According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, feminism is “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.” Modern human rights groups sometimes refer to themselves as “equalitarian” to dispense of the false belief that feminists want women to be ‘better than’ men, or to punish men for their perceived advantages. No matter what it’s called, the name of the game is equality. And in some games, equality stays just a theory.
I remember the first time that I saw a reality TV show that made me question whether or not women were getting a fair shake in a visual medium that rewards appearance above intellect. One man, choosing between dozens of woman, who had appeared to spend their entire lives between the gym and a make up counter. The Bachelor, when it came out in 2002, was a concept that pitched itself as a search for love but read like a sheikh with a Malibu harem dreamhouse.
What about The Bachelorette? Arriving a year later, this show seemed to level the playing field a bit, at least on ABC. The idea was still manipulative and the “dates” were still thinly veiled attempts to outsex one other. However, if you want to be on a reality TV show, that’s your choice – so long as you’re attractive enough to be chosen in return.
Fast forward to today. There’s a newer, cheaper type of reality television in the world, in which people are followed around their dramatic lives. The men in these shows are antiques dealers, fishermen, and rappers. The women… mostly housewives.
The problem, in my eyes, doesn’t seem to be that these women are sex objects. It’s not even that they make no contribution to society. It’s the appeal of a lazy life that consists only of the high school drama and all-day shopping trips that are normally left behind once the real world swallows young adults. Even shows like The Kardashians, in which the stars claim to be working constantly, their business deals get little camera time compared to personal drama. Perhaps it’s because their business isn’t providing the catty drama that can only come from family members with years of blackmail material – and the motivation of millions.
Like it or not, these women have become heroes. Are they a good representation of the self-actualized, independent woman? No. Most of them have married or fornicated their ways into the public eye. They represent the fantasy of a “light” life without the pressures of bill paying or the boredom of having friends who aren’t Kanye West. The flip side seems characterized now by the reality shows that set themselves up as contests. Only on Food Network are women seen as more than token competitors, but serious ones, who chose to come on shows to show their abilities and win money to publicize their businesses.
But is it really a success if the shows paying the most attention to women’s passions are literally in kitchens? Maybe the best way to watch television these days, and to teach our children to watch it, is with a whole shaker filled with grains of salt.