The Crux Project Archives: Television
Housewives Not Desperate
Sexist show calls Hollywood's progressive bluff
Hollywood claims to be socially progressive, but ABC’s Desperate Housewives proves otherwise. The show is a sexist and offensive portrayal of a growing segment of American women who choose to stay at home. If Hollywood is politically and socially progressive, how does it defend its blatant objectification of millions of women?
First, the facts: The U.S. Census Bureau reports an estimated 6.8 million stay-at-home parents, 5.4 of whom are women. While a large percentage of stay-at-home men (who make up a statistically insignificant portion of the stay-at-home population) cited illness or disability as their primary reason for staying at home (45.1%), the overwhelming majority of women (88%) stayed home to care for their children and family. The stay-at-home demographic is growing, with 10.6 million children being raised by a stay-at-home parent, which is a 13% increase in less than a decade.
Are the millions of stay-at-home women desperate with their situation? The answer is a resounding no! Consider first that these women are content because they decided to stay home. A 2003 Redbook article entitled “What Moms Want Now” cited the primary reasons for moms staying home (and none of them included passionate escapades with the neighbor). Top reasons were to raise their own kids, a desire to focus on love in their family and children, and a desire for more time with their children. If feminism is about women making choices, then the stay-at-home revolution is a feminist dream come true!
Hollywood finds itself opposed to academic progressives because Desperate Housewives runs in the face of modern feminism. Think about the basic premise of the show: Women who are unfulfilled go wild. Recent studies suggest stay-at-home moms are fulfilled. Ecofeminists (environmentalists who look at ecology from a feminist perspective) argue that women are nurturers and that the world would be a better place if decision making involved more trust, care, and friendship, the very qualities leading so many women to stay at home. According to Karen Warren’s book Ecofeminist Philosophy (2000), the desired “ethical principle” is the “application of the . . . care principle.” In other words, the feminist principles of care and trust, the very ingredients of nurturing, are a perfect fit for raising children. This doesn’t sound desperate to me.
But surely there are women, who, for whatever reason, find home life unsuitable to them?
The Desperate Housewives model of female decision making is as socially progressive as a Hee Haw rerun. Consider the pilot episode, where Gabrielle Solis finds herself in an existential crisis. Despite having everything she could want (which in Hollywood speak means a wealthy husband and large mansion), Gabrielle is unhappy---in fact, quite miserable. What’s a girl to do? In the Hollywood version of female decision making, Gabrielle begins a romantic (that means sexual) relationship with John, a 17-year-old gardener, as a means of escape. Forget Calgon! Female escapism vis-à-vis extra-marital romps with the underage lawn boy is Hollywood’s version of problem solving.
In reality, the same rational women who make adjustments to exit the workforce reenter it in a similarly reasonable and timely fashion.
What does it say for the millions of women who choose to stay at home if they are portrayed as miserable and unfulfilled? What message does it send to young women, like my daughter, about what women do in the face of dissatisfaction?
Reality is more boring than fiction; fair enough. But the intricate dance of reality and its popular portrayal in the media does affect the way our society views women, especially those millions who choose willingly to stay at home. When they say “I am a housewife," they should not have to deal with men snickering from last night’s television episode or imagine that stay-at-home moms are just waiting for their knight in shining armor. These are sexist attitudes that objectify a well-informed and educated class of Americans.
Who are the truly desperate women in America? I suggest that they are the ones who desire to be home with their children but financially cannot---or those who are unsupported by their spouse. They are the women who would love to stay at home but fear their "self-identity" would suffer or that they would be viewed as "unsuccessful." Success is defined in different ways, from college degrees to a good burp to a happy smile to a life lesson taught on the tree swing. These simple treasures can be more rewarding than anything corporate America has to offer.
The proof is in the programming. Hollywood actors, directors, and network executives should come out against sexist television shows like Desperate Housewives or abandon its collective claim on social progression.•