Representation of Black Women on Reality Television

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Reality television beginning in the 50’s was an amusement to the American TV culture, that used hidden cameras to capture normal people's reactions and everyday behaviors. Today’s television has dating views, ways into the music industry and even shows testing one’s survival skills. Reality television has become one of the biggest nominators in the entertainment industry, reasonings being its appealing presentation of real people and they are lifestyles. It has taken the turn of the century showing measures of falsity that is far from the first reasons these programs were first brought in. Reality television has become increased degrading whereas as women of color are concerned. It has become a stage that depicts black women in an ignorant, hooligan light. Reality television is not only popular for its incorrect and practiced nature, but for its exaggerated idealism on women that reflect poorly on black women overall in society.

Reality television illustrates many stereotypes of black women, However the representation of women whom are dependent, inferior, lack of knowledge and worthless seem to be the biggest ones of all. They are little to no television shows that show women being the main area of attention, and that do not object to women in a negative light. Women also are more so sex symbols as they look more younger, physically fit than the men. Another thing reality television tends to do is display the ‘angry black woman’ image. In shows such as ‘The Real Housewives’ and ‘Black Ink Crew’ show women as being hostile and argumentative. In the industry reality television is used to undermine the credibility of women. Reality television tends to keep women in this negative light to reflect the increase in revenue, reviews and so on. Reality television fail to address the other aspects of women and use anger as the only emotion women tend to know how to express. Another major depiction television has is the depiction of black women.

Reality television uses all these flaws as an effective way to build the industry, but to tear down black women as if they are not allowed to be human and flawed. An example would be Oxygen’s ‘The Bad Girls Club’, a show for women as young as 19 years of age to 28 years old. The women must fit the bad girl image as a fighter, classy, wild, and fun. This has become a major issue because these issues are not only acted out on the television but in the media and real life. Reality TV created a stigma as where these black women cannot be among each other or even together with some confrontation occurring. In VH1’s ‘Love and Hip-Hip’, majority of the women are from past relations of old or upcoming rappers. The women signature fights consist of a thrown drink, a curse out back and forth and the bum rush of security. Reality television also tends to average the airtime between 45 minutes to an hour. During this airtime, the shows are edited to consistently show drama and the insanity of the women instead of the good moments that the show also contains.

In ‘Black Women's Portrayals on Reality Television: The New Sapphire’, Allison Donnetrice critically analyzes the portrayals of black women in current reality television. She goes to speak on the images of black women that are presented fighting, arguing, and cursing at one another in this coerced world of reality television. In the book she says the ‘Mammy’, the ‘Jezebel’, and the ‘Sapphire’ are three representational stereotypes of black womanhood, arising at various historical moments in Western media culture. The ‘Mammy’ is described as the ‘synonymous’ followed by the essence of Aunt Jemima, that has created an appealing symbol between Blackness and subjection. She goes on the describe the Mammies advertised as being heavy, submissive, easy-to-please retainers. Next, she illustrates the Jezebel, women born out of ‘chattel’ slavery. The Jezebels stood for black women whom are sexually depraved, putrid, and lustful. However, the Sapphires are angry, emasculating, and loud black women a stereotype said to be created in the 50’s. Reality television shows such as ‘The Bad Girls Club’, ‘The Real Housewives of Atlanta’, and ‘Love & Hip Hop’ are examples of black women, depicted as Sapphires, Mammies, and Jezebels. This negative on reality television births the insidious racial and gender stereotypes influence how the U.S. views black women.

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Nene, Kandi, Cynthia, Porsha, and Phaedra, the well-known characters of Bravo's ‘The Real Housewives’, maintain the lifestyle of living it up in Atlanta. They are all successful businesspeople, models, singer-songwriters and so forth, though the title of the show itself degrades the women themselves. It hollers the title as dependent and transude the ‘trophy wife’ lifestyle. Though there is no problem with being a housewife, but the title doesn’t exactly represent what the women are. Instead, it places them in a category where the world knows as what a real housewife is. When hearing the word ‘housewife’, it’s safe to say a woman is married to a man who main the only occupation of taking care of her family, maintaining the household affairs and dedicating her life to a man. These women are the opposite of the ‘housewife’ stature. These women pursue their own business and careers, in fact they are households have women who work for them, and they have the help and support of their own personal assistants. With these women they have the strong black women status as they carry on in life but leave it up to reality television to tear that down by neglecting to prove that. They are shown as being forever dressed perfectly, hair and makeup done precisely to match each one’s personality and never a hair out of place.

Women on reality television are also presented as desperate. The women in these shows are regarded as the wife, the girlfriend, or the bitter scored ex. Within the relationship there is the man who suggest to viewers the clear place of their women in the relationship reflecting their place in society. An example of this would be ‘She’s Got Game’, where you have the single rapper ‘The Game’ also known as Jayceon Taylor and 15-20 young black women who all go against each other to fight for the guys love with the hope of potentially becoming his future girlfriend. Lovely, right? However, it is not this way. Shows such as ‘She’s Got Game’, display black women as desperate and incapable of finding love or men to love them so instead, they sign up for dating shows. This goes to show another objection of women and stereotyped as being dependent and attention looking for. It also serves to further stereotype women as sexual objects and teaches that being pretty will get you a man. It neglects to show the many other women who CEO’s, owners of their own franchise and inspiring in the world.

Reality TV displays white women completely different and not all doom and gloom. Take the Kardashians for instance, many people have developed opinions on the group however they are unable to deny that they showed success and great family moments and a whole different message from black women on reality television. They are known for building these businesses, empire, and their different households. They have taken over E! Entertainment. ‘Keeping up with the Kardashians’ is one example of a reality show, where the women aren’t ‘angry black women’. This is also due to majority of the white reality television shows the women are producers of their show also, so they control the narrative and objection of the show itself. This is different from black women on reality TV as their subjected to play the roles they are given. They are black women who are lawyers, doctors, engineers, politicians, architects, etc. Nevertheless, when it comes to the representation of black women on reality TV, there is a great diverse and disservice. They are reduced to women only capable of continuously fighting with one another, to wives and girlfriends despite if they are separated from the earlier partner, they are status stays the same.

Their success is dependent on who they associate themselves with, the men they have once been with. There is a limited representation of true unbelievably great women who dictate their own shows and image, these are shows where they may not get much limelight. In an article written by Miami Times on Shaunie O’Neal, a producer of the show basketball wives, she speaks on her old past favorite television shows that existed before reality television. She goes to speak on the appeal the viewers of reality TV get watching real life drama. She further stated: “I do believe some of the shows featuring black women have positive story lines and are not meant to tear black women down. Shows like BET's ‘Tiny & Toya’ and ‘Monica: Still Standing’, TV One's 'Lisa Raye: The Real McCoy', VH l's 'What Chili Wants' and WE tv's 'Braxton Family Values'. These raving televisions shows are the looks past the arguing and fighting you will see on reality television. These are women whom are trying to get they lives back on track and figure out who they really are'. Nonetheless, these shows that have this message and show these details are undermined by the degrading networks of reality television. The women mentioned above, Tiny Monica Toya and the Braxtons are all icons and well-loved people in the media. They are around the same age as the women on ‘The Real Housewives’, but television do not represent women like this because it doesn’t display the image reality TV has for black women.

To conclude, reality TV has a horrible representation of women. Its structure is built on the backs of degrading and their depiction of black women. Reality TV bombards women with such rigid roles. It has become disgraceful to black women that are portrayed on the networks as people create a stigma to black women from the viewers these shows have. Reality TV should show women in a more positive light and more than the ‘angry black woman’ or more so like Monica, the Braxtons, and other iconic black women. Reality TV should revert the role of black women in the entertainment industry from desperate, inferior to men, to being, independent, business and family orientated women.

Works Cited

  1. Allison, Donnetrice. Black Women's Portrayals on Reality Television: The New Sapphire. 2016. ISBN: 9781498519328 CUNY Catalog.
  2. O'Neal, S. (2011, Jul). Reality TV Show Discounts Black Women. Miami Times.
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Representation of Black Women on Reality Television. (2023, March 01). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 26, 2024, from
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