Women-centered reality tv shows have proven to be quite lucrative but even if you’re unsure of the ratings you still couldn’t miss the evidence being a plethora of these shows across a plethora of platforms. Perhaps a net positive but the paradox runs strong when you consider that the cornerstone of these reality shows is women on women violence, a stark contrast to the sort of new post-post-post-feminism captured by the media on all those other legitimate channels.
It doesn’t seem to matter whether the women that sign on to document their lives are
basketball wives, housewives, or hip hop hoes. Their careers and homelife are only relevant by proxy to the drama they can create with each other. That's good TV, duh. But drama as arguments is running dry on the cutting room floor
Oxygen’s Bad Girls Club (a show created by a man) is probably the most exact in implementing this formula because it doesn’t pretend to offer any sort of peripheral intrigue in the young girls’ aspirations or careers but simply focuses on the girls being bad. Being violent. The landing page for the show on Oxygen’s website shows two girls roughed up, clearly having just been in a physical tiff. There are moments when these women have heartfelt resolve, but this arc is only achieved after the precipice of violence has been breached. We can weigh in on the doting so long as we receive the beating first.
Bravos’ The Real Housewives (a show created by a man), once the beacon of nonphysical discourse where conflict was settled with shade and reading, dropped the ball during a season 6 reunion episode when Porsha Williams pulled Kenya Moore’s hair dragging her to the ground. The face of the franchise is ironically a man. Andy Cohen has repeatedly stated that violence has no place on the show but since that initial melee there have been other physical altercations. Cynthia Bailey kicked Porsha in the stomach during a season 8 episode. Danielle Staub pulled Margaret Joseph’s hair during a season ten episode on the New Jersey franchise. On and on. So forth and so forth. Although Cohen insists that violence has no place on the show, it seems to have firmly settled in. Basketball Wives, Love and Hip Hop, and Black Ink, all shows over on VH1 (Owned by ViacomCBS with a male CEO) display similar violent behavior which involves punches, hair pulls, table flips, blah blah blah.
These reality shows are of course not the first exploitation of women’s interpersonal conflicts unresolved with violence. Anyone who was around in the 90s definitely stumbled upon an episode of Jerry Springer, another show led by men where women are encouraged and provided the perfect context for violence. Some would argue that these reality shows have taken the place of the fight-back talk shows. But at least they’re arguing, not punching.
It's not that these networks are hiring coincidentally violent women but rather these women have learned to employ violence as a means to secure the bag. That bag being filled with cash, fame, residual notoriety, and the opportunity to push drab products and ho-hum brands. I don’t mean to infantilize women or suggest their agency isn’t self-perceptive but rather note that relinquishing aspects of agency is possible when offered great incentives or nudged by producers to enhance the show and hoist one’s own storyline. It's known that boring additions to the cast don’t see a second season. There is a chopping block created by producers, acknowledged by the cast, and appreciated by the fans.
A 2017 Yahoo Sports article highlighted the fact that Fox, FS1’s UFC’s women's fights received consistently higher ratings than men’s fights. Professional fighting of course requires physical skills and training, maybe not so unlike the media proficiency that the women on these reality shows must train for. Regardless of the conditions at hand, it seems Americans love watching women go at it with each other and the networks know this. Execs are pressured to moralize their programming, condemning the violence, yet they continue to clip these quarrels and use them as promotional materials because they know that when you have an ace in show business, you roll with it. So move over sex because when it comes to women and TV theres something new selling. A Big Gulp full of girl-on-girl whoop ass.