Real Housewives on Vancouver discredits both their sex and their city
// Erin Knodel

It's official, Vancouver: we are relevant. On Apr. 4, the first Canadian installment of the Real Housewives series, based in Vancouver, will air its two-hour premier. That's right: we got it before Toronto.

The first installment in the franchise, The Real Housewives of Orange County, began airing in 2006, and has since expanded to include a total of six American cities: Atlanta, New York, Beverly Hills, New Jersey, and, most recently, Miami. The show features women of each city's elite, and reveals what they call “ intimate and often outrageous details about their relationships, career triumphs and pitfalls, sex lives, and family drama.”

The Vancouver installment promises to follow  that winning formula closely. Barbara Williams, Senior Vice-President of Content for Shaw Media, which owns the Slice network (who is airing the show), confirmed that “The Real Housewives of Vancouver [will be] packed with all of the juiciest story lines, drama, power, wealth, and glamour that viewers love about the huge international hit franchise.”

Cast announcements made on the network's website sparked a tidal wave of reactions. According to a Shaw Media press release, the video in which each of the five women introduces themselves had been viewed 120,000 times within two days of its being posted on the network's YouTube channel, and the story has also been covered extensively on popular celebrity news sites.

Who will showcase Vancouver's most privileged and glamorous women? Slice network's bio page gives us a glimpse of the five women who are meant to represent us.

Christina Kiesel is described as a “freespirited jet-setter,” who enjoys a life of leisure, thanks to her two divorce settlements – a classic Vancouver move. Single and with no children, Kiesel logs a lot of time travelling through foreign countries and gossipping with her hairdresser.

Self-described “Martha Stewart on acid,” Jody Claman is another of the very real housewives we're being presented with. She runs a number of high-end clothing stores in West Vancouver, and is married with three children.

The third housewife is somewhat of a philanthropist: Mary Zilba prides herself on work done with a number of charities and organizations, including Tuberous Sclerosis Canada. She is a single mother of three teenage boys, and a former pageant queen. She is also the token recording artist of the series, with a slew of “hit singles” nobody has ever heard of.

Ronnie Seterdahl showcases Vancouver's excessively wealthy population. In conjunction with her husband of ten years, she owns four houses in a gated waterfront community in West Vancouver, a yacht, a private jet, and 200 acres of a Napa Valley vineyard.

Finally, we have “Japanese-Canadian bombshell” Reiko MacKenzie, who flaunts a tough-girl side, studying mixed martial arts and collecting what her official bio calls a “fleet” of luxury sports cars. Scandal quickly arose when it was discovered that she is married to the infamous Sun Mackenzie, who was acquitted of drug-related murder in 1994, and has potential ties to organized crime.

We are being presented with five women whose lifestyles are meant to instill envy in us, called the “elite” of our city, but how do they embody the self-actualized woman? In some senses, The Real Housewives franchise seems to present a facade of female self-will and empowerment, but in truth, it trivializes female power.

While many of the women followed by the franchise's shows are successful business persons, and some are personally involved with charities of their choosing, the importance they put on wealth and social standing, along with their flair for the dramatic and scandalous, seem to discredit the concept of a stable-minded, forward- thinking woman.

It is hard enough today for women's ideas to be heard with the same weight as those of a man. When those the network labels as “powerful women” are so caught up in vapid self-interest and dramatic, reactionary games, it only serves to perpetuate the archaic idea that women cannot handle having important jobs or status with the same responsibility that men are expected to.

Yes, these women are envied. Yes, they are outspoken and strong-willed. Yes, they are considered beautiful by many people, and they are wealthy, which lends them a certain kind of power in the world.

I do not, however, see any of this as empowering to women. Their influence is demeaning and destructive.

The target audience for The Real Housewives is women, many of whom watch these shows simply for the scandal and meaningless entertainment. While the need for leisure and diversion are certain, can't we be entertained by something a little more stimulating, thoughtful, or at least not plainly amoral? This show almost makes me embarrassed to say I'm from Vancouver.

//Erin Knodel, writer
//Graphics by Camille Segur

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