Define “Reality”

by March 6, 2012
filed under Entertainment

Tori & DeanReality TV has just about permeated every last inch of our lives. But just how realistic is this “reality?” What effect does it have on the young female viewers?

I pondered these questions while watching my first episode of Tori and Dean: Home Sweet Hollywood.

Tori Spelling is a TV actress living with her husband, Dean McDermott – also an actor – in Hollywood with her children, Liam, age four, and Stella, age three. Your average American family, only with more disposable income and pet chickens (yes, chickens. One even follows Tori into Michael’s).

At the beginning of the episode, Tori is pregnant with her third child, just four weeks from her due date. Over the weekend, she has to take care of the kids, find a new home to move into, act as an ambassador for a car seat awareness event, and throw her own baby shower. All this while Dean is in Toronto promoting his movie Ecstasy. Tori’s glib response: “Just another weekend for super-mom.”

Super-mom is right. She would need super hero powers to motor through that work. Just hearing about it makes me want to take a nap.

Tori’s friends, James and Mehran, worry over the toll of all this work. Mehran points out that three children for a woman pushing forty is a lot. At one point, James exclaims, “All this stress you make for yourself!”

The stress only snowballs. By the end of the episode, Tori has bought a new house, prepared a nursery for her child, and given birth to a baby girl, Hattie.

Yet, there is a Hollywood happy-ending. The family gathers in the garden, discusses their love, and is called in for dinner by the family cook. Everything works out for the best.

However, is this Hollywood happiness so easy to achieve for most women?

No. The pressure to “do it all” is not so seamless outside of Hollywood. TV lifestyle is photoshopped. Producers pick the happiest scenes and hold them up as an example, telling young women, “you too can have this!” Relationship issues are just spice for viewers, solved by the end of an hour-long episode.

Delegating household chores between you and your partner? No big deal. Just hire a housecleaner and cook to do them instead. Need to decorate a nursery? Get your interior designer friend to help you out. Where are the children during this? Why, your baby-sitter is looking after them. How can you afford to pay for a baby-sitter, a housecleaner, a cook, and a nursery? Presumably, it has something to do with the reality TV show based on your life.

This glamorous image of Tori “doing it all” has little connection to the average woman’s navigation between career and family. Most women don’t have Tori’s financial means. Paying for daycare or a baby-sitter is challenging enough, without adding a cook and a cleaner on top. Trying to evenly divvy up housework with a partner often leads to stress and arguments. That is, assuming one has a partner, and is not a single mother, which would only put more pressure on them.

Is there still pressure for women without children? Of course. The need for women to do it all is propagated throughout the media. Many women have put their needs second to their ambitions, whether work, school or family related. This mindset often results in fatigue and burn-out.

So, is there a positive side to Hollywood’s portrayal of women doing it all?

Yes: It promotes the idea of assertiveness in women. Tori wants to be a working mom, and she asserts her right to do so. She plans on having a fourth child, undeterred by preconceptions of what a 38-year-old woman can and can’t do.

However, Tori is able to do this by relying on a support system of friends and employees. While most women cannot afford cooks or cleaners, many do have friends and family that can be relied on. If the clamouring of many demands becomes overwhelming, we shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help.

So if there’s one thing you take from Hollywood, it’s this: Know what you want, and be willing to work for it. But also, have a support system to help you when you need time for yourself.

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