Image 1. The Cover of the Magazine Real Men in 1959, showcasing a 'catfight'. (Wikiwand)
Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, people have been confined to their homes with more free time to spare. Reality show viewership has surged a significant amount. Dating shows have been and continue to be the desired choice of entertainment. People sit in front of their TV screens and watch people meet for the first time and go through a number of challenges to form a relationship. Eligible bachelors search for the woman of their dreams, picking from a variety of beautiful female contestants who are there to vie for them. Almost every reality dating show has become a hit and production companies provide back-to-back seasons to keep the public wanting.
More and more women are cast to join these shows and compete while an exponential number of viewers have been using the show to unwind from the pressures they face every day. It appears to be a mutually beneficial way for all parties. In reality, it is not.
These women sign away the rights to their personality and are filmed in their battle to win the heart of a man. They attend dates and ask silly questions that are answered by a nervous, mocking laugh and an overly simplistic statement—worded this way so they can “understand it’.
Reality shows perpetuate the stereotype that the white cisgender male lead is always the cultured, successful, intelligent man, remaining humble even in situation of power, simply aspiring to find a woman worthy of him to start a family. Women are made to seem like mindless sheep that need someone to guide them through life, someone that will explain to them the meaning of an absurdly basic historical term.
In the current Greek version of the Bachelor that just recently wrapped, one of the contestants asked the lead what the colour of the Acropolis was, the most known monument of Ancient Greece. She pushed the subject of conversation further, asking about the origins of the Parthenon and whether it came with windows.
The scene was so surreal that it went viral on social media. Some attributed the incident to her lack of intelligence commenting that it was a common characteristic of women. Some deemed it fake since the show had been heavily accused in the past of being scripted and casting actors. The women are given a script they have to follow and with it, they ridicule themselves. Of course, after signing the contract, there are not many things they can do to retract. More often than not, they do not even feel the need to decline. They think this is what they have to do to succeed in the social business.
Image 2. (Callaghan, 2018)
Simultaneously they have to coexist and share a space with other women they have never met before but who "work" for the same cause. In most cases, the show focuses heavily on the dramatic fights that erupt between them and exaggerates their behaviour. The protagonist then scolds and chastises them if he feels that they have overstepped their boundaries. Women are filmed throwing tantrums, getting drunk, and being broken away from one another to avoid physically hurting each other. These catfights, meaning physical fights between women that are out of their minds with anger, have long been catered to men as a form of sexual entertainment.
Not only is it maddening for the female viewers to watch, but it becomes disturbing when realizing how many young women and men watch these shows and are influenced by them. Psychologists have stated that we learn to behave through our experiences, through the images we get from our everyday lives. Reality shows have become part of our everyday lives. Young people cannot avoid them, nor can children.
Viewers learn that this is the way women are or should be. Young men are reassured that the things the patriarchy has taught them are true, that women are less capable, that women are not as intelligent as them, that women are unreasonably hysterical, that women are inferior. Young women are taught that the most they can do with their lives is find a successful man who will take care of them and solve their problems. If they work to change themselves and be traditionally beautiful with the right hair, clothes, and makeup, they might have a chance to be picked. If they make it on screen and are able to conjure up enough drama with other women, they will get more screen time. They learn that they can become a viral news story just by saying one absurd statement after another. Bad publicity is always good publicity, isn't it?
Because the more people will get to know them, the more followers they will have on social media. More people will tune in as they are forced to keep up their fake, dim-witted man-obsessed and women-hating persona. They learn that this is the way people will finally pay attention to them.
And if they choose to not exert themselves on a reality TV show? The lesson remains the same, without the follower count. There are girls out there that announce to the world that they cannot deal with other girls. That they cannot handle the drama. That the company of men is better since they are decent human beings that have their priorities straight. Internalized misogyny is a condition that the patriarchy has ingrained in us. It makes these girls feel better about themselves.
Women feel better about their womanhood if they feel that they are part of the boy's gang.
The result? Women carry these notions for the rest of their lives. They believe that they are cursed to contest with other women. That they will never be able to have a peaceful, respectful same-sex relationship that does not include underlying jealousy or empathy. That they should hold their guard up and never trust their gender.
Image 3. (Columbus World Affairs, 2020)
We are turned against each other, against the very same women who should and can be our greatest allies. We exist in a world where unequal pay, femicides, sexism, sexual harassment, and catcalling happen to women every single day and for multiple reasons. Women nowadays know that they should have their guard up when it comes to men they do not know because they could be in danger at any time. Reality shows lead women to believe that they cannot trust each other either. They teach us that we are utterly alone.
The next time you turn on your TV and happen to fall upon a reality TV show with a loud female fight, reach out to your mother, your sister, your best friend, or a woman you admire and remind yourself that TV reality shows are not real.
In a room full of women we will never be alone again.
Chappet, M.-C. (2020, August 10). Why our obsession with girl-on-girl fights in reality TV shows like selling sunset and real housewives is so problematic. Glamour UK. Retrieved December 23, 2021, from https://www.glamourmagazine.co.uk/article/female-fights-reality-tv
Cheney, D. (2021, November 2). Experts break down why we can't stop watching reality dating shows, even though we know they're fake. Good Housekeeping. Retrieved December 23, 2021, from https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/life/relationships/a32208136/why-we-love-reality-dating-shows/
Hughes, L., & Meltzer, K. (2012). The real housewives of postfeminism: False agency and the internalization of patriarchy on reality television (thesis).
Miller, K. (2020, May 28). Dating shows are more popular than ever during quarantine-here's why everyone's loving the love. Parade. Retrieved December 23, 2021, from https://parade.com/1040702/korinmiller/reality-tv-dating-shows-coronavirus/
Porter, R. (2020, April 15). Something for everyone: Specialty Cable Networks thrive during quarantine. The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved December 23, 2021, from https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/tv/tv-news/specialty-cable-networks-thrive-quarantine-1290443/
Swantek, S. (2014, September 11). Sterotyped: Women in reality TV. The Artifice. Retrieved December 23, 2021, from https://the-artifice.com/sterotyped-women-in-reality-tv/
For Greek Readers
Κανέλλης, Β. Σ., Καλφέλης, Γ., Γιαννακίδης, Κ., & Παναγοπούλου, Κ. (2021, September 30). "Η ακρόπολη τι χρώμα έχει; Ο Παρθενώνας έχει παράθυρα;" - το bachelor λύνει όλες τις απορίες σας. in.gr. Retrieved December 24, 2021, from https://www.in.gr/2021/09/30/itrash/akropoli-ti-xroma-exei-o-parthenonas-exei-parathyra-bachelor-lynei-oles-tis-apories-sas/
Image 1. Catfight. Wikiwand. (n.d.). Retrieved December 24, 2021, from https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Catfight
Image 2. Callaghan, L. (2018). Negative Competition Among Women. Women Soind Off. Retrieved December 25, 2021, from https://womensoundoff.com/blog/2018/3/14/negative-competition-among-women.
Image 3. Women in the world: Global poverty, Gender, & Race. CCWA. (2020, October 21). Retrieved December 23, 2021, from https://columbusworldaffairs.org/event/women-in-the-world-global-poverty-gender-race/