Dearest BUSTies, I have a huge confession to make: The Real Housewives franchise comprises all of my favorite TV shows. Usually, people think of the shows as dated because they portray these women as vapid and totally clueless (granted, they often behave that way), but the series does chronicle shifts in how housewives as a social group are perceived. These women have done countless things to raise awareness and funds for fighting domestic violence, and the show captures some of their most intimate struggles as home-makers: many feel that the show has helped them to have an identity outside of their roles as wives. Highlights throughout the seasons include these women going to work outside of the home for the first time.
But there’s always been this nagging voice in the back of my head telling me that I shouldn’t enjoy it so much, that it does in many ways portray housewives as shallow and air-headed, promoting a negative and inaccurate stereotype. Where are the husbands? Are we supposed to assume that they aren’t just as shallow as their wives? Why do we get a cultural commentary on the lives of modern, affluent women and not a similar one on men?
A&E has a new show called Modern Dads that is exactly what we housewives fans have been waiting for. Finally, we have what seems to be a respectful, nuanced portrayal of stay-at-home dads. As TIME’s James Poniewozik correctly points out, “caring for your own baby does not make your penis fall off. Indeed, fathering a child and having a penis are highly correlated,” and more and more modern dads are choosing to stay at home.
Sure, the show is sprinkled with gimmicky stereotypes, as expressed in its marketing: in ads, dads are shown using duct tape to secure diapers or wearing tool belts whilst holding their kids. But for the most part, it seems like parents who stay in the home are finally getting the respect they deserve in this new series: “The show portrays full-time childcare as exhausting, because it is, but not as humiliating or embarrassing,” says Poniewozik. Poniewozik is understandably frustrated with the fact that the media continually portrays men who stay home as funny, emasculated, or incapable. Women and men are equally qualified to care for kids, and I am thrilled that we are finally seeing that on these reality shows.
I can’t help but notice the fact that the Dads are not as ridiculously affluent as the majority of the Housewives, and I would hope that someday soon we get male and female stay-at-home reality stars from the same income bracket. As is, comparing the work of the househusbands and housewives is hard to do accurately, and they do remain unequal in many ways: the extravagant lifestyle of the women forces them into appearing far more shallow, and availability of a staff in the lives of the Housewives undermines the hard, backbreaking, admirable work being a housewife truly entails.
What do you think about these reality shows: exploitative or culturally significant? Let us know, and watch the Modern Dads promo below.