Female anger, shame and “venting”…

Binge TV Controversy Feminism

The set-up

So last night as I was trying to switch off from obsessively thinking about what to write for you all, dear foxlets, I was watching The Real Housewives of Auckland. It’s a very welcome addition to the canon; it’s early days but showing great promise. I detect the sure hands of female producers!  These people know how to cast a show and manipulate the drama.

Seriously, it's as good as RHOMelbourne. Yeah I said it.

Seriously, it’s as good as RHOMelbourne. Yeah I said it.

Anyway, one of the Housewives featured in the show is having a cosmetic procedure done on her neck. I have no judgement, it’s not my neck. She invites two of the other housewives to come with her, ostensibly “for moral support”, but we all know there’s screen time to fill and plots to move forward.

First she has her blood taken, then the plasma removed from her blood by a centrifuge.  (Because arcane science x the pursuit of unattainable perfection + vulnerable women = TONS OF CASH. And, I might add, none of us are immune from that equation.)

Once the plasma is centrifuged (centrifugaled? centrifugulated?), the medical professional injects it into her neck. Whilst these injections are happening, she is lying there, prone. Also, she’s putting up with no small amount of discomfort. And of course, this is the moment her cast-mates choose to  bring up a “she said/she said” bit of business. Cue one very unfair fight, and our cosmetic surgery patient is livid.

Couldn't even wait till her neck was injected.

Couldn’t even wait till her neck was injected

Dirty fighters

When next we see her, said Housewife is recounting what happened to her make-up artist. She is even more angry than she was at first, not at whatever it was they were actually arguing about; she’s pissed because they caught her in a vulnerable moment. And justifiably angry – it’s fighting dirty, it’s two against one. Whilst that one is having her own plasma injected painfully into her neck.

Not a fair fight.

Not a fair fight.


Our Housewife doesn’t scream and shout, but she does call them fucking betches (it is New Zealand). You can tell from her tone, her choice of words and her body language that she’s angry. Cut to make-up done, outfit on and footage of her walking in to the latest staged opportunity for confrontation soiree. We hear her voice-over wondering whether she should confront the dirty- fighting betches, or whether just “venting to her make-up artist and then letting it go” is the wiser course of action.

Now what struck me was this notion of “venting”. It’s a peculiar notion, popular amongst women: whatever you’re aggrieved by can be resolved as long as it’s aired – not with the person or persons who’ve wronged you – but with a third party.

And I have actual vents.

And I have actual vents.

The context

I understand that The Real Housewives series is an exaggerated, camp reflection of the inter-play of status, aggression and competition that real women enact every day. I understand that the “actors” in this melodrama have to be aware at all times of their status relative to that of their cast-mates’.  The measure of that status is necessarily skewed: in the real world money, success and popularity function as reliable markers of status, and we are in control of our self-presentation.

In a show like The Real Housewives that control falls away.  The markers of status change for them throughout a season. No longer does it matter how wealthy you are, how beautiful you are, how successful you are. What begins to matter is trying to ensure you inveigle the best edit, the most flattering portrayal, ultimately the most fans and ergo the most power.

These women are, to a woman, actual gladiators.

How do they even live.

Female anger and shame

Yes, these Housewives are operating in an artificial environment, and as noted above, the interplay is camp and exaggerated. However, what with the dearth of serious, dramatic interrogations of female relationships on my TV I’ll take what I can get. And if it must be melodramatic representations of female relationships leavened with humour and pathos and studded with passionate explosions of real feeling, I’m not complaining. Even if it has all been manipulated into cliff-hangers and resolution.



Of course they’re all extremely emotionally labile. In those circumstances we’d all feel that way. What’s interesting to me is how any women deal with anger. In our Western, patriarchal culture women are supposed to behave in a certain manner. You are supposed to be nice. You’re not supposed to display female rage, overt female aggression or even plainly spoken anger.

Who benefits, motherfuckers? I’ll let you answer that one.

Hint *Not women*

So, this clearly angry woman was on my TV. Musing about “venting”, because on the one hand she had to consider her strategic moves for the season vis-a-vis her status and presentation, but on the other because as a female, you are not supposed to show that you are fucked off, ever. Which begs the question, if we are not allowed to be angry, who benefits? Why is it so shameful to express anger that any sane person would feel? If the focus on what you are trying to express is kept squarely on the delivery rather the content, you are effectively shut down. As a woman you’re taught from a young age that being fucking furious and letting everyone know about it is shameful behaviour. Even if your friends gang up on you while you’re having your neck injected.