"A housewife walks into a room like it belongs to her, she stands firm in her stilettos, she always speaks her mind, she doesn't need to be liked. And she never asks if her life is interesting enough to be splashed across TV because she knows it is."
These are the words of the producer of a new reality TV show called Real Housewives of Auckland. I'm looking forward to watching it. I know some of the ladies on it and they are funny and intelligent. I just think the show should come with a special kind of warning for the actual, real, real housewives of Auckland, like me. "Hey ladies, this show is a steaming load of piffle. Enjoy."
I am off-brand for this show. I live in Parnell but I wear Doc Martens. My life is about, on a good day, maybe 55 per cent interesting. I'm looking around myself at this exact moment: there is a little bit of stuffing coming out of the sofa where I sit, I have a streaming cold, my son is eating some Pringles for breakfast, there are mismatched chairs, glitter and paint stains, and shreds of a Lego manual scattered around like confetti " my autistic nephew Claude's superpower is ripping things up " and it's loud because some workmen are trying to unblock the drain outside my front door. Not quite prime time material.
I wonder why the women on this show " accomplished, successful women - have signed up for what the producer predicts will be "ridicule and judgment". I don't want to add to that. Yes, I know, pot, kettle, given I've over-shared in the Herald's pages about my divorce, depression, chin hair, car crashes. But at least in print I get to choose what I say, whereas Real Housewives of Auckland is a different thing: it is "soap-doc", a relatively new oeuvre in which a person's life is laid bare documentary style, but everything is "hyper real and ultra fabulous". In a soap opera such as Filthy Rich, a glitzy show that I helped write, you knew in that real life, teenage poledancers don't tend to get offered a seat at the board table. With documentaries you also know what you are getting " people have bad teeth and herpes. But this hybrid "soap doc" makes viewers think that life out of an airbrushed chick-lit novel " all cocktails and Jimmy Choos " does actually exist and could be your life if only you tried harder, dressed better and, if only, you know, you weren't yourself.
This is peddling a lie. The chick-lit life does not exist, not even for the ladies on this show. Absolutely everyone has a bucket of shit fall on their head at some stage in their life: your parents get sick and die, there is menopause, anxiety, depression, addiction and just the tedious business of being a human being. Charming others in superficial or infrequent encounters on TV is a piece of cake; close or intimate relationships, something not within the purview of this show, are another matter entirely.
We all get old, deteriorate and decay; pretending otherwise just makes it harder.
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And while I support the right of women to present themselves however they want, the ferocious need for status signifiers which fuels this franchise seems a lot like putting on protective armour " Louis Vuitton this, Fendi that - at a time in life when I would hope women of my age could let go of trying so hard. Vulnerability researcher Brene Brown is about the same age. She says: "I think mid-life is when the universe gently places her hands upon your shoulders, pulls you close, and whispers in your ear: I'm not screwing around. It's time. All of this pretending and performing ... has to go."
That said, I'm all for women doing whatever they want. If you choose eyelash extensions and cat fights, go for it. Just don't expect me to participate in idealising your fake life. I don't envy these women. It seems to me a precarious existence, like doing time in the gulag of glamour. Because no matter how hard you try, how meticulously groomed you are, in the end, none of it counts for squat. We all get old, deteriorate and decay; pretending otherwise just makes it harder - as Alice Miller says: "The grandiose person is never really free; first because he is excessively dependent on admiration from others, and second, because his self-respect is dependent on qualities, functions, and achievements that can suddenly fail."
You know who do make me jealous? Women who go to the dairy in trackpants. Women who are happy not to wear make up. Who wouldn't even know what a personal "brand" was. Women who feel free to focus less on the impression they are making on others and more on the impression they are making on themselves. Women who get joy out of their ordinary, flat-shoed lives, stray cats and look after children with special needs. Because those are the women who are right there, in among the rapture of real life. Not the soap doc version. Enjoy.