Wednesday, June 20, 2012

'Desperate' Housewives End Up Anything But

I just watched the series finale of Desperate Housewives, and one thing struck me as very interesting.  None of the housewives ended up ?desperate? at all.  In fact each and every one of them ended up not only rich and powerful, but apparently richer and more powerful than her husband.
It would be one thing if one or two of the housewives experienced this kind of modern feminist role reversal.  But all of them?  That's more than a hint of encouragement to young women watching.  Not a single housewife actually found happiness as, well, a housewife.  In the end each shed that identity, became the breadwinner, and moved on to other cities either alone with her doting supportive husband in tow.

In the last few seasons the housewives repeatedly bailed out their husbands from legal/ethical problems, ushered them into rehab when needed, paid their debts, ran their households, and bankrolled their households whenever called upon.  Not that the husbands were all schmucks by any means, but what does this invariable development say to the millions of viewers ? both male and female?  Has our society really changed that much, or is the media pushing a slick sexy version of female revolution onto us?

Each of the women showcased in this show started out in upper middle class houses married to successful caring men and trying to find fulfillment as mothers, homemakers, wives.  Yet they all ended up as rich and powerful CEOs, politicians, entrepreneurs, breadwinners.  

To be fair, only two of the housewives remained married steadily through the entire series.  Widows and divorcees by usually must run their own households and become breadwinners (though Brie, Susan and Renee became more than a little bit successful on their own, once out from under their various husbands). I?ll highlight the stories of the two true ?housewives? who remained married and leave out serial monogamists Brie, Susan, and Renee for the sake of brevity.

Gaby was the most desperate of the housewives from the get go.  She played the classic superficial model that landed a rich executive husband; she then proceeded to be a full-time snobby shopaholic and eventually wrestled with the emptiness and diamonds that came with her workaholic husband.  Motherhood eventually mellowed her a bit, and she learned responsibility when her hubby ended up in jail for corruption.  In the most recent season or two her husband wrestled with and beat alcoholism and then decided to quit the corporate gig to become a counselor.  Faced with sure poverty Gaby got the only job she could qualify for ? a retail clerk at a local department store. 

Normally the story might end here, more or less happily ever after (morally, if not materially).  But no, Gaby is soooo good at shopping that she was immediately promoted from hourly clerk to VIP personal shopper where she began to rake in (apparently) huge commissions.  Like, the kind where all the sudden she is making at least as much as her ex-CEO husband.  As if that weren?t enough, in the final episode she gets a promotion to HEAD the VIP sales department.  In the wrap-up last scene viewers are informed that she went on to launch her own shopping website which led to a Home Shopping Network spot and she bought a mansion in LA where she and her husband ?argued happily ever after.?

Well there?s a way to glorify being a materialistic shopaholic if I?ve ever seen one.  Oh wait ? I have.  Remember Carrie from Sex and the City?  It?s ok!  Just be yourself!  Eventually a gorgeous man will love you for the materialistic consumer that you are and marry you ? and you?ll probably go on to stumble into your own incredibly lucrative career anyway!

This story is a bit different.  Two middle level executives meet at work and marry.  The wife gives up her career to be a mother even though she?s smarter than her husband and could have earned more (and their mutual contempt and resentment on the matter almost destroys the marriage more than once).  In fact she did start her own successful interior design business while married (his pizza parlor effort at entrepreneurialism flopped).

But that wasn?t enough of a statement to viewers.  In the last few episodes her husband loses his job, they reconcile their marriage, and then she gets a surprise job offer from an old friend.  Another housewife from earlier in the series struck it rich with a business idea while partying in France, of all things ? and she needs a CEO to launch her American division.  Lynette takes the job, buys a penthouse in New York for her and her husband, and they live happily ever after. 

The other wives end up rich and powerful due to divorce settlements (Renee) and insurance settlements (Susan).  So each is granted endless options for independence and occupation.  Brie marries her wealthy attorney and goes on to foster a successful career in politics. 

The Message
Besides glorifying wealth as the path to happiness and success in life, I am concerned about the fact that it's becoming less acceptable for a woman to choose to be simply a wife and mother.  It almost seems like now if that is all you do it isn't enough.  You don't also run your own blog, direct your own charity, own your own business?  You're just a mom?

When did that become the alternative lifestyle?

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