It’s About to be a Girl Fight: Women and Reality TV

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The reality TV show cup runneth over.

Each night the television audience can scroll through their digital TV Guides to find an abundance of this type of programming. With the increase in reality shows, I have found that there has been an increase in girl-on-girl fights on television. A recent study “Real to Me: Girls and Reality TV” tackles the impact this kind of entertainment has on teenage girls.

The study conducted by the Girl Scout Research Institute surveyed 1,100 girls across the United States.

“While many in society might view reality TV as a relatively benign phenomenon, our research shows significant differences between those girls who consume reality TV on a regular basis and those who do not. Of girls surveyed, regular reality TV viewers* differ dramatically from their non-viewing peers in their expectations of peer relationships, their overall self-image, and their understanding of how the world works. Our findings also suggest that reality TV can function in the lives of girls as a learning tool and as inspiration for getting involved in social causes.”

The institute found that the most popular reality TV genres amongst this group of girls was competition (i.e. American Idol) and real life (i.e. Jersey Shore), with 75 percent believing that competition shows and 50 percent believing that real life shows are “mainly real and unscripted.”

A Youtube clip from an episode of Jersey Shore.

In an interview with TODAY show host Ann Curry, psychotherapist Robi Ludwig revealed what she believes to be the impact these shows are having on teens.

“Well, also there’s relational aggression, which is very common amongst girls, where there’s increased gossip and being nasty to one another,” Ludwig explained. “(There’s a difference between) physical violence and relational aggression — which is more prominent amongst young girls. And that’s what we see a lot on television. The truth is, if kids are watching these kinds of interactions, the message is ‘You’re popular if you’re nasty and mean.’ Girls who identify with that will certainly make that a part of their mental script.” (source)

While the study shows that reality TV may influence teenage girls, blog posts throughout the blogosphere also reveal that they are impacting adult women.

In her post for Clutch Magazine, Jamilah Lemieux discussed how television viewers have been engaged in watching these TV fights since the days of Jerry Springer until now with the reality show Basketball Wives. She offers her opinion on this fascination:

“I’d wager that much of our fascination with reality show fighting is tied to escapism. In our wildest dreams, we couldn’t behave as these people do without major consequences. You might want to punch the girl who spread a rumor about you at work, but you’d lose your job. You’d love to douse the back-stabbing former friend with a glass of Moscato, but that may alienate your entire crew. In some twisted way the hair-pulling and face-grabbing characters on these shows might be speaking to our own dark fantasies of anti-social behavior. There’s also the proverbial ‘train-wreck’ phenomenon–as bad as it looks, you can’t divert your gaze. You can’t help but to be drawn in by the nonsense. It’s so bad, it’s good. It’s a guilty pleasure, and all those other clichéd terms we use to justify doing something we know to be abhorrent.”

A Youtube clip from the reality show Basketball Wives: Miami.

Risa Dixon, in her blog post for Clutch, wrote about her reaction to viewing an episode of Basketball Wives: Miami after hearing lots of discussion around the series. Dixon believed the show couldn’t be as bad as people described. After viewing the show, Dixon realized she was hooked to it, and described it as watching a “horrible car crash” about to happen.

“I realized that shows like these get ratings from all types of people. Those who love it and those who are against it. Does it make me any less positive because I viewed the show? I don’t believe so, but others may differ. I know that I myself wouldn’t behave in the way the women acted and that a large part of the reason that people watch it is because they can’t believe what they are seeing before their eyes. Yet still, it did plague me more and more and I decided to not watch the new season or any other reality shows that displayed women or minorities negatively.”

If I had to name my number one guilty pleasure, it would by far be reality television. I have watched reality TV since the early seasons of The Real World. As the years have progressed, I have watched both competition shows (Big Brother, Celebrity Fit Club, Project Runway, etc.) and real life shows (The Hills, Basketball Wives, Bad Girls Club, Real Housewives, etc.). My love for reality TV is definitely bittersweet, and something that I have struggled with as I have gotten older and wiser.

In one aspect, reality shows and their negative portrayals in many ways go against everything I believe in and stand for as a person. In another aspect, I sit down every week to watch the train-wrecks happen on these shows like clockwork, because I simply cannot believe it. When I was younger,  I would say that there was definitely more quality scripted television shows. I found myself watching shows that resembled an ideal life (The Cosby Show, Family Matters, Sister, Sister, etc.). Now I don’t believe that there are that many great scripted television shows, especially none portraying people of color.

I think the escapism described by Lemieux is definitely a reason behind why I watch this type of entertainment. Reality TV has provided me a way to escape the craziness of my everyday life and watch the drama unfold in someone else’s. I don’t have to think at all with these shows. I just plop down on my bed, eat snacks, and wait for the drama to begin. I’d be lying if I didn’t feel the conviction that Dixon felt after she watched Basketball Wives. Sometimes I feel like I am contributing to the problem, rather than protesting against it.

Adults, unlike teens, have the ability to discern that the acceptable behavior on these shows is unacceptable in real life. I think that as a community we should strive to help young teens understand the consequences that could result by behaving in this manner. We must also make them aware that not all reality TV is exactly what happens in reality. Many of these shows are scripted and participants are given financial motivation through the salaries they receive per episode.

This is a Youtube clip from the show Love Games (A spin-off series of the show Bad Girls Club).

This is a Youtube clip of The Real Housewives of Atlanta.

Please share your thoughts…

Are you a fan of reality television? What are some of your favorite reality TV shows? What impact do you believe these shows are having on teenagers? What messages do you think these fights are portraying about women and people of color? What do you think about the male reactions from these fight videos?


About kaileylatham11

Alumna of The Ohio State Univ., Graduate Student at Arizona State Univ., and an aspiring journalist.
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One Response to It’s About to be a Girl Fight: Women and Reality TV

  1. Mr. Marz says:

    I definitely indulge in reality TV… And I don’t consider it a guilty pleasure. It is merely a pleasure. I have seen all of the clips from the shows you featured in this post too.
    But what intrigues me is the idea of this escapism that comes along with reality TV. As someone who is well versed in trashy reality TV (the “real life” shows), I find that what keeps me coming back is the fact that I kind of live vicariously through the stupidity that they act out on national TV. I don’t have to get arrested for fighting someone or public intoxication because I have just spent an hour in a psuedo comatose state watching these people do these things and have these experiences and consequences for me.
    Some have told me that they don’t know why I watch such dumb things, but I don’t watch these shows because I look up to these people or think they are role models. I watch these shows because in some way they are representative of parts of the bigger picture here, of the things that are problems in today’s society. I think it does take somewhat of an intelligent person to enjoy these types of shows but also be able to have the conversation that should come along with it. I definitely think there is conversation that needs to be had, especially with people who are not socially developed enough to decipher the underlying issues in these types of television shows.

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