The Portrayal of Black Women in Reality TV Shows

Introduction:

            Reality television is defined as, “A genre of television programming that documents supposedly “unscripted” real-life situations, and often features an otherwise unknown cast of individuals who are typically not professional actors, although in some shows celebrities may participate.” For my blog post, I chose to analyze three different reality TV shows. The shows are The Bad Girls Club, Real Housewives of Atlanta, and Married to Medicine. Reality TV shows portray black women in a negative stereotypical way, such as loud, angry, aggressive, trashy, and “ghetto”.

The Bad Girls Club:

BAD GIRLS CLUB -- Season:11 -- Pictured: (l-r) Teresa, Jazmone, Milyn, Tiana, Stephanie, Sarah, Gina -- (Photo by: Gavin Bond/Oxygen)

Season 11 Cast, The Bad Girls Club, Oxygen, 6 August 2013

 The Bad Girls Club (BGC) is a reality TV show that airs on Oxygen. The show was made by executive producer Johnathan Murray and Bunim/Murray Productions (BMP). The show puts 7 “bad girls” in a mansion together, the location of the show changes every season. Something interesting that I found out was the cities the show is filmed in typically have a high minority population, for example, Atlanta, Miami, and Chicago. They stay in the mansion for about three months and they live a pretty luxurious lifestyle. The show mainly focuses on arguments and physical fights between the cast. The purpose of the show seems to show the journey these “bad girls” take, a lot of them feel changed and very impacted in a good way by the time the show ends, almost a rehabilitating experience in a way.

Black and minority women are generally stereotyped to be more of the aggressors, loud, and angry ones while white women in media are generalized as sweeter, kinder, and almost more “angelic” in some ways. On BGC, black and minority women are undoubtedly in the negative light especially compared to their white counterparts. On the show they’re portrayed as always being mad, angry, easily irritable, violent, loud, trashy and “ghetto”.

A detail about BGC that was pointed out by Elijah Mercer in an article titled, “Good Girls Gone Bad: Race and Gender in Oxygen’s The Bad Girls Club, is that with each consecutive season the cast for the show was more racially diverse. The first season of the show had only two black women. By the ending of the 7th season, 30 out of 62 total cast member were from a minority racial group. (When his article was written only seven seasons of the show had been aired, the show is currently on its 16th season now). Two seasons, four and seven, had some of the most diverse casts, they also had the most-watched episodes and highest ratings, the most drama, conflicts, and fights. This suggests that predominately black casts equate to more drama and conflict which lead to higher ratings. “Increasingly casting more minority women, there will without a doubt be more violence, physical fights, and drama…Boylorn and Hooks affirm this notion by arguing that images of black and minority women on television have been historically manipulated to leave a particular impression on audiences” (Mercer).

The Real Housewives of Atlanta:

rhoa-season-9-cast-750x522

Season 9 Cast, The Real Housewives of Atlanta, Bravo, 6 Nov 2016

          

The Real Housewives of Atlanta (RHOA) is a reality TV show that airs on Bravo. The show follows the professional and personal lives of about 7 to 8 women living in Atlanta. RHOA is one of them many shows in The Real Housewives franchise other ones take place in cities like Orange County, New York, and New Jersey. The cast of RHO is a predominately black cast.

The RHOA is the highest rated show in The Real Housewives franchise and it’s also the most-watched TV series on Bravo. But even though it’s the most watched series in the Real Housewives series its looked down upon by society and even other women on in the franchise. Bethany Frankel from RHONY said RHOA, “is a mixture of ‘MTV Cribs’ and ‘Jerry Springer’”. Although the cast of RHOA acts exactly like the casts on other Real Housewives series they’re viewed as loud, ghetto, trashy, angry black women. On the Season Six Reunion episode two of the cast members, Kenya Moore and Porsha Williams, had a brawl. Many viewers thought this fight was heavily instigated by the host Andy Cohen who even provided Moore with a bullhorn. This altercation was also promoted for weeks. A civil rights group ColorOfChange is asking Bravo to enforce a policy of no excessive physical altercations like VH1 has. The group stated, “Research shows that dehumanizing portrayals of Black people on television lead to real-world consequences for Black folks — influencing how we are treated by doctors, judges, teachers and lawmakers. No matter how entertaining, this should be the last fight between Black women that Bravo profits from”.

http://www.bravotv.com/the-real-housewives-of-atlanta/season-6/videos/porsha-williams-gets-carried-out-of-the-reunion

What is revealing to me is that RHOA is the most viewed series in the franchise. With a predominately black cast, it almost seems like the producers of these kinds of reality TV shows are trying to make a correlation between having a predominate minority cast and the amount of drama and conflict is on the show. As seen with these reality TV shows, having an increased minority cast has proven to result in more drama and conflict. But the race of the cast has nothing to do with why this is true, it’s how the producers choose to produce the show and how they portray each cast member. The women on RHOA act like the women on all other Real Housewives shows so just because they’re black they’re being judged. Black women are stereotyped as being angry, loud, ghetto, and aggressive so when shows like these are put out in media it only adds to the negative image black females have in our society. Generally speaking, all the Real Housewives shows all women in a negative light but the cast of RHOA is seen the most negative way just because of the world we live in.

Married to Medicine:

married-to-medicine-season-3

Season 3 Cast, Married to Medicine, Bravo, 7 June 2015

 Married to Medicine, unlike other reality TV shows with mostly black cast members, like Basketball Wives, Love and Hip-Hop, and Real House Wives of Atlanta, all the women on this show are college educated. Married to Medicine is a reality TV show that also airs on the TV network Bravo. The show follows the lives of seven women living in Atlanta, Georgia. Three of the seven cast members are doctors while the rest are married to doctors. Just like all other reality TV shows Married to Medicine is filled with drama and conflict. Even though these are all professional women on the show, that’s not how they’re seen or portrayed as. During an upscale party celebrating the birthdays of Kari and Mariah husbands’, Mariah and Toya, both college educated black women, got into a fight that ended up with Mariah being kicked out even though it was her husband’s party and the event was also shut down.

http://www.bravotv.com/married-to-medicine/season-1/videos/toya-and-mariah-face-off-at-karis-house

The show had a petition made against it by a group from Howard University College of Medicine. The petition stated, “Black female physicians only compose 1% of the American workforce of physicians. Due to our small numbers, the depiction of Black female doctors in media, on any scale, highly affects the public’s view on the character of all future and current African-American female doctors…heavily associates Black females in medicine with materialism, “cat fights”, and unprofessionalism”. What is interesting/revealing to me is how the producers went about this show. There’s plenty enough reality TV shows out there that show black and minority women in a bad light, why does another one especially about doctors and educated women need to be made? Like the Howard University petition mentions there are only 1% black female physicians in the American workforce, so why not make a show that promotes why people should be doctors and go to school. Shows that would teach young black and minority women that they are more than what these stereotypes media constantly pushes and portrays them to be.

If viewers see how these black women act, how will people be able to trust them with their lives’ and health? The show can only do harm to such a small community of black female physicians. All this show does is keep stereotypes about black women around. Black women are already looked down upon so much by society so when stuff like this is on TV it is more detrimental to our images than compared to people of other demographics. This show will make it easier for the audience to associate professional and college educated black women with unprofessionalism, not being able to control themselves in public places, and lacking the skills to avoid conflict. As a young black woman who wants to pursue a career in the medical field all I feel this show does is taint our image. It’s already hard enough for black women to get into medical school, we don’t need another obstacle.

Conclusion:

Our society and many forms of pop culture have portrayed black women in a negative light. The form of pop culture I chose to focus on was reality TV shows. All three very popular shows, The Bad Girls Club, Real Housewives of Atlanta, and Married to Medicine have portrayed black women in a negative stereotypical way. Black women are seen as angry, loud, aggressive, trashy, promiscuous, and “ghetto”. As a demographic that’s very disadvantaged in many ways in our society I feel as those we need more positive representations of black women in pop culture.

Learning Moments:

A learning moment I had this term was the “Searching for Resources” assignment. I usually only use Google Scholar to find sources for research papers and I always have trouble narrowing the search down but this assignment definitely benefited me a lot. I was not really familiar with the online PSU library before this assignment but now I feel like I’ll be able to apply these new skills to future classes and assignments. With this tutorial, I was able to learn how to look for different forms of artifacts and how to so more specific searches. Another learning moment I had during the term was the Week 6 discussion post, “Finding, Evaluating, and Analyzing Primary and Secondary Sources”. It was really interesting to see how much could be analyzed from such a short ad. Also, it was cool to see how everybody was able to interpret the ad in their own way.

Sources:

Abrams, Lindsay. “What Does ‘Married to Medicine’ Say About Black Female Doctors?” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 01 Apr. 2013. Web

Anderson, Matt, Nate Green, and Mariah Huq, prods. Married to Medicine. Bravo. Atlanta, Georgia, 24 Mar. 2013. Television.

Hersh, Glenda, prod. The Real Housewives of Atlanta. Bravo. Atlanta, Georgia, 7 Oct. 2008. Television.

Mercer, Elijah. “Good Girls Gone Bad: Race and Gender in Oxygen’s The Bad Girls Club.” Inquires Journals 4.7 (2012): 1-3. Web.

Murray, Johnathan, and Mary-Ellis Bunim, prods. The Bad Girls Club. Oxygen. 5 December 2006. Television.

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4 thoughts on “The Portrayal of Black Women in Reality TV Shows

  1. Hi Sewit,
    I really enjoyed reading your essay. I totally agree with you, popular does misrepresent people of color. We live in a racially charged country, where all people of color have been consistently disenfranchised since slavery ended. American popular culture frequently reinforces stereotypes in our deeply divided country. The shows you mentioned in your essay, do this to an extreme degree especially Bad Girls Culb.

  2. Hi Sewit,

    I really liked reading your paper. It was super interesting to me because, I watch Bad Girls Club myself. So I never really thought about the show in any other aspect. It is kind of interesting to me on how these shows developed and how the races and stereotypes are noticeable and divided.

  3. Hello!
    Your post was put together extremely well. You did a good job of introducing each source and giving back ground information on them.
    I think it is great that television is increasing the minorities that they are showing, but unfortunately the way they are being portrayed isn’t always positive, and reality television isn’t helping with that. One major thing I’ve learned about reality television is that the women get paid more when they fight, or cause drama. A lot of the drama is staged for the show, and unfortunately not a lot of people realize this. I found it odd that even though white women are on these shows as well, and are loud and aggressive as well, that stereotype doesn’t seem to stick with them. I think the main reason for that is because there are so many other shows portraying white women in a different light, that people mostly associate them with those shows.

  4. Hi Sewitt,

    I loved your blog post!! It was really entertaining for me to read about these reality TV shows because 1. I live for the drama in these types of shows and 2. I thought it was really cool that the show Married to Medicine displays a different group of educated women who have pursued a medical career, although not displayed adequately with the flare of reality TV dramatization. I think this show would make for a great reality TV show if producers were not so concerned about ratings and views. The public is more bound to watch reality TV shows with more fights and disputes, but I don’t understand why the target of these fights have to have a direct correlation to black women. At the end of the day I hope that these reality TV shows are for the most part fake and that the real lives of normal housewives and doctors who happen to be black women are normal and happy. Thanks for sharing!!

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