When news broke that the Real Housewives franchise was coming to Nairobi, it sparked mixed feelings. Many laughed at the idea, saying Nairobi was not made for such a spectacle. Others embraced it and even suggested suitable contestant names for the reality series.
However, it’s not uncommon for the reality series to create such a buzz, given that the first Real Housewives franchise, which aired 17 years ago, has been called “trash”. Feminist icon Gloria Steinem described it as “a minstrel show for women”.
For many people, housewives make homes, raise families and build society. Yet the 21st century is little or no longer friendly to “typical” housewives or stay-at-home moms – a phenomenon perfectly portrayed in the Real Housewives series.
The show mainly focuses on the daily life of a group of wealthy women. We love the glitz and drama that comes with these reality shows, there’s something about this voyeuristic fascination that seems to bring people of all ages together. But why are people so obsessed with The Real Housewives?
Dr. Tara Wayne states that “watching this content is often considered a ‘guilty pleasure’ because we know it’s a fantasy”, explaining how curiosity about human nature greatly boosts our interest in watching such programs.
“It’s excessive and sometimes trashy and seedy, but it’s also the drama of life and we relate to many themes. Many viewers find validation in Imperfect Housewives and it gives them permission to be imperfect,” says Dr. Tara.
Despite being seen as having undone the work of feminists and criticized for reinforcing stereotypes, these shows have ignored these labels over the years.
They have expanded as they explore themes of race, class, and consumerism.
Media scholar and founding director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture, Robert J Thompson, says the term “housewife” originally had that kind of old-fashioned notion that we’ve seen communicated on television in the 1950s.
However, Thompson explains, “By the time we get to the turn of the century, it had gone from being a description of a traditional gender role to…at times, almost offensive as a term. And then we got into this sort of weird fetish stage and I think Desperate Housewives took advantage of that a lot.
Some people have accused the shows of reinforcing the notion that women should be housewives and primarily financially dependent on their husbands – a concept well debunked in the reality series.
However, looking at these shows and the way the women portray their luxurious lifestyles, these “housewives” are businesswomen. While they allow us to satisfy our curiosities and judge them without feeling prying or intrusive, we cannot fail to recognize the strategic business decisions they make.
Real Housewives seek to be ambitious and identify with today’s woman. However, we laugh at their mistakes and are happy with their misfortunes, which makes viewers feel good about themselves and their life decisions.
“The Real Housewives are real women who stage their lives for us to watch. The recurring themes are juicy and fascinating,” says Dr. Tara, adding.
“It’s the ultimate emotional and cognitive roller coaster ride. We can see Housewives misbehave and violate social norms and boundaries – and see the consequences unfold.
But the reality of what we see on our screens could be far from what is considered normal.
Kezia Arwa, a digital expert, says her life changed after becoming a mother and wife five years ago and a mother. For Kezia, shows like Real Housewives don’t portray reality by saying, “It struck me that maybe I fell into the misconceptions that were being portrayed.”
And after watching the Real Housewives series, Kezia says the reality is far from the truth when it comes to time management, unlike what you see on TV.
“Time is an illusion. We basically balance everything. Many times this balance doesn’t actually balance and something takes the hit. The guilt that hits is what brings things like mental challenges and depression,” says Kezia.
“The irony of the real woman who barely has time for herself, versus the one we see who is pretty much on a ‘me’ journey can be confusing. I also believe that this is what brings the notes. It really is an oxymoron,” she adds.
But still, Kezia thinks now is the best time to be a stay-at-home mom thanks to digital migration, access to mobile money and economic empowerment, which has enabled a stay-at-home mom to go about their day-to-day tasks while continuing to dip into their finances.
“A smart housewife keeps, saves, stores, invests for the rainy seasons and those are things that aren’t even shown on these shows. Excessive glorification is truly a misconception with which we must come to terms. Being a housewife is an incredible blessing,” says Kezia.
Lydia Wangari says her life as a homemaker is encouraged by her two children as most of her time revolves around them. But, from the time she wakes up at 6 a.m. to get her firstborn ready for school until the minute she goes to bed, Lydia says she rarely has time to rest during the day. .
For her social life, Lydia says she rarely has time to meet her friends, who have stopped calling her for social events.
“It’s not easy to have this kind of social life when you’re a housewife, maybe it’s possible for working women because they can visit each other at the workstation or take a drink on the way home,” says Lydia.
Faida Kesh became a housewife six years ago after quitting her job as a lecturer to care for her two children, and with the support of her husband, she has had an easy transition. However, having opted out of having a nanny, Faida says her routine isn’t as glamorous as we see on our screens.
“I wake up, I pray, I clean the living room and the kitchen, I cook breakfast, I clean the babies and the clothes and I make the beds. Then cook. I love to cook,” says Faida describing her daily routine.
But being a housewife in the modern era has been considered a full-time job, even in Kenya. Take, for example, in September 2021, when Judge Teresiah Matheka, while presiding over marital property litigation, ruled that housewives should be paid – a concept that drew mixed reactions.
“Raising children is a full-time job that families pay someone for. Cooking and cleaning too.