The Real Housewives has been on television for over 16 years now, and while it is a staple within pop culture, I feel like there’s been a decline regarding the authenticity, and many seem to agree, pointing to the manufactured drama causing it. What was once a show that gave us hilarious one-liners, authentic storylines, and over-the-top moments has now become stale, overproduced, and a bit lost. Let’s get into how we got here and what we can do to fix it.
Out With The New, In With The Old
Listen, I understand that there’s always a need for a bit of a refresh from time to time, and I am absolutely here for it. But, if we’re being honest, I don’t necessarily think that firing OG/veteran cast members has been in the best interest of the franchises. For example, losing Tamra and Vicki was a big mistake (huge) for RHOC. The show lost some of its authenticity, and to introduce new cast members 16 seasons in doesn’t give me any excitement. We love The Real Housewives mainly because of the dynamic between the women, and when the women start to come across as co-workers instead of an actual friend group, it’s incredibly inauthentic. Obviously, because these franchises have been on for so long, it can be challenging to cast people that are genuinely friends. I think bringing cast members like Vicki and Tamra back to RHOC, Dorinda back to RHONY, and even Caroline Manzo back on RHONJ could bring the realness that some of these franchises so desperately need.
The Theme Of Each Franchise Should Stay Consistent
What makes us love The Real Housewives is that each city has its own theme. When you think of RHONJ, you might think of family, and when you think of RHOA you might think of laughter and shade. Recently with the RHOC reboot, I felt like the show was becoming something that it was never intended to be. When I think of RHOC, I think of really dramatic yet real storylines. From the Brooks cancer scandal to Shannon Beador’s divorce, RHOC was consistently good because the women were showing us their authentic selves. This last season, I felt like the women wanted to give us high glam and drama, when that’s more RHOBH‘s domain.
Shorter Seasons Are Better
While I love watching Housewives, there comes a point where some episodes are just flat-out boring. For example, the most recent season of The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City was 24 episodes, and the main storyline of the season that we were waiting for (Jen Shah’s arrest) didn’t arrive until episode 10. The season felt drawn-out and was incredibly boring at times. I believe that each season should contain no more than 18 episodes, including the reunion. That way there isn’t a lot of filler and the fans can actually enjoy the season without feeling like the show has become a chore to watch.
The Women Have To Like Each Other
While we love a good feud, there still has to be some sense of sisterhood within the group. The reason why franchises like RHOP and RHOA work is because while the women may feud from time to time, there’s still this sense that they have a love for one another and are friends outside the show. Watching RHOSLC and RHOC, you get the vibe that the women aren’t friends outside the show, and that the friendships that they portray as “close-knit” are all for show. Even RHOBH and RHONJ who both have ensembles that have “teams” within the cast (Fox Force Four, Teresa and Jen, etc.) still have some sense of real friendships on the show.
Even with the last two seasons of RHONY, I felt like women were trying to shift the show into something that it wasn’t before. What was once a show that gave us belly laughs, genuine friendships, and sort of a Sex and The City vibe became a show where the women seemed to hate each other at times and there didn’t seem to be any genuinely fun moments, like we were used to before.
I do believe that there is potential for the franchise to go back to what we loved in the glory days of housewives, especially with the new season of RHOA, which looks incredibly promising. For that to happen for other franchises, however, the network will have to go back to the basics with its formula for producing its shows. We need authentic drama, organic chemistry between the cast, and to let every franchise stick to what made it popular in the first place.
Images: Nicole Weingart/Bravo
According to the Chinese zodiac, 2022 is the year of the tiger, but, based on the current trend of penises on TV, it’s looking more like the year of the one-eyed snake. Seriously. If you want to see an on-screen peen, you don’t have to look too hard. Pardon my French, but what’s with all the dicks?
First, there’s Euphoria, everybody’s favorite high school dramedy, which seems to relish its ability to let the dongs out. Season 1 brought us that locker room scene, complete with plenty of dicks flopping about in the background. This year, season 2 (finally) came out, and for anyone hoping for a barrage of male genitalia, you won’t be disappointed. There are plenty of penises—including one seen dangling over an open toilet during a mid-house party dump and another that’s been bloodied and mangled. If you ask me, that’s the most unrealistic part of Euphoria. I went to high school for four years, but I didn’t see nearly as many wieners.
In the recent Sex and the City reboot, And Just Like That, two penises were shown in a single episode. That might not seem too shocking for a show about sex, but when you consider that not a single dick made an appearance over the course of Sex and the City’s original six-season run, it kind of is.
Not to be outdone, Hulu’s 2022 series Pam and Tommy featured a talking penis. (You read that right, the cock in question spoke.) And in HBO Max’s new comedy, Minx, the pilot episode alone had a whopping 20 dicks (yes, I counted. For, uh, research.)
Other recent shows with full-frontal men include White Lotus, Sex Education, Scenes from a Marriage, and Sex/Life. While the continued rise of streaming services (which don’t have to cater to FCC regulations) is partially responsible for this sudden influx of dick, it’s not just TV serving up steamy penis scenes. Movies like Don’t Look Up, Nightmare Alley, The Worst Person in the World, and The Power of the Dog had fully nude men on screen. Although both Don’t Look Up and The Power of the Dog had limited theatrical runs before being released on Netflix, the willies weren’t censored for the cinema.
Seeing a dick on the big screen isn’t exactly new; back in 2014, Ben Affleck showed (part) of his peen in Gone Girl, and the internet promptly lost its goddamn mind. It’s worth noting that the film also featured a topless Emily Ratajkowski, but that split-second side shot of Matt Damon’s other half (and his other half) was far more titillating for moviegoers.
Affleck wasn’t the first actor to let his pecker loose for a role (see both Forgetting Sarah Marshall and The Hangover), nor was he the first major movie star to whip it out (see Richard Gere in 1980’s American Gigolo.) But it was still a rare enough occurrence that it garnered a mass amount of attention.
Over the last five years, the on-screen peen has steadily increased in popularity. Which begs the real question: why? Are they simply there for shock value? Or are they intended as a way to even the playing field? Is showing a dick on TV a feminist statement of sorts in this post-#MeToo world? What exactly are these penises (talking or otherwise) saying?
Whether or not this advent of mainstream male nudity signals gender equality in Hollywood is beside the point. Because what actually matters is whether or not tit-for-tat is equal. Sadly, the answer is typically no.
For one thing, when men flash their dicks on screen, more often than not, it’s a prosthetic. With the exception of Lily James in Pam and Tommy, this is rarely the case for women. When an actress goes topless in a movie, the audience probably sees her real breasts.
People tend to give one of two arguments as justification for this disparity—that boobs aren’t the equivalent to male genitalia, or that penis size is more personal to men than breast size is to women. Neither is particularly compelling.
Sure, in terms of reproduction and biology, boobs aren’t the same as penises. But considering that the vagina is internal, I’d say breasts are a fair comparison. Not to mention that the list of female actresses who’ve gone full-frontal in a film far outweighs the list of male actors.
As for the argument that it’s more embarrassing for a man to have a small willy than for a woman to have itty bittys, I’m not buying it. Personally, I know plenty of men who are quite proud of their packages, but I have yet to meet a single woman who is genuinely happy with how she looks naked. And besides, why are we so willing to accommodate the possible embarrassment of male actors while dismissing the comfort level of actresses?
Women are expected to bare their real breasts if a script calls for it, whereas if a man goes fully nude on screen, sans prosthesis, he’s lauded for his bravery. Countless articles have already been written about Bradley Cooper’s decision to bare all for his latest endeavor, Nightmare Alley. Oscar Issac and his lack of a prosthetic penis went viral on social media even though his Scenes from a Marriage co-star, Jessica Chastain, appeared nude alongside him. Even the discussion of her nakedness centered more on him, as she’d only agreed to do it if he was also expected to go full-frontal.
Another big difference is how nudity is used. When women are naked on TV, it’s almost always sexualized, intended to arouse (either another character, the audience, or both). A naked penis, on the other hand, isn’t there to turn you on. It’s there to make you laugh or prove a point (like, that the show is progressive and boundary-pushing).
So, while the uptick in on-screen dick is progress, we still have a long way to go before tat is genuinely equal to tit.
Images: Erin Simkin/Hulu; Eddy Chen/HBO; AMANDA MATLOVICH/NETFLIX
We’re already a few months into the new year—how are you tracking your 2022 reading goals? Lagging behind yet? Was that #TBR list a little too lofty? What books are you embarrassed not to have read yet? That last question was one The New York Times posed to Outlander novelist Diana Gabaldon in a November interview amid the flurry of year-end best book roundups. It made my lip curl. The underlying sentiment, that there are books we should be embarrassed not to have read and that reading itself is a self-conscious act—a performance of one’s intelligence and cultural awareness—is one of the reasons I all but gave up books.
I have been a delinquent reader, a dormant bibliophile for much of my twenties and thirties. I went from child bookworm to adult with little desire to crack a spine. The book collection I cultivated as a teenager, dorkishly supplementing with titles I felt were missing from my high school curricula, was only occasionally tended after university. Were there years in which I read fewer than five books? Certainly. Under three? Maybe. Zero? I really don’t know—it’s not impossible. What I do know is books were not my go-to source of entertainment, not even close. When I needed to relax, I turned to the TV. Craving a sweeping epic, I watched a movie. Commuting to and from work, I listened to podcasts.
In 2019, something in me snapped. That year, I read over 50 books. Last year, it was around 90. It’s not that I suddenly found myself with an excess of free time or set myself an aggressive New Year’s reading goal. I haven’t learned how to speed-read. I don’t listen to audiobooks at double-time. And I certainly didn’t wake up one day, deeply embarrassed by all the books I had not yet read. I rekindled my love of books by reading what I loved. I say this like it’s simple, and I guess it is, but it didn’t feel simple. It felt radical. It felt like I became me again.
They say if you want to pick up a hobby as an adult, do what you enjoyed as a kid. So it only fits that my return to books was heavy on young adult fiction. I’m not precisely sure where I started, but I think it may have been with Jenny Han’s To All the Boys series, which I gorged on shortly after the first glorious movie dropped on Netflix. It was cozy and cute and clever. It was a faux fur blanket of a book, which is exactly what I needed in the winter of 2019.
At that point, I was on my thirteenth annual lap as an editor, and I was so tired. The previous year had been the most chaotic in my career thus far. Fresh off my maternity leave, I’d returned to work at a Canadian women’s magazine only to watch dozens of colleagues lose their jobs in an ugly corporate layoff known as the Rogers Red Wedding. Our editor-in-chief resigned, and I was offered her job ten minutes following the slaughter. I took it, but left the place soon after to launch Refinery29 Canada with a four-week timeline and an editorial staff of one: me. Then, as I started hiring, whispers came from R29’s New York headquarters: Was launching Canada a good idea? No sooner had I started Mission: Save Canada began. I’d been sick for months on end, and my toddler had too. I wanted to curl up and sleep forever, but I couldn’t fall asleep. So I read.
I read the three To All the Boys books and Han’s Summer series, and her book Shug. That led to more YA. Some of it dystopian: the Divergent books and Tahereh Mafi’s Shatter Me series. I marveled at Nicola Yoon, Jennifer Niven, and Cath Crawley, authors with such beautiful words, big brains, and enormous empathy for teens. I mainlined Colleen Hoover. Every discovery seemed to lead to another: An author would recommend a book on their Instagram or thank another author in their acknowledgments. My library app would serve as a suggestion. I followed the book breadcrumbs, and soon they took me to romcoms and contemporary romances, to Christina Lauren and Sally Thorne and Talia Hibbert. I didn’t know many books as this existed: Stories about people who have to get over their shit to get it on and get together. I fell in love—with the banter and the dialogue and the happy endings, both the ones at the end of the book and the ones within. Reading became my ultimate form of self-care. Nothing soothed my brain the way these books did.
My book breakup is an all-too-familiar tale, set in my early twenties as a university student juggling a full course load and a part-time job pushing multi-layered tablescapes and rattan settees at Pier 1 Imports. I fell behind in my course reading and resorted to watching The English Patient on DVD, the kind of corner-cutting I’d never before engaged in. Novels became a source of grief, not pleasure. Books were work.
Then reading became literal work when I graduated and got a job in journalism; the idea of coming home and picking up a book after spending the day staring at words was wholly unappealing. Mainly because I was beginning to learn that books were not created equal. There were Big Important Books and Smart People Books, and those were the books worthy of consumption and discussion.
I was a junior-level editor at a magazine in Toronto when the second Twilight book came out. There was a copy of New Moon floating around the office that August, passed furtively between colleagues. One day, I remember returning from lunch to find the thick book with its black cover and ruffled red tulip on my chair, a secret pushed well under my desk. The message was clear: This was not a book you wanted to be seen with.
In December, I was reminded of our workplace subterfuge when a Reddit user posted a now-viral AITA after giving their coworker a fantasy novel for the holiday Secret Santa rather than the romance she’d asked for. “I felt kinda cringe buying her romance novels… I figure if she likes to read, then she’d be happy to broaden her horizons and branch out.”
I had this idea of what I was supposed to read for so many years, and books centering on love stories were so not it. Over time, books became something I couldn’t keep up with, something I felt I was on the outside of. Sure, I read here and there, but mostly, I was done with books. Or they were done with me. Funnily enough, the whole time I wasn’t reading books, I harbored a secret desire to write one of my own. After giving birth to my first child, I even gave it a shot. While my son napped, I spent a week or so tinkering with the first chapter of a novel. Frustrated and utterly bewildered by the process, I cast it aside. (I went back and read it recently. One paragraph is quite lovely.)
Maybe it’s that I had no fucks left to give in 2019, or perhaps it’s that every book I read felt like a bit of a fuck you, but immersing myself in the worlds of teenage drama and adult romances felt transgressive, which frankly, is kind of messed up. Many of the books I read may bear the label of “guilty pleasure,” a term almost exclusively applied to things beloved by girls and women. (Romance novels, UGG boots, PSLs.) Setting aside that these books are masterfully written (Tia Williams’s Seven Days In June and Beth O’Leary’s The Road Trip are gorgeous, full stop). And setting aside the fact that the romance genre has long been tough stuff while detractors make light—the most challenging book I’ve read recently was Helen Hoang’s The Heart Principle, a soul-crushing meditation on caregiving as much as it is a three-eggplant emoji romance. And setting aside the fact that we shouldn’t have to justify any of this to anyone. Don’t we all just have enough to feel guilty about?
For her part, Gabaldon was unfazed by the question of what books she was embarrassed not to have read yet. “Um. I don’t really consider books as social accessories. I don’t care in the slightest what people might think of what I do or don’t read.” Regardless of what or how much we devour that’s the energy we should all adopt when it comes to our reading habits.
So yes, set your ambitious reading goals. Try a new genre. Seek out BIPOC authors and storytellers whose experiences are different from your own. Crush your #TBR and then build it back up again. But above all: Have fun.
Image: Lucas Ottone/ Stocksy.com
Netflix’s Squid Game has become one of the streaming service’s most-watched shows and unsurprisingly, pop culture’s most recent obsession (that and a 13-year-old pug named Noodle that predicts the outcome of your day). It was a Halloween costume staple this year, and as Us Weekly has been telling us for years: Stars—They’re Just Like Us!, it’s not surprising that many celebrities have jumped on the Squid Game train: Lizzo performed at the Outside Lands music festival in San Francisco dressed as the red light, green light murder doll and Kerry Washington donned a green jumpsuit as Seong Gi-hun (Player 456). And I get it—it’s a show that everyone has been talking about, a show that is aesthetically pleasing (in a “the colors and sets are great” kind of way, not in a “blood and death is pleasing to watch” kind of way), and we all just want to feel like we are a part of the conversation. But it’s also a show about the truly shitty reality of the world that we live in, the deadly impacts of capitalism on our society and the ever-growing wealth gap that is often accompanied by the growing complacency of those that benefit from it. So sure, the show is called Squid Game, but it’s not all fun and games and we as a society shouldn’t be treating it as such—especially the super rich.
Cue: Chrissy Teigen and John Legend’s elaborate Squid Game-themed party this past weekend. First of all, we are well into Mariah Carey season and this party definitely should have taken place on Halloween. Second of all, never mind, this party should not have taken place at all. Don’t get me wrong, I love a themed party. In fact, I’m still mad at my parents for squashing my Jurassic Park-themed Bat Mitzvah party dreams. But super rich people throwing a Squid Game-themed party where they, as Chrissy cheekily put in her caption, “watch their friends fight to the death” is questionable at best, and out-of-touch for sure.
Squid Game is a critique of capitalism, a dark depiction of the class struggle which portrays the rich assholes who bankroll the games as literal (yet fancy) animals betting on the lives of the less fortunate. Squid Game should have been a giant mirror that rich people like Chrissy and John could see themselves in—not as the players, but as the aforementioned rich assholes bankrolling the game. And while I’m fairly certain that they didn’t murder their friends that participated in their little version of the games, I am 100% certain that they walked straight past that mirror without giving it even the slightest of glances. Newsflash, John and Chrissy: This show wasn’t FOR you, it was ABOUT you.
That’s not to say they shouldn’t be able to watch and enjoy the show, but it’s truly wild to me that the same person who not long ago took a break from Twitter—not just because of the backlash she received for previously bullying Courtney Stodden, but also due to the general decline of the unique brand of relatability that made her popular on social media in the first place (see: spending $13,000 on a bottle of wine and “loving Parasite”)—would think replicating a system that pits the lower class against each other for the enjoyment of the rich for her own personal entertainment, was a good idea. Did she learn nothing from her brief departure from the Twitterverse, or is she just doing her best Melania Trump in that army green jacket impression?
Look, I don’t have a problem with their lavish lifestyle. I also enjoy the occasional splurge. Just last month, I went all out and paid for new brakes and an oil change for my 2008 Rav4. And boy, does it feel fancy to not hear a screech every time I stop—I get it, totally relatable! It’s just that maybeeeee you shouldn’t be spending that money on a party that glorifies the oppressive economic systems from which you benefit.
So I guess Us Weekly lied to us, the column should really be called Stars—They Consume The Same Content As Us But Don’t Learn A Goddamn Thing From It! Anyway, I’m really looking forward to John and Chrissy’s White Lotus-themed Christmas Party!
Image: DFree /Shutterstock.com
Let me start by saying: I love love. Love can open new doors, help you see things in a different light, and completely change your world. I believe that everyone deserves a shot at experiencing true love, and finding the partner that makes them feel like the best possible version of themselves. And I’m all in—my entire career is built on helping others find their person.
So yes, I’m a romantic. But when it comes to Asian dating in the U.S., I’m a frustrated romantic (though, not a hopeless one). As a longtime fan of The Bachelor franchise, I’ve tuned in every Monday (now, Tuesday) to watch live love in action. I love the romantic gestures, the fantastic dates, the proposals, and even the friendships that develop between contestants. But after nearly 20 years of watching the show, I’ve got to ask, where are the Asians at?!
Even though Asian-Americans are the fastest-growing ethnic group in the United States, Asian contestants are rarely seen on dating shows. And when they are, they’re disqualified early on or made out to be drama-seeking villains. Tammy Ly, perhaps the best-known Asian franchise contestant, was continuously framed as a pot-stirrer by the editors and producers, despite being there for the same reasons as everyone else—to look for love.
The phrase “reality TV” in and of itself is an oxymoron. We all know that what we see on screen is not a true reflection of life. There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes and in the editing room that turns normal interactions into the dramatic, tension-filled scenes we love to watch. It’s easy to brush it off like it’s completely unimportant, but what we see on TV and in movies matters, even if it’s not completely true to life.
In a period of time when Asian hate crimes are at an all-time high, we cannot stand by and ignore how the things we see on the screen perpetuate the real and terrible things happening to Asian people in the United States—on the street, in office buildings, and yes, on dating apps.
How many Asian women have been reached out to on Tinder with fetishizing, dehumanizing pick-up lines? How many Asian men have been told, “sorry, I’m just not into Asian guys”?
The true, lived experience of Asian people in the United States cannot be viewed as separate from the storylines we see on TV. Positive media representation alone cannot solve every problem, but it’s a critical first step in ensuring that Asian people are seen as human beings, who are deserving of respect, empowerment, and love, just like everyone else.
It’s why I founded my company. I know what it’s like to be a member of the diaspora: I am so proud of my Japanese heritage and the beautiful culture that comes along with it, but it can be a challenge not to feel othered when living in the United States. I believe so strongly in the power of love, and am empowered by the amazing community of other diasporic Asians that I have been able to connect with.
I am proud that the community I have been able to cultivate runs counter to so much of what we see on television. My friends and colleagues are not the side characters we are relegated to on television, nor are we the self-hating characters who turn their backs on our culture and resent their parents’ accents and upbringing. We bring together the best parts of our cultures while remaining whole and proud.
So this is what I ask: Let’s think critically about the media we consume. Are the Asian characters on your favorite show playing into harmful, dangerous stereotypes? Are they purposefully villainizing female Asian characters, or emasculating their male Asian characters? We’re no longer settling for crumbs when it comes to Asian representation.
And to my Asian community: Don’t give up hope on finding your person. Find ways to build your community and find friendships. Not only will that make you feel more fulfilled, but opening up your network can help grow relationships with people who value your culture, and have morals that align with yours. We’re fortunate to have such a strong community here. Use that to your advantage when dating and seeking out relationships.
Bachelor Nation, if you want to talk about casting, I’m happy to help find your next Bachelorette. And Tammy, if you’re reading this: We’re in your corner, don’t let the haters (or the Bachelor editors) get you down.
Image: ABC/Craig Sjodin
Netflix just released the third season of You, and it is raking in views with an audience of around 111 million people. Dethroning Squid Game’s long reign as number one on Netflix, You is one of the most popular shows on the app, bringing in over 40 million people since its debut in 2018. People can’t wait to tune in to Joe Goldberg’s (Penn Badgley) chaotic antics, stalking women he once met across metropolitan areas, killing anyone who gets in his way. For a long time, Joe operated alone, flying under the radar by moving from New York to L.A after killing his first girlfriend Beck. For a while, everything seemed to be working out for Joe and his new California life.
Then he met Love.
At the end of season two, audiences thought Joe had finally met his match. Love Quinn (Victoria Pedretti), daughter of extremely wealthy parents Dottie and Ray Quinn, is an aspiring chef working in the high-end grocery store Anavrin when she meets Joe and subsequently falls in love with him over the course of season two. Upon season three’s opening, Joe and Love are trying to make it work as newlyweds in a soulless wealthy suburb outside San Francisco. The season follows all its usual twists and turns (sex, lies and murder) in a new setting. But the plot takes on an unsettling age-old trope and centers this season on Love as a predator sexually exploiting a young man. And unfortunately, this trope is hardly rare in film and television.
I’m talking about the Mrs. Robinson stereotype.
Coined after the 1967 movie The Graduate, Mrs. Robinson has become synonymous with older women seducing younger men. Set in the late 1960s, The Graduate follows recent college alumn Benjamin Braddock sifting through the trials and tribulations of young adulthood. He is feeling aimless and scared about his future, and falls into an affair with Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), an older woman stuck in a loveless marriage. Seeing as the 60s was considered to be a sexual revolution, a bored housewife gaining autonomy to pursue a younger gentleman was viewed as empowering and liberating, despite the moral ambiguity of the situation. Evolving with time, this harmful depiction of romance still has an impact today.
You’s Love is our latest example of this toxic characterization. Striking up an affair with her next-door neighbor Theo (Dylan Arnold), Love carries on a romance behind Joe’s back. After having sex with Theo, Love pulls away saying she shouldn’t see him, later going back on her word to continue the affair regardless. Love acknowledges her position of power, pointing out in one episode that she is wrong for having sex with a 19-year-old, yet she continues to abuse her power anyway, indicating to Theo that his feelings are valid only when she is manipulating them.
Knowing the relationship is wrong, Love continues to toy with Theo anyway, playing hot and cold games with a young man desperate for love. Here, the Mrs. Robinson stereotype is in play. Love provides emotional dependence for a teenager, who by the way, has just lost his stepmother, which is a dynamic she later weaponizes to fulfill her own sexual desire. What is more, Love is motivated by the suspicion that Theo’s father has video footage proving that she and Joe are complicit in the murder of said stepmother. Love is using Theo for her own self-preservation, fully aware that he is in his most vulnerable state. Unlike Theo, Love is not in the relationship for human connection at all—she’s in it to keep herself and her husband out of prison.
(No spoilers but I’ll just say the relationship doesn’t end great for Theo.)
Age is an arbitrary number and often, that is used as an excuse to take advantage of young people. Though Theo is 19, above the legal age of consent, scientifically the teenage brain does not stop maturing until age 25. Neuroscientists and psychological evidence confirms that teens can make cognitively rational choices when facing minimal pressure, but in situations like sexual encounters, teenagers cannot make decisions the same way adults can, leaving them vulnerable to dangerous situations.
The Mrs. Robinson trope has been resurfacing in television lately. Before You, there was A Teacher, the Hulu show no one could stop talking about last fall. Premiering November 2020, the show followed a predatory relationship between English teacher Claire Wilson (Kate Mara) and her 18-year-old student Eric Walker (Nick Robinson). Despite not being picked up for another season, the miniseries quickly became FX’s most watched show on Hulu. Despite the fact that the relationship is predatory (not to mention, very illegal), users on Tiktok sensationalized the affair for how “hot” it was, going as far as saying they should “change career paths” to better model Claire’s lifestyle. Of course, the show’s intention was to highlight how an event like this can take over someone’s life, but the fact some people hoped Nick and Claire end up together sheds light on how portraying toxic relationships can sometimes backfire, despite best intentions.
Nobody should be looking to You for relationship goals, but when accounts of older women abusing their power pop up consistently over time, in real life and in Hollywood, it is important to highlight why harmful relationships between older women and younger men should not be sensationalized. As a new generation grows alongside television, subjecting themselves to popular media featuring romance centered around imbalances of power, it’s important to avoid romanticizing these kinds of relationships and overlooking the toxicity and danger they pose.
Image: John P. Fleenor / Netflix
In 2020, the Olympics dealt with every celebrity’s nightmare and every Republican politician’s favorite talking point: they were canceled, albeit literally. Athletes’ dreams were crushed, sponsors’ dollars gone. Thanks to modern medicine (and no thanks to your cousin who shares vaccine conspiracy theories on Facebook), plans were put in motion to resurrect the 2020 Olympics in 2021. But while much of the world spent the time off reckoning with how to address the systemic inequalities facing marginalized communities, it appears that sports leaders spent their year in lockdown figuring out how sexist, racist, and ableist they could possibly be. The Tokyo Olympics have finally arrived, and it feels like the governing bodies are going for gold in how many discriminatory practices they can employ at once.
In early July, news broke that the International Swimming Federation, known as FINA, refused to allow the Soul Cap, a swim cap designed for natural Black hair, at the Olympics. Their official statement claimed that the cap “does not follow the natural form of the head” and “could lead to an unfair advantage” despite being made of the same materials as the approved Speedo swimming caps. Scrutinizing what is and is not acceptable for Black hair has long been used as a tool to discriminate against and oppress Black people, especially Black women. While the initial impact of this decision affects Black Olympians, the overall implications can end up discouraging Black athletes and serving as a barrier for entry into competitive swimming.
Swimming is far from the only Olympic sport to discriminate against Black female athletes. From Sha’Carri Richardson being denied the ability to compete for legally smoking weed in Oregon while athletes such as Megan Rapinoe and others are praised for using CBD leading up to the Olympics, to judges undervaluing Simone Biles’ complicated (and dangerous) skills in order to level the playing field, racist double standards continue to make headlines.
The Olympics aren’t the only elite sporting group dropping the ball on creating equity and safe spaces for participants that aren’t white men. On July 20, the Norwegian women’s beach handball team was fined 1,500 Euros ($1,700 total) by the European Handball Association for wearing bike shorts instead of the required bikini bottoms during a championship match against Bulgaria—despite the fact that their men’s team wears the same. damn. thing. Even more disturbing, the bikini mandate comes from the International Handball Federation and dictates the bikini bottoms have “a close fit and cut on an upward angle toward the top of the leg,” while men can wear shorts as long as they’re “not too baggy”. (An IHF spokesperson told the New York Times, “We’re looking into it internally” and said that Norway was the only country that officially complained. The head of the Norwegian Handball Federation told the Times that Norway has protested the bikini bottom rule since 2006 and “nothing has happened”.) The oversexualization of female athletes via their uniforms is also a problem at the Olympics, by the way, where the German women’s gymnastics team decided to forego the traditional high-cut leotards in favor of full-body ones. It’s a move that the German Gymnastics Federation says is meant to push back against “sexualization in gymnastics,” and so that the athletes can “present themselves aesthetically—without feeling uncomfortable.”
International sporting organizations do not just have a problem with racism and sexism, though—ableism is another issue that is showing up, particularly in the Paralympics. As a disabled woman, I believe the denial of a personal care assistant for Becca Meyers last week is particularly egregious, because it isn’t just a form of discrimination, but of safety and human rights. The deaf blind swimmer and three-time gold medalist was forbidden from bringing her mother as her personal care assistant, despite it being allowed at international meets she’s competed in since 2017, because of rules for “non-essential” staff due to COVID-19 restrictions. The fact that Meyers was repeatedly told that her needs weren’t essential is ludicrous—PCAs aren’t friends or buddies people with disabilities bring around with them. They are their life source in a way—they help them meet their basic human needs when limitations from their disabilities arise. While the roles and responsibilities of PCAs vary depending on the needs of the disabled person, they are the only way that many disabled people feed, clothe, bathe, and use the bathroom.
Paralympic officials stated that there would be one “PCA” for 34 athletes when pushed on why reasonable accommodations weren’t being made, but PCAs are called Personal Care Assistants for a reason—they typically can only effectively support one disabled person’s needs at a time. The Paralympics are designed to be for people with disabilities, so why are there such ableist and discriminatory policies? While news outlets report that Meyers chose to drop out of the Paralympics because of this, the reality is that she didn’t choose to drop out—she was forced to. When you’re asked to “choose” between having your basic needs met or having the honor of representing your country in an elite competition you’ve trained your whole life for, there isn’t a choice you can make. You have to give up your dream because your basic human rights are not being accommodated for.
In a year when it seemed (key word: seemed) so many organizations made commitments to listening, learning, and bettering themselves, it’s especially disheartening to see multiple elite sporting organizations so profoundly drop the ball when it comes to supporting and protecting, their athletes and setting them up for success. As a woman with a disability, I have experienced firsthand what it’s like for people to make decisions on my behalf. When I looked at the executive board for the committees that were making these decisions, I noticed a trend that couldn’t be denied: the large majority of them were white, able-bodied, and male. So, it’s time for them to train for what is sure to feel like an Olympic Event for them: sit back and listen. Listen to the voices of Black people, especially Black women. Listen to the voices of women, who are tired of being sexualized. Listen to disabled people, especially when they tell you they need things to survive. These athletes train for years for the ability to represent their countries in these competitions and all they’re asking for is equity, safety, and respect. And they deserve it.
Images: Marijan Murat/picture alliance via Getty Images; Patrick Smith, Richard Heathcote / Getty Images
After 13 long years, we finally got our first Black Housewife on The Real Housewives of New York, Eboni K. Williams. I was so excited because I finally got to see a Black woman on one of my favorite shows ever. However, I quickly noticed that the fan reaction to Eboni being cast wasn’t necessarily about her and what she could bring to RHONY. Rather, people were excited that someone would call out the ignorance on the show. I had the same sentiment when Tiffany Moon was casted on The Real Housewives of Dallas and when Garcelle Beauvais was announced as a cast member on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. Adding diversity isn’t going to automatically solve the ignorance within your shows, nor is it the responsibility of women of color to solve the issues for you.
Let’s be honest, Eboni, Garcelle, and Tiffany weren’t hired because they were close friends with the women on their respective shows. Bravo noticed that there was a severe diversity issue within the franchises. I mean, it’s not like people of color don’t exist in these cities, although many of the white women in these franchises have friend groups that are, for the most part, very, very, white. So, when you throw in a person of color, it’s bound to change the dynamic a bit. However, casting a woman of color for the sole purpose of diversity doesn’t do any justice for these shows, especially when their white castmates aren’t aware of their internalized ignorance.
Let’s take Garcelle Beauvais for example. Beauvais, an actress and talk show host, is the first Black woman ever to be cast on RHOBH, and many people, including myself, were very excited. RHOBH is known as the Housewives franchise that represents opulence, glamour, and women simply existing in luxury. It’s not often that you get to see a Black woman simply exist without stereotypes being pushed upon her. Beauvais seemed to feel disconnected with the ladies, though, and later stated that it was possibly because the ladies did not want to feel the wrath of Black social media had they come for her. (Also, yes, I know she missed some events, but Kyle Richards and Lisa Rinna have also missed events, and one complained then.)
Beauvais’ disconnect with Kyle Richards especially was a point of contention. Things got extremely heated between the two when Richards accused Beauvais of not paying a $5,000 donation. Beauvais was rightfully upset, especially since Richards waited until the reunion to bring this up. This was problematic because there is a common stereotype that Black people do not pay their bills on time or do not have as much money as they “flaunt. For Richards to bring up the donation not being paid in a public forum feeds into that stereotype. Does this make Kyle a racist? No. Did she subconsciously feed into a microaggression? Yes. But more than anything else, it shows me that the women, especially Kyle, did not get to know Garcelle on a personal level. Had Kyle done that, regardless of the tension between the two, she probably would have reached out to Garcelle directly to eradicate the issue at hand. Now, because she did not, the conversation about her microaggression had to be had.
Eboni K. Williams, an attorney and notable news anchor, joined RHONY as its first Black cast member. Eboni is brilliant, fashion-forward, and has a remarkable personal story. Yet, I felt like the only thing people wanted to talk about when she was announced to be on the show was her dynamic with Ramona Singer. Singer, who is known to be rather standoffish, came into controversy this past summer due to her COVID and All Lives Matter comments. While Singer did apologize, some people felt as though she was not reprimanded enough publicly. While Singer’s comments were reprehensible, it is not the responsibility of Williams to educate her. Williams has been asked constantly about her dynamic with Singer, rather than her whole dynamic with the cast itself. While the topic of race has come up this season, and personally, I think all of the women (so far) have done a great job of listening and wanting to learn. However, I do think there is something that needs to be pointed out. RHONY, for 12 years, centered around white women, so if Eboni makes a criticism or observation about her dynamic with white women—such as confronting Ramona about her comments on “the help” or sparring with Luann over supposedly implying the other ladies don’t have an education—it’s not so much a dig, more so her perspective as the only Black woman in a group with only white women. This might come as a culture shock to some of the women on the show and viewers; however, as a Black person who is sadly used to being the only Black person in a room, expressing our dismay or observations isn’t meant to start an issue, but to authentically express our feelings.
Dr. Tiffany Moon, an anesthesiologist and entrepreneur, is the first Asian woman cast on RHOD. Tiffany’s case is a bit different from Garcelle’s and Eboni’s. Dr. Moon was cast after the controversy surrounding cast member Brandi Redmond. Redmond came under fire after a racist video of hers resurfaced of her imitating and mocking Asian women. Suddenly, when Dr. Moon was cast, there was this unspoken pressure for her to speak to Redmond about this video. Why is that Tiffany’s responsibility? Why is it that the other cast members, with the exception of D’andra Simmons, coddled Redmond instead of publicly reprimanding her for her actions? It’s apparent to me that while Dr. Moon might have been someone the producers of the show were thinking of casting already, but it wasn’t until Redmond’s video that the actual casting took place.
Let’s make this clear. No matter how many conversations Tiffany has with Brandi, Brandi’s actions are still out there. Dr. Moon cannot be the “fix” for Redmond’s blatant racism. As a viewer, I felt terrible for Tiffany, especially with the constant microaggressions and racist remarks thrown in her face by castmate Kameron Westcott. Westcott compared Moon’s native food to dog food, a rather racist stereotype. Westcott also called Moon ignorant and implied that Moon was ignorant to her own race, and even as of recently, in a now-deleted tweet, Westcott compared a clown emoji that Moon used to “white-face”. It would be an understatement to say that Westcott has internalized racism towards Asian people. This is what happens when you cast people of color for the sake of meeting your diversity quota.
It is not the responsibility of people of color to educate white people on racism. To assume that casting Black, Brown, and Asian people on your shows is the ultimate fix to the racism issues within your cast is incredibly ignorant. Especially because this creates an awkward atmosphere between people of color and white people who obviously have different experiences. To leave the POC that you’ve casted out to dry, and unconsciously force them to educate white people, is not okay. This is a call for Bravo to use its resources to educate its talent on racial biases and stereotypes, especially being a network that celebrates inclusivity. Do not cast people of color just for the sake of casting them; it’s redundant and offensive.
Images: Sophy Holland, Jonathan Zizzo, John Tsiavis / Bravo; KamWestcott / Twitter