I confess…I don’t really know who Phaedra, Kendra, Nene…and whoever else on these “reality” shows is. I have never watched them and don’t intend to. What I do know is the conversation that surrounds them and the way they represent Black womanhood makes me sick. Why? After all, it’s just TV and there are demeaning representations of White women on also. There are the Kardashians, Jersey Shore, Mob Wives, and Hollywood Housewives. But my dislike of reality shows that pit Black women against each other does not reflect a reality I know.
My mother was one of 5 girls in her family. These women had each others’ back no matter once. When they were alive they called each other EVERY day. And, my mother had a set of girlfriends who were like her sisters. Indeed, I have always referred to them as my aunts because they functioned like family members. My mother could depend on her girlfriends as much as she could her sisters. My mother, my aunts, and my “play” aunts were the perfect models for the true nature of Black women’s friendships. I took the lessons I learned from them into my relationships with Black women.
I did not have a sister growing up and although my brother and I were very close, I craved the special relationship of a sister–someone with whom I could share all the trials and triumphs of growing into womanhood. I found those relationships with my girlfriends. My first close friend was an elementary school friend who went through puberty early, ended up getting pregnant, and was sent to live with relatives “down south” by the time we were in junior high school. Before this, she and I spent all of our time together. We shared girlhood secrets and never allowed anyone to speak ill about each other. We never had a disagreement that lasted more than a day and we certainly never had a physical fight.
When I went to college I met a woman who would become a lifelong friend. Our commonality was as two working class/poor girls in an environment filled with middle class girls. Our friendship was incredibly deep (event though we pledged different sororities) and endures today. I was a bridesmaid in her first wedding (yes, girlfriends can outlast husbands) and earlier this year I hopped an airplane to go celebrate her 30th year in ministry.
I join women’s organizations because I like being around and working with women. I tease my husband by saying that women over 50 and 14 year olds have one thing in common–everything they really like doing they do with their girlfriends. My choice in films, theater, and shopping venues are better matched with my girlfriends’ taste than my husband’s. (I realize that’s not true for everyone). I like the way the women’s organizations and women friends with which I affiliate seem to work together and support each other. I like how we seem to remember the little things and lift one another up when we are down. I survived breast cancer because my women friends pitched in to help me and my family. My women friends who later were diagnosed with this disease knew I would make myself available to drive them to treatment, prepare meals, or just sit quietly so they would not be alone. When one of my friends needed surgery she timidly asked if I could drive her to her surgery at 5 o’clock in the morning. It never occurred to me NOT to do this for her. That’s what friends do for each other.
The foolishness of reality TV would be comical if it were not for the potential harm it can do to our young girls. The idea that Black women are to fight over men, tear each other down, and verbally and physically abuse each other plays into prevailing stereotypes about Black women as evil, hateful, without any sense of whatever we are now calling feminine. It seems comical because Black women have historically been incredibly loyal to their girlfriends. Films like Spike Lee’s “Jungle Fever” and Terry McMillan’s “Waiting to Exhale” each display examples of Black women’s solidarity. They ring truer than “real” housewives.
The absurdity of these shows is revealed in Kevin Hart’s parody show, “Real Househusbands.” What makes his show funny is that we all know that it does not reflect the nature of men’s relationships…it’s just stupid and everyone laughs at its stupidity!
Finally, I have to ask, what is it about these depictions of Black women that make them so popular? Is it something rooted in racism, sexism, or both? Do they depict a version of Black women’s relationships that I am just not privy to or are they just another example of media exploitation of Black women? What do you think?
Stay Black & Smart!