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Cast of The Real Housewives of Nairobi
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Reality TV and Women: Progress or Regress?

We look at the upsides and downsides.

BY Agnes Amondi

Feb 22, 2023, 07:55 AM

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Cast of The Real Housewives of Nairobi

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In case you missed it, The Real Housewives franchise has finally made its way to Nairobi. The reality television show will premier on South Africa’s video-on-demand platform Showmax on February 23rd.

Reality shows have been a mainstay on television, dating back to the 1990s and their popularity is only soaring. They take different formats; From competitive shows like The Voice and Survivor to relationship-family-oriented ones like Keeping Up With The Kardashians. For this piece, we will focus on the latter. 

Keeping Up With The Kardashians ranked at the very top alongside The Real Housewives. Continentally, we’ve had Big Brother Africa and recently, Young, Famous and African. Locally, we have not been left behind and we now see a growing trend of reality tv shows cropping up - Kyallo Kulture being one of the most recent to hit our screens.
The appetite for this type of content is great. There is something about getting an inside view of other people’s lives, especially the rich and famous, that just makes it appealing. For the most part, these shows are largely targeted at women and the storylines revolve around them.

The Real Housewives plays into that. It is all about following the personal and professional lives of well-to-do women and there's nothing wrong with that but here's the twist; if you look keenly, you will realise that there are various narratives propagated in these shows. We delve deeper into some of them and look at how they impact womanhood. 

Can Women Really Get Along?

When I think about reality tv, particularly of this nature, the first thing that comes to mind is women yelling and fighting over one another for all kinds of reasons.

I know I am not alone in this and these shows have deliberately been designed to portray women like this. In one instance, they all get along and the next minute, they are up in arms against one another. 

This only seeks to reinforce the stereotype that women can hardly get along. It is a damaging narrative and we see its impact in our daily lives. 

Women are expected not to treat their fellow women with grace. In a group setting, we are not expected to co-exist peacefully and at times, we are expected to arouse suspicion over others for no good reason.   

Is It Enforcing Traditional Gender Norms?

Really? These women are accomplished and 'don't need a man'. Well, the structure of the show tells otherwise. Regardless of a woman's accomplishments, she feels empty if she doesn't have a man beside her. Some of the women in these shows use that to attack each other. The message it sends is that a woman is only complete when she has a man. 

Sexualises Women.

We talk a lot about women being recognised for their intellectual contributions and not their bodies. However, reality television shows do the exact opposite. It's all about having the right body shape and features to attract a man. 

Some of these women go to extreme lengths to 'look just right' which only plays into women's insecurities. Unfortunately, these are the aspects that produce high ratings and thus the makers of the show cannot afford to do without these depictions. 

Exploits Women's Suffering. 

The more dramatic a situation is, the higher the ratings and that is the goal; to generate viewership at any cost. Some of the cast members are placed in a situation where they have to relive their suffering.

Some are even revealed as the program unfolds which only complicates the situation further. Whether they get help afterwards or not, is something to ponder about.

The point is, as we sit down and enjoy a dramatic episode, it is someone's reality and more often than not, these women's public image remains attached to whatever has been enacted. Granted, the characters have signed up for this but it doesn't make it right.

Made Possible Conversations Women Could Hardly Talk About.

Reality TV has allowed women to raise conversations they would ordinarily shy away from. Admitting that motherhood can be tough and taking a break is one thing we’ve seen on these shows. 

Most of these women have the choice of hiring nannies and going on vacations, which is something most women would not be able to do, but it’s made the conversation possible. Women are expected to always be in a position to execute. Failure to do so, they are termed lazy and incapable. 

Additionally, these shows encourage women to indulge in pleasurable activities and put themselves first. Traditionally, women ought to put others first but this is now changing. We see the benefits of taking care of oneself. It doesn’t mean flying out of the country or buying lavish goods. No. It just means doing for yourself what you’ve always done for others.   

Complex Nature Of Women.

Reality television shows depict the complex nature of women and largely of people. In the traditional setup, women are supposed to be good girls who say yes to everything. Woe unto any girl who dares say no or confront someone else. They abided by the rules out of coercion and to maintain social harmony. 

The truth is that women have different dimensions of their nature. They get angry, happy, sad, bored and bear all kinds of emotions. They are just as ambitious and have different kinds of desires and these shows do a good job of demonstrating that.

Shows The Different Attributes Women Have. 

Following up on the previous point, reality television shows allow women to explore the ruthless side of women. Again, girls and women are expected to be demure, a sharp contrast to what we see on reality tv. 

These women are straightforward and will stop at nothing to get what they want. They will use strong language and show their emotions in all their rawness. Some adopt a non-negotiable stand on things and will not recoil back no matter what. 

You can argue that they are operating in masculine energy but it is it a bad thing for women to lay out all their cards?

Different Women To Rise To Stardom.

The women featured on The Real Housewives of Nairobi are not new faces but this television format has allowed women who wouldn’t normally be on our screens an opportunity to rise to stardom.

It is giving the audience a variety they never had. Away from the mainstream characters, there will be one or two who are new and it helps to always see that.

Is reality television all that bad for women? It is an imperfect television format but it remains to be a guilty pleasure for so many. Plus, they aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

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