Housewives, Shut Up

Reality TV makes women look like morons. Discuss. Or not

My 22-year-old daughter has a problem. It’s more of an addiction, really. Given a long, hot summer without any classes to attend, she watches a helluva lot of TV, most of it featuring casts of hard, bitter-looking women who are “housewives” in a major city somewhere in the U.S. of A. These women sit around in various venues—restaurants, one another’s homes, shops, salons—and talk. Oh my God, do they talk. They talk about their husbands and their kids, their money, their clothes, their “careers”—but most of all, they talk about each other’s problems. And it goes on and on and on, all day, thanks to On Demand.

I can’t watch five minutes of these unreal housewives without wanting to kill them and all their progeny. Now an interesting new study from the University of Missouri shows I’m not alone in this reaction. I’m just the wrong sex.

Researchers at UM conducted four different studies of some 2,000 children and adolescents on the subject of “talking about problems.” Girls, the studies showed, love to talk about their problems. They told researchers they anticipate that discussing them will make them feel cared for and less vulnerable and alone. Guys, on the other hand, said that talking about problems would make them feel “weird” and seem like “wasting time.” Amen!

The sharp divide in expectations, according to UM psychological sciences professor Amanda J. Rose, has some intriguing implications. We parents tend to try to convince our boys to talk about what’s going wrong in their lives. We assume, when they won’t, that they fear they’ll look unmanly or weak. But Rose says that’s not it at all. Boys—and men—think that discussing problems makes those problems seem bigger, not smaller. They prefer going to the gym or playing video games to yakking over glasses of chardonnay.

I’m with the guys on this one. Endless back-and-forth on what LuAnn and Jacqueline and Vicki and Taylor think about one another isn’t fascinating; it’s distasteful and embarrassing to my gender. It can also be deadly; one Housewife’s husband recently committed suicide, not long after saying the show had ruined his life. Researcher Rose cited another danger of the ceaseless, self-involved chatter females are prone to: “excessive problem talk,” which is linked to depression and anxiety. We need to teach our daughters, she says, that talking “isn’t the only way to cope.”

It kills me that after so much brave effort to move the rights of women forward, this is the front we now encourage TV to present to the world: that we’re a bunch of cackling, claw-raking narcissists with bad plastic surgery, willing to sacrifice our loved ones for a few fleeting moments of fame. I’ve got this to say to my daughter and her fellow Housewives fans: Shame on you. Stand for more. Turn that crap off and go live a life of substance and honor and worth.