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Unpopular Opinions: Reality Television Brainwashes Young Women

Ashley Yang |
October 3, 2013 | 7:00 p.m. PDT


Melissa Gorga is advocating for marital rape (Jeff Kuehnhoff, Creative Commons)
Melissa Gorga is advocating for marital rape (Jeff Kuehnhoff, Creative Commons)
Editor's note: This is the first piece in  Ashley Yang's new series, "Unpopular Opinions."

Every socially conscious person experiences a varying degree of distaste with reality television. But it’s one of those things that we love to hate, one of the many guilty pleasures that end up drawing us back to the screen against our better judgment. It is thoughtless entertainment, portraying a farcical universe with asinine characters that we can veg out to after a long day or laugh at with our friends. However we take it in, it doesn’t feel real, so it can’t affect us when we move away from the screen and back into our normal lives. But the ideas it promotes, namely heteronormativity, privilege and celebrity worship, have a very real impact on the values and perceptions of the most impressionable segment of their audience.  

And as of last week, a Real Housewife of New Jersey also advocates marital rape. And we thought that we’d seen everything from them.

In her recently released self-help book titled Love Italian Style, reality TV star Melissa Gorga states that the key to maintaining a physically and emotionally satisfying marriage is complete submission to her husband and acquiescence to his every demand. Not only does her husband Joe control her movements and her wardrobe choices, he also expects Gorga to be constantly available for sex, however and whenever he wants it. Joe constantly interjects throughout what is supposed to be his wife’s book with his opinions on female independence and “how women really like it.” In a particularly outrageous section, he states: “Every girl wants to get her hair pulled once in a while. If your wife says "no," turn her around, and rip her clothes off. She wants to be dominated... women don't realize how easy men are. Just give us what we want.”

Evidently, Gorga agrees. She claims that by maintaining a sexual division of labor in the household, her husband feels more comfortable “throwing down” in the bedroom. To ameliorate Joe’s anger problems, Gorga admits that she keeps herself available for “maintenance sex” to “keep the wheels greased” whenever her husband wants. She believes that her outlook keeps her man feeling respected, appreciated, and faithful. In her words, “if a wife is a puttana, her husband will never feel the urge to go outside the marriage to actual whores or hit on [other] women...he’ll rush home to his wife, who makes sure he’ll have a good time in the comfort of his own home.” 

In this drivel based purely on caveman logic, Gorga exalts her role as enabler of rampant male privilege well and advocates this paradigm for all women who want to live a marriage as happy as hers. The literal message may be so appalling that readers dismiss it outright, but that doesn’t mean that women will not find it psychologically relatable. Gorga’s book plays on women’s fears that they are somehow responsible for their partner’s failings in a relationship, thrusting an entire gender into the impossible roles of supporter and enforcer. It causes women to question whether they need to adopt the submissive demeanor that they have long since rejected, essentially giving up pieces of themselves as Gorga has, in order to claim what we currently deem the greatest form of personal success for women: a long-term relationship that appears happy from the outside. 

But to be fair, the entire Real Housewives series could be blamed for perpetuating a culture of gender essentialism. Its stars achieved fame simply by virtue of their married state, their celebrity hinges on a title in relation to someone else. The entertainment value of the “real housewives” concept rests on catfights, malicious gossip and ridiculously lavish displays of wealth that lead young women to deride their portrayals while secretly aspiring to their lifestyle. But it is not the images of bourgeoisie living, but rather the manner in which most of the Real Housewives have acquired this standard, that does a disservice to its viewers. These women are not shown as high achievers or capable, intelligent, productive contributors to society. All embellishments aside, their personas are composed of pure materialism and upper-class apathy that offers nothing in return but a few laughs.   

It could be just as lucrative to film a reality series about powerful “alpha” women, since their lives are probably no less upscale and no less interesting than those of the Real Housewives. But that concept doesn’t appeal to a firmly grounded notion of gender essentialism whose ubiquitous traces we attempt to either ignore or retaliate against every day. Our disgust with reality TV does nothing to suppress our guilty fascination with these caricatures of “modern” women, whose lives we can barely believe are real. This dynamic is what leads millions of viewers back before the screen for a new season of farce that leaves us thinking, “wow, those sad, sad women. But if I ever do what they do, will people pay attention to me as much as I do to them?”


Reach Columnist Ashley Yang here



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