We Deserve a Podcast: Feminist Storylines on Our Favorite Reality Shows
We Deserve a Podcast: Our favorite reality shows that are definitely absolutely about gender justice so you should feel very fine bingeing them, in fact you’ll be a better feminist if you do.
The state of affairs these days is bleak to say the least. In this age of social distancing, we are no doubt binging our favorite shows (Keeping Up With The Kardashians is back y’all). We’re rounding up our favorite reality shows (and their gender justice themes) to suggest content to watch while staying safe during this quarantine.
LARK: REAL HOUSEWIVES OF ORANGE COUNTY
Real Housewives of Orange County is a reality TV OG. Andy Cohen saw these women existing in the wild and thought, ‘wow I can monetize this!’ and boy, was he right. One of the advantages of RHOC being the original from the Housewives franchise is you get to see the growth of the cast members! Most of the women started as wives and mothers who didn’t work outside of the home, being fully supported by their husbands. But as the seasons progressed, we got to see many of the women not only become financially independent from their husbands (and ex-husbands) because of fame from the show, but also start new business ventures like clothing and jewelry lines, gym enterprises, and more. RHOC brings us plenty of laughs and drama but we can also witness women as the breadwinners in their families and being appreciated for it! You can binge RHOC on Hulu!
HANNAH: SOUTHERN CHARM
I won’t lie, I was never *not* going to watch a show with a name like Southern Charm. But beyond the sweeping views of Charleston’s gorgeous homes and the offspring of some of Charleston’s oldest, richest (and whitest) families, there’s a hearty dose of interesting gender justice themes buried.
There’s Cameran’s storyline about whether she wants to have children. In a society that expects cisgender women to want and have children, Cameran struggles with not being sure if she wants to have children or if she would be a good mother. Eventually she does have a child (*spoiler alert* but honestly, not really if you have Instagram), but her openness in discussing her inner tribulations on whether to become a parent are really important in a world where choosing not to have children is still seen as a radical choice. My other favorite feminist storyline is Kathryn Dennis—or, Kathryn Calhoun Dennis, of the esteemed Calhoun family. She’s from a South Carolina dynastic family, I’m guessing related to John C. Calhoun—yes, former Vice president of the United States, John C. Calhoun. At the start of Southern Charm, Kathryn is just 21 years old, but quickly winds up with Thomas Ravenel, who is in his fifties. They wind up having two children together, Thomas is charged with assault and battery for assaulting their childrens’ nanny, and is overall controlling and gross. But over time, we watch Kathryn grow and eventually leave Thomas, realizing she doesn’t need him to be happy. We love to see it.
You can watch Southern Charm on Bravo, or on your friend’s dad’s Xfinity account, like me.
LARK: MARRIED AT FIRST SIGHT
I’ll say it: Married At First Sight walked so Love Is Blind could run. Well before we were gushing over Lauren and Cameron’s love, Lifetime brought us MAFS where people did exactly that—marry someone at first sight and decide whether to stay married by the end of a 6-week annulment period. What I love about MAFS—aside from the emotional rollercoaster that is marrying someone at first sight—is the variation of world views from the couples. Throughout the show’s 10 seasons, couples discussed a breadth of gender justice issues from birth control to gender roles. Most notably, Jamie Otis bravely shared her abortion story and has been very open about fertility struggles between her husband Doug. Sometimes love—and marriage—really does happen at first sight! Fun fact: I was actually recruited to be on MAFS by a producer! You can binge MAFS on Hulu!
HANNAH: EX ON THE BEACH
My hottest take on Love Is Blind, the popular Netflix romantic reality television show sweeping the nation, is that it isn’t actually good, you just haven’t watched other romantic reality TV shows before. Ex on the Beach is proof. The premise of Ex on the Beach is simple…until it’s not. We’ll skip explaining the fire and ice ceremonies (yes, a very real thing) and stick to the basics. There are a bunch of hot D-list celebrities who have been on other reality (or non-reality) TV shows and the goal is to meet someone out of this pool of reality TV cast members. Except one by one, their exes are brought into the house (yes, of course they all live together—this is reality television, after all) and drama ensues.
Sounds like a pretty run of the mill reality show, right? WRONG. That’s because the show is wildly diverse in race and ethnicity, but also in terms of gender and sexuality. With the exception of Are You The One season 8 and other exclusively queer reality TV shows, it’s the most representative show of queer people I’ve ever seen. This past season, there were multiple transgender or gender non-conforming cast members and nearly half the cast was queer. It was beautiful. Since gender and sexuality are inherently tied, it’s hard to think of Ex on the Beach as anything other than a radical exploration of gender—at least, that’s what I’m planning to tell my friend’s dad when he asks why I’m using his Xfinity log-in to watch it. You can watch Ex on the Beach on MTV.
LARK: BASKETBALL WIVES
Basketball Wives is one of my true guilty pleasures. Similar to housewives, wives of professional athletes are typically relegated to a life of coming in second to their husbands and their sport. Basketball Wives gives women who are most well known as “so-and-so’s wife” a chance to be center stage and tell their stories, with the occasional catfight. Throughout the show, we see power dynamics and reinforced gender roles that often plague celebrity relationships. We also see that the women on the show hold more power within their families and lives than their husbands or the average viewer initially thought. Never forget, Evelyn Lozada’s iconic line, “so what if I’m a fiance? I could have been a wife, I chose to walk away.” You can binge Basketball Wives on Hulu!
HANNAH: ARE YOU THE ONE
Ah, Are You The One. My favorite reality show, I could practically write an entire article just about it (oh wait, I did). There’s so much to say, I don’t even know where to start. Except, actually, yes I do. With season 8, the series’ first all-queer cast (the show calls the cast all “sexually fluid” but I think that’s literally wrong. Sue me). There’s no better way to explore gender than by having a whole house of queer and trans and gender non-conforming people both challenge your own views of gender and sexuality while also exploring their own. There are barely enough queer reality TV shows to be able to meaningfully compare them, but one area where a lot of queer (and non-queer) shows fall short is in their representation of transgender and gender non-conforming people, and with a severe dearth of, like, literally any bisexual men. Are You The One comes through in both ways, and, ultimately, serves a beautiful picture of the different ways we can inhibit and play with gender—season 8, that is. Seasons 1-7 are a different beast altogether—though yes, obviously I watched those too. You can watch Are You The One on MTV, or, have I mentioned my friend’s dad’s Xfinity account enough yet?