It’s A Doll’s House, Tamra Barney

It’s misogynistic. It’s trashy. It’s a hotbed of mean girl shenanigans, 80’s night-time soap worthy greed, and a variety of scenes straight out of the Body Dysmorphia Olympics. But I can’t help myself. There is a dichotomy in my world that pops up every Thursday night: I am a feminist who watches the Real Housewives of Orange County. But in last week’s episode, these two worlds began, just for a moment, to intersect. 
In the last episode, Real Housewife Tamra receives a job offer, which is especially exciting because her family has been in a state of financial turmoil for almost a year. Unlike previous episodes, her husband’s botoxed serial killer facial expressions weren’t the most disturbing part of her segments on the show: it was the bizarre 1950s gender dynamic that was revealed in their household.  
Her husband Simon, monotone he-man that he is, decides it’s time to put Tamra in her place. Instead of congratulating her, he insists repeatedly that she needs to focus on raising their children instead, and forces her to assure him that this her new job will be strictly part time. Simon knows Tamra’s new employer, and tells her that he was told by her new boss that she would be perfect for the job because she wouldn’t really have to do anything. When she tells him her job description, he keeps repeating his previous statement. The translation seems to be “You’re only good at standing around and looking pretty. Isn’t that what this job is?” He then lectures her on how she parents her 25 year old son. He puts the onus of blame for the adult son’s behaviors on her, insisting that her current lack of discipline is what has landed her son in a series of mishaps, culminating in a five day stay at the local prison. He closes the conversation by reminding her that she is not allowed to travel alone, and telling her that he will be accompanying her on an upcoming trip that was meant to just be with her female friends. After having her ability to work, parent, and go out by herself questioned, her proud smile has been replaced with a look of complete and utter dejection. Simon, on the other hand, looks infuriatingly smug.

Something happened to me during that episode. For the first time, I sympathized with Tamra. All of her back-stabbing and gossip-mongering aside, there were moments in the episode where I saw a woman in an unequal marriage: a marriage that gave her husband the freedom to golf with his buddies and pursue his Tequila business dreams, while she was discouraged from even working part time and forced to attend her girls weekend with a chaperone. She no longer has the resources to not work, nor the desire to stay at home, but she is being discouraged from breaking out of her housewife role because of her husband’s insistence on maintaining his patriarchal authority. While dysfunctional marriage is a hallmark of the Real Housewives series, Tamra is the first character to face this seemingly second wave issue. 
I think the Real Housewives of Orange County are long overdue for a feminist awakening, and I hope it starts here. I’d love to see what would happen to this show if the women learned how to support each other and how to create more functional parternships with their spouses. How great would it be to watch self-proclaimed anti-aging junkie Lynn read “The Beauty Myth” and talk it over with her equally appearance-concerned teenage daughters? Or have Vicki provide (any) positive commentary on the other Housewives? What if their obviously-forced social get togethers included debates on reproductive rights or gender-neutral parenting? A girl can dream. Until then, I hope Tamra gets the job, the marriage, and the all-girls weekend she wants. And I hope that, just maybe, she takes her passionate, rebellious spirit and applies it to her home life instead of using it to trash her fellow Housewives. It’s a small gesture, but in the high-school-cafeteria, woman-hating world of the Real Housewives of Orange County, it just might be the start of something big. 

Join the Conversation

  • Surreal

    (BTW I’ve never watched this show) (sarcasm alert)
    Simon confuses me. Why is he blaming Tamra for her lack of disiplinarian skills? If her job is being an ornament/child/domestic servant/stay-at-home mommy (in his opinion) then that means HE is supposed to be the disiplinarian. If he wants to follow the 1950’s stereotype that also includes the mother telling misbehaving children: “Just wait until your father comes home!” If you want to follow the stereotype, at least do it right.

  • Gopher

    Send ‘em Betty Freidans book asap! What an ass of him to do that. Its absolutely demeaning and infantalizing. One asks, why in todays world would a woman put up with that crap? Its obvious were not as far along as the media likes to portray. This is also why I’m against housewivery. I think women have been forced into that position for far too long and its time to work and shape our own world. Its simply not a secure position for any woman to be in.

  • Gopher

    ….I just love how he’s immune from any responsibility for his kid. Apparently his son is only his when he’s acting good, then he gets the credit, when bad, her. No one holds him accountable for his neglect to his family. Just sick.

  • rebekah

    I disagree. Some women actually enjoy being housewives. If its an individual woman’s choice to stay home for whatever reason than we should support her in that choice. While being a housewife can entail some of this behavior I do not think that it is ultimately responsible. I just cannot find anything inherently wrong with being a stay at home mom and raising their children. I agree that his behavior toward her is awful (sigh yes I watch the show too) but I don’t think that it stems from the fact that she is a housewife at all

  • Kristina

    What I want to know is why she’s being blamed for her 25 year old sons actions? He’s 25! Why can’t they just take responsibility for themselves? Geez!

  • OhEmGillie

    Tamra’s eldest son isn’t Simon’s son; Ryan is the product of Tamra’s first marriage when she was very young (19 or 20), and if I remember correctly, that marriage ended pretty quickly, so Ryan grew up without his father.
    The consequences of young single-motherhood are something Tamra has struggled with throughout every season of the series – she’s talked about feeling guilty for indulging Ryan’s bad behavior to make up for not being able to provide for him as a kid, and trying to act as a buffer between him and Simon because Ryan grew up without a present father and hasn’t exactly thrived under Simon’s super-authoritarian model of parenting.
    She’s been defending her son to the best of her ability, because she’s his sole family ally. His stepdad and half-siblings don’t interact with him (or at least they never show it on TV). It’s admirable for Tamra to want to stick up for her son, I think any parent would do their best to be their child’s first line of defense, but there are bigger issues in her past that she’s still coming to terms with, and putting herself in the middle of two men who are essentially bullies in their own right (believe me, I’m no fan of her son, and do not believe he’s any sort of innocent victim of his circumstances) cannot be healthy or productive.
    I’m pretty sure Ryan was already an adult when Tamra and Simon got married, giving Simon the “excuse” to say that the Ryan isn’t his problem. Even when Ryan tries to do something good (in a past season, he tried to hold down a stable job in Simon’s office), Simon won’t touch the guy with a 10-foot pole!
    But I don’t think it’s just Ryan that Simon doesn’t want to take responsibility for, because he is never shown interacting with the very young children he and Tamra have together. That’s probably a whole other issue in itself, though.

  • kat

    I’m a working mother, but I have many friends who are stay at home moms. It is a perfectly valid choice. Most of the women who I know who stay at home are happy, with spouses who appreciate them and don’t restrict their freedom. My good friend has a husband who works insanely long hours. When they had their first child, she was burned out in her career. It would have been extremely difficult for them to arrange childcare just to have her continue working in a job she did not enjoy. Meanwhile, she has used her years at home to volunteer, explore new interests and pick up new skills that will hopefully lead her to a new career once the children are older. Another friend is an artist who now has the opportunity to teach art as a volunteer in her children’s school, something much more satisfying than her paid job.
    My only pet peeve with stay at home parents are those who say they are “doing it because it’s better for the kids.” In my experience, the kids will turn out fine as long as they have loving parents (or a loving parent, if it’s a single parent home.) The best reason for a parent to stay at home with the kids is for themselves and their needs.

  • JessMess

    Yes, I noticed this, too. (I’m another guilty Feminist pleasure RHofOC viewer.)
    In regards to the ladies imparting a little feminism in their lives:
    Lynn’s youngest daughter expressed displeasure when she heard her mom and sister were getting plastic surgery (face lift and nose job, respectively). She was crying in the interview clip, saying that they don’t need plastic surgery, they are perfect the way they are. YES! I thought, she’s getting somewhere, and I was listening for more insight from her on the edge of my seat.
    How disappointed was I when I saw that she was just jealous of them getting the attention/money/makeover and she wasn’t. She was thisclose to forming a feminist opinion regarding body image, but it slipped away…..I still have hope for her, because in the last episode she was a bit more vocal about it again.