Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Real Hegemonies of New York City

In a world where the women hold the reigns to the show, the Real Housewives of New York City showcases five women as they primp, shop, and socialize their way up the social ladder. These five women are independent and strong housewives who are anything but desperate. The main idea behind the show follows these women as they live their lives, deal with their family, their relationships, their looks, beauty, and age. The show displays many of the hegemonic issues, both culturally and genderly, that surrounds our society. These women who climb the social ladder must always be aware of the rings that they step on and must be careful not to burn their ladder down.
Throughout this episode, the viewers see five different story lines that are all intertwined throughout the hour. Each character lives her life and shows you the ins and outs of being on the A-List and following the big book of “This is How We Do Things” East Coast addition. What this show really displays is a documentation of a life that viewers can hardly reach, and a stereotype that has only been created through the media. Jennifer L. Pozner supports this idea in her article “The Unreal World”: “Nearly every night, on every network, dating, mating and makeover shows routinely glorify the same stereotypes lampooned in [The] Stepford [Wives]”. A movie that was made in 1975 and then remade in 2004 follows the lives of society’s stereotypical trophy wives. When it turns out the men have created these monsters, literally as they are machines, the men are taken down by the outsiders. The Real Housewives of New York City is a complete “real life”, if you can call if that, version of Stepford. The perfect moms have the perfect lunch in their perfect outfits and the pick up their perfect children from their perfect private schools and then return to their perfect $8 million dollar Park Avenue penthouse suites. It is no wonder that society has created this unattainable social structure when the media is constantly shoving it down our throats. Of course for entertainment purposes, this show is genius and draws any aspiring socialite into their lives, but as for the caste system that is depicted, it can only be defined as class and gender debauchery.
These five women make it very clear to the viewers their social standing in the New York City social scene. In one segment of this episode, Alex and Simon are attending opening night of the Metropolitan Opera. The following morning as she peruses through the New York Times Style Section, she comes across her picture, on the sightings page. She voices an opinion about being photographed: “Being photographed next to very prominent socialites makes people see you as approaching that status”. It is clear that Alex is trying to climb her way up to the top. She knows the rules and plays the game perfectly. This entails dressing a certain way, attending certain events, and playing in the right “social circles”. Although Alex and Simon are an anomaly couple, that are very much co-dependent on each other and equal in their partnership, they are both trying to climb their way up to the top of the caste system. This episode shows how important these women feel it is to be at the top.
Bethenny, also known as Ms. Independent, is very open about her botched childhood and how she was “an adult when [she] was a kid”. She raised herself and has become a very determined individual. Yet, Bethenny showcases the classic double bind, where she boasts about her indepdency, but her biggest issues around the show revolve around the man in her life, Jason, who is unable to fully commit to Bethenny and settle down and start a family. Bethenny, the only unmarried housewife, struggles with her empty left ring finger. Although Bethenny seems to be very in control of her life, Jason still holds the ring to a major part of Bethenny’s life: her happiness. Although this show is based on the ideals of strong, powerful, and independent women, Bethenny shows that in order to truly have it all, you must have a man and a marriage.
In society, we have stereotyped the women as the housewife that tends to the children and home. While watching this show, it is easy to see, on the surface, how the show portrays the women as breaking this mold. And although the women are highlighted in this show, the men play the silent, yet powerful partner. Take Jill for example; this girl has got her stuff together. Her social calendar is packed with fashion shows, benefit dinners, charity events, and museum openings. Yet, she still manages to take care of her two homes, one in New York City and one in the Hamptons, care for her little dog, her daughter, and her husband Bobby Zarin. Jill has paid her dues, and is at the top of the social ladder. And although there are people vying and fighting for her spot, she has perfected her position, and will not it up. It is easy to fall into the idolizing mind frame in terms of Jill, but she is still very much playing into the hegemonic social culture where she is on top, and everyone is simply not worthy. Her relationship with Bobby Zarin also showcases how dependent she is on the man in her life. As she says to her sister on a radio show interview: “When I remarried, my husband gave me the ability to live that dream…We’re not keeping up with the Jones’ anymore, we are the Jones’”. Her success can only be accompanied by the fact that without Bobby, she would still be only a yenta.
LuAnn, the fourth housewife, also displays very clearly the hegemonic class and gender issues that this show displays. Married to Count Alexander Delesseps, whose great-great-grandfather gave America the Statue of Liberty, LuAnn has become, through marriage, a countess, a fact that plays an important role in the social platform that she stands on. During this episode, Bethenny and LuAnn decide to go out for dinner and “skinny girl margaritas”, the new drink du jour. As Bethenny and LuAnn get into their chauffered car, Bethenny introduced LuAnn to the driver as simple LuAnn. As soon as the door shuts, LuAnna scolds Bethenny for introducing her as LuAnn and not Mrs, not Ms., Delesseps. Here LuAnn demonstrates the caste system that is still present in her world. LuAnn feels as though she is socially above the driver and that he should respect her by calling her Mrs. Delesseps, as simply LuAnn is too mongrel for him to use. This is a prime example of the social structure that his show portrays. And for that matter, her only social status is there because of her husband, the Count. Her respect for her husband is displayed through her usage of the world Count, as she doesn’t call her husband “my husband”, only “the count”. Once again, a housewife, is reliant on her husband to deliver the social crown that each wife has had bedazzled and placed on her head.
The last housewife, Ramona, is the quintessential queen bee of high school, unfortunately for her, high school was over 25 years ago. Ramona has a job, a family, a very good looking husband, and fantastic friends. Yet she is quick to judge in order to make sure she assumes her position on top. During this episode, Romano finally expresses her mother’s hardships in staying in a dependent relationship with her husband. Ramona reveals that she received a letter, after her mother died, where her mother apologizes for staying in relationship where she was suffering. Ramona hopes to overcome her mother’s unhappiness, and wants to make sure that she is as independent as possible and can live on her own. The best part about Ramona is that she has a loving husband, Mario, that she is not dependent on, neither emotionally of economically. Ramona is the only one who truly exhibits these qualities. Yet, Romano is still playing into her high school queen bee attitudes, and will fight anyone away from the top. During a girls night dinner that Jill and Bethenny prepare, Alex brings her husband Simon along for the party. Ramona feels very uncomfortable with this, and verbally attacks both Simon and Alex. Then during dinner Ramona abruptly leaves in order to get her real “girls-night” with her other friends. Ramona’s abrupt attitude makes her seem as though she thinks she is “too good” for these low-lifes, and she quickly leaves before they can rub off on her.
It is easy to see that these five housewives exhibit very intense hegemonic binaries that contribute to our culture today. In our society, girls are very competitive with each other, and these five housewives are constantly competing with each other. Although this reality TV show isn’t a game where competitors compete for the title and a prize, these women are competing for the highest social status. They must follow the rules that the New York City social scene as set in order to win the game. Laurie Ouellette and James Hay describe this scenario in their book “Better Living Through Reality TV”: “The subjects of the program are also subjects of an elaborate set of rules and administrative bodies that regulate their forms of association” (202). These women are playing the game in order to be the most fabulous and most glamorous socialite in New York City. And their actions and motives unfortunately play into the hegemonic issues that society as set.


Ouellette, Laurie, and James Hay. Better Living Through Reality TV. Blackwell, 2008.

Pozner, Jennifer L. "The Unreal World."