research, I thought I’d check to see if my friend and colleague, feminist leader and author Gloria Steinem, had weighed in. She did. Gloria expressed a particular aversion to the “Housewives” shows when she said, in front of a crowd of 500 at Simmons College in Boston on March 22, “I think the worst are the ‘Housewives’ shows, because they present women as rich, pampered, dependent and hateful towards each other.” One thing I’ve learned about Gloria, you don’t have to wait around or push her to tell you what she thinks of something. She’ll tell you in a New York minute, whether she’s in New York or not.
So, I’ll hop onto Gloria’s bandwagon here and push it maybe a bit further. She’s right about the “hateful” part. That’s my biggest issue. I’m in the anti- bullying and anti- violence business and have been for twenty years. Last year, I was the executive producer of a film called “Bully”. The film showcased five families who’d been devastated by bullying, and captures actual footage of one of the characters being brutally bullied on a school bus. It was pretty harrowing, but I’m not sure even that matched the scene where the aforementioned Vicki of the O.C. bunch, got piled on by a roomful of people. We call that “mobbing’. As an adult, I could digest it, but from what I’m reading lately and from what I’ve learned from experts and colleagues, kids don’t always have the same reaction. In fact, I ran into this about a month ago, “Recent studies by the Girl Scouts and other organizations show a potential correlation in violent behavior, bullying, and cyber bullying, among adolescents who frequently watch such shows.” Ouch. This isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned your genre. I included reality shows with other adults all over the country who model questionable behavior for kids. Here’s my first rant from Huffington Post last year….http://www.huffingtonpost.com/cindy-waitt/who-did-you-bully-today_b_2006802.html
I did more research and found something new. There IS another organization called “The Real Housewives”, but with a twist and I want to talk to you all about that. I ran into their website a couple of weeks ago. Here’s what I learned,
“The Real Charitable Housewives (RCH) began in Wilmington, Delaware as a charitable organization determined to counteract the stereotype of women who seemed to value money and material wealth over working for the greater good. The founder, Jill Fella, felt that, if given the opportunity, the “housewives” she knew could surely reverse this stereotype. Delaware is a small state, but it has a huge heart. Jill, a native Pennsylvanian, moved to the First State in 2001 and realized that everyone in the state is connected somehow. Because of this, there is a strong sense of responsibility for each other, and so The Real Charitable Housewives of Delaware was born.In January 2011, the first sister chapter was formed in Orlando, Florida. Soon to follow in March was a chapter in Seattle, Washington. The latest chapter added to the RCH family was Anchorage, Alaska in April.”
How much do you love that? I did. I like the fact that your show title inspired these women. Any ideas? I mean, how cool would it be if you’d donate to that group, or maybe start the “Real Housewives” charities in the cities where you film? You’ve got the money, and some of the “Housewives” do too. I’d donate to that, really.
I’ll leave you with another picture of our own “Real Housewives” of Sioux City gathered at my wedding a couple of years ago.
They’ve all seen 50 go by, as have I, and none of us are a size zero, and quite frankly, we’d bore the hell out of any audience, but to me, they’re the some of the most beautiful women I know. And they’d donate too. So, call me, we’ll talk.