The Beautyshop Ladies Take On The Image Of Women On TV

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A new season of TV shows revolving around women began this week. Music Television Network VH-1 brought back its hit reality show Basketball Wives and also launched a scripted series called Single Ladies . Stacie Turner, a former cast member of Bravo's reality TV show The Real Housewives of DC , Galina Espinoza, editorial director of Latina Magazine and Editor-In-Chief of Jezebel.com Jessica Coen, talk about how these shows portray women.

MICHEL MARTIN, host: I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Now it's time to go to the Beautyshop. That's where we get a woman's perspective on things happening in the news. Today we wanted to dive into what has become a guilty pleasure for many people - reality TV. This week, just as the NBA playoffs get underway, VH1 premiered the third season of its series "Basketball Wives." The show follows several women who are married to or who have been involved with professional athletes. I'll just give you a short clip of just a little taste. Here's an exchange between Evelyn and Tami, two cast members who are involved with the same man.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BASKETBALL WIVES")

EVELYN LOZADA: I'm sorry that I told you that, you know, you were a non-factor because obviously you have two kids by him. You're going to be a factor for the rest of your life 'cause you're connected to him.

TAMI ROMAN: I thought that was actually, you know, in the moment, it sent me to another level.

LOZADA: Yeah, yeah.

ROMAN: But in retrospect it's actually comical because at the end of the day, I was a wife. Jennifer was a wife. Shaunie was a wife. You can't claim that.

MARTIN: Ta-da. "The Basketball Wives'" premiere was followed by the premiere of a new scripted romantic comedy called "Single Ladies." That's about four women navigating relationships amid expensive lifestyles in Atlanta. That show stars actresses Stacey Dash and LisaRaye.

We wanted to talk more about this and the portrayal of women and the fact that they're actually both produced by women, so we've actually called upon an alumna of reality television, Stacie Turner. She's a real estate executive. She's a past cast member of the Bravo series "Real Housewives of D.C." She's here with us in our Washington, D.C. studios. Welcome. Thanks for joining us.

STACIE TURNER: Thank you, Michel.

MARTIN: Also with us, Jessica Coen, editor-in-chief of Jezebel.com. And Galina Espinoza, editorial director of Latina magazine. They're both with us from our bureau in New York. Ladies, welcome to you. Thank you for joining us.

JESSICA COEN: Hello.

GALINA ESPINOZA: Hey.

MARTIN: Stacie, I'm going to start with you. I'm just curious why you wanted to be part of "The Real Housewives of D.C."

TURNER: You know, it's interesting. I've never been a reality TV watcher, but what I have seen doesn't really replicate my life or a lot of the lives of my friends. So we thought that by being on the show portraying a positive black family, you know, good life with kids, doing positive things, working in charity, working a business and not doing some of the stereotypical drama, we would see somebody that more mirrors who we are.

MARTIN: No neck rolling, no finger in the air.

TURNER: Not that much.

MARTIN: No.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Well, what did you think of "Basketball Wives?" We forced you to watch it. That wasn't really on your dance card until we asked you to.

TURNER: I mean, it was outrageous. It was completely outrageous. It was what I expected. And I think that, you know, in today's TV land, reality is what is the 90 percent of programming that's on there. The sad thing is that most of the portrayals of women are negative. Most of them are the same. Even the scripted sitcoms like "Single Ladies" and so forth, they still are dealing with the same old stuff.

What I would hope is that they would show some different experiences, different people doing things that can be dramatic, but it doesn't a cat fight or cussing one out.

MARTIN: Galina, what do you think?

ESPINOZA: Yeah. I mean, I think it does confirm all your worse suspicions about what these shows are when you sit down to watch them. And I think it is unfortunate, but I do think that it also speaks to what's going on in culture today where I feel like people are facing a lot of difficulties. Life is hard. The economy's in the toilet and people really are turning to pure escapism. This is a familiar pattern throughout cultural history. You know, in the '30s in The Great Depression, that's when screwball comedies really rose up and became like the dominant genre of that time.

You know, is reality television our version of the screwball comedy? Sad to say, I kind of think that it is.

MARTIN: Well, yeah, beautiful clothes, fabulous cars, great apartments. One of the things that Galina, I'm curious about how you feel about this and I'm also interested in how your readers feel about this and, Jessica, I want to hear this from you too is that these reality shows are often among the most diverse casts on television.

On the other hand, what they have these people doing is not exactly, I don't know about you, this is not exactly what I want my kids doing. It's not what I want I want my daughters doing. So how do people, Galina, what do you think about that?

ESPINOZA: Yeah. I mean I think that our audience at Latina does respond because there are so few examples of Latinas on television anywhere that to a certain extent we're just grateful to see ourselves present. Now, again, it's not necessarily the portrayal we would want, but the fact that we are there and that we are figuring in the plotline of a show, any show, is important enough that you will find a portion of the audience that wants to support that. You know, that said, we do get a lot of feedback, you know, from our website and, you know, from emails that I get from the audience saying, you know, like why are these women representing in such a negative way? So it's a really mixed feeling that the audience has about it. They like seeing themselves but they do wish that the portrayal was more real.

COEN: And I think...

MARTIN: VH1 says - Hold on just a second. I just want to give this data point. VH1 says the premiere of both shows this week made Monday night its highest rated night in a year and a half. Jessica, what do you think?

COEN: Well, I think that speaks to the fact that women actually do want to see something different and sadly enough, this is different - having shows that are heavily cast with women of color are different and they are breaking the norm. And I found the reader reaction on Jezebel and my reaction too was we want to love "Basketball Wives," - or no. I'm sorry we want to, you can't love "Basketball Wives."

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

COEN: It's inherently unlovable. But we really wanted to love "Single Ladies." And...

ESPINOZA: A new "Sex in the City," we were hoping.

COEN: Exactly. Exacty. And...

MARTIN: But, but no.

COEN: And in the early years with "Sex in the City" the writing was actually pretty good and you were hoping for that with "Single Ladies" and so the premise is very similar but the writing wasn't there. That's not to say you don't want to give it a chance, but it touched on every girlie trope out there.

MARTIN: Like what, for those who didn't see it, like what?

COEN: The fabulous clothes. The rich man. The heartbreak. All, you know, one of the main characters is suddenly single because her boyfriend of five years wouldn't put a ring on it.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

COEN: And, you know, that is a real thing. That happens. But that male-female relationship is what is dominating the storyline when you have three potentially interesting female characters and their friendship is not central to the storyline.

MARTIN: And the other thing that got me about it is that the argument for why they should get married was so stupid. It wasn't because I love you, we want to make a family together because we belong together. It's no, because my friend - because I'm embarrassed in front of my family and friends.

COEN: And when you look...

MARTIN: I mean spare me.

COEN: And when you look at a movie like "Bridesmaids" which deals again with the same sorts of issues of women getting married of the whole ritual involved there, yet truly that movie is not about marriage. It's about female friendship and a celebration of the bonds of these women and the importance that women play in each other's lives. There is a way to tackle all of these things and have the fabulous clothes and the cheesy moments and the inappropriate sex talk but in a way that does not devalue women, right?

MARTIN: Okay, but how about this Jessica.

COEN: Yeah.

MARTIN: Queen Latifah is the executive producer of "Single Ladies" and Shaunie O'Neal, the ex-wife of basketball superstar Shaquille O'Neal, who just announced his retirement yesterday, by the way, is the executive producer of "Basketball Wives." So...

COEN: I mean that's why you want to give these shows a chance. I think the creators and the creative forces behind these shows give you hope, particularly for "Single Ladies." And it was the pilot, it was the introductory episode, you know, I want to believe writers are going to respond to this feedback that they're hearing not just from Jezebel per se but across-the-board I think. So you have talented women who are behind this.

And I think "Single Ladies" has a real opportunity to not to play into girlie stereotypes. They don't need to actually zoom in on - there is a shot where they focused on a crystal embellished stiletto for like three seconds. It had nothing to do with anything.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Stacie's saying...

TURNER: An interesting thing to have focused on would have been the fact that one of the main characters was an entrepreneur. She had started this shop. I was so disappointed when she said I started it for you, for the guy who's dumping her. I'm like no, you started it for you because that's what you do. And so you can just see where it could go a positive angle with the storyline that's there. It doesn't always have to go down. Talk about the positive stuff that she's doing, the way she's a top stylist. She had all these celebrities coming in the store. So obviously she was connected and had a serious profession before. Let's hear about that.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're visiting the Beautyshop with Stacie Turner, former cast member of - you're still a cast member - of "The Real Housewives of DC," Jessica Coen, editor-in-chief of Jezebel.com and Galina Espinoza, editorial director for Latina Magazine.

I want to talk - move from drama on television to drama on the Internet. This is a big story in Washington, D.C. and also New York, I would imagine, because it involves a New York congressman, Anthony Weiner, he's caught up in this Twitter scandal. A suggestive photo apparently sent from his personal account to a female college student on Friday of a, how can I put this...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ESPINOZA: Oh, I want to hear this. Try it.

COEN: A wiener.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

COEN: A wiener for Weiner.

MARTIN: Bulging underpants. Let's put it that way. And he says that his account was hacked. But he is not denying that that photo is of him. He says he didn't send it but he's not denying that it is of him. I'll just play a short clip from a press conference he had, which is not terribly helpful in resolving this. Here it is.

Representative ANTHONY WEINER: It was a prank. You know, it is not a national security thing. I'm not sure I want to put national federal resources into trying to figure out who posted a picture on Weiner's website of whatever. I'm not really sure it rises - no pun intended - to that level.

MARTIN: I'm just going to let that sit there for one minute.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ESPINOZA: I know. Jessica and I are sitting here giggling.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

COEN: It's impossible not to. What an unfortunate last name for this particular scandal.

MARTIN: Jessica, what do you think about the way he's handling this? And I know that, what are people saying about this?

COEN: I mean he's really digging himself into a deeper hole here, isn't he? He's saying it could possibly be him, which kind of implies that he has taken pictures like this before. And he seems to be suggesting or dancing around it in a way that is saying those pictures, what I'm getting from this is that those pictures are quite likely similar to something I might have taken but I didn't tweet them, somebody hacked it.

MARTIN: Well, the other, the context of this too is he's recently married...

COEN: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...to a high-ranking aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Huma Abedin and a very - is a lovely woman. And the other context of this is a Republican congressman, Christopher Hill, resigned his seat. His seat was just filled in a special election, after he sent, it's undeniably him, after he sent pictures of himself to a woman on a dating site. And she, you know, was very disturbed because he's married. I mean and she, you know, the woman to whom he sent it was single. And she said look, I have a right, I'm single, to go out and meet people, but he's a married congressman. What's that all about?

So Stacie, what do you make of this? I mean what, I mean he's saying that this is a much ado about nothing. What do you think?

TURNER: I just think it's ridiculous. He absolutely did it. What's so sad is that I would've never known anything that Congressman Weiner did unless this whole scandal had come up. So at this point he's ineffective in his role, everyone's going to remember him for this, and it's just, it's just ridiculous. If he didn't do it you would say you didn't do it.

MARTIN: Well, the irony of it is though he has actually become - and Galina, maybe you want to back me up on this - he's actually become noted as a very strong sort of partisan defender of the Democratic Party and the Obama administration right now. And some of the scuttlebutt here is that in part why this surfaced now is to neutralize him as an effective articulator of Democratic principles at a time when the Democrats feel that they're on the ropes. So...

ESPINOZA: Well, he is certainly considered a rising star here in New York and I think that that's why it has attracted the attention it has because it's not something that we expected to be hearing about him.

But whether or not this was a prank, whether this was politically motivated, whether he was targeted because of his rising prominence, he is making it worse now. He should be firing all of his press people because they have not given him a clear message. All of the talking about it by and not talking about it at the same time is only making him look like he's guilty not just of this but of possibly far worse things. And he keeps saying that he doesn't want to turn this into an issue, he doesn't want to spend the next two weeks talking about it, and yet, he keeps talking about it. So I don't know what is going on there but he just looks like he is a bad guy at the moment and he needs to stop.

MARTIN: What is up with this sending pictures around?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: I remember that last year it was the Brett Favre when he was with the Jets. It was - he's never denied either. He has subsequently apologized that he sent pictures of himself.

COEN: Ego overload.

ESPINOZA: And what is it about all these prominent men particularly in the field of politics who are sabotaging themselves? I mean this is a really interesting dynamic that we consistently see among powerful men. And I don't know if it's that they feel that they're so powerful at this point that they can get away with anything, but we seem not to be learning from these experiences. You would think that Arnold Schwarzenegger's situation would put an end to all of these kinds of shenanigans and yet it's every other week there's a new scandal.

MARTIN: Well, I'll just full - I'll just give one more disclaimer from him, which is - obviously we haven't discussed this, but he says that he's not sure, that he doesn't think it's him, but he definitely says he didn't send it to this young lady. So I have the feeling that this isn't the last we've heard of this story.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Finally, one last bit of political news. Sarah Palin is taking a bus tour of the U.S. She stopped in your town ladies, in New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: She had pizza with Donald Trump and she told ABC News...

COEN: I actually don't think she ate the pizza.

MARTIN: She didn't eat it?

ESPINOZA: No.

COEN: I saw her cutting it with a knife and fork but not actually putting it in her mouth.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: So no real New Yorker would do that, right?

ESPINOZA: No.

COEN: No.

MARTIN: And so, Jezebel - what do you think? You know, savvy political move by an unconventional player or just yet more circus? What's your take on it?

COEN: Oh, no.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

COEN: I think it's more a circus. It would be savvy if she actually said something while she's making these appearances. She doesn't necessarily have to say she's, you know, making a campaign tour here, I think that's actually quite obvious and it's silly that she's not saying it. But let's accept that she's not saying it. She should be saying something when she goes to these places and she's not. She went to Ellis Island and tweeted something about how great it was that, you know, America was built by immigrants.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

COEN: And, like, wow, what a wonderful insight.

MARTIN: Which it is.

COEN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Galina, Galina, what about you?

ESPINOZA: I mean I don't think that you step out in public with Donald Trump if you are not interested in the circus. So I think that she is using - taking a page from the Donald's book and using this opportunity to milk all the publicity she can get. And I think that that is going to put her in a strong position for when she does announce that she's running for president because I think...

MARTIN: You do think she's running?

ESPINOZA: Yeah. I mean I think it's such - there's no clear star emerging in that very crowded field, and I think that getting this momentum going primes her perfectly for the announcement and ensures that she is going to dominate the news cycle when she does announce.

COEN: And there's something really evilly brilliant about...

ESPINOZA: Mm-hmm.

COEN: ...refusing to tell the press where she's going.

ESPINOZA: Yeah.

COEN: It just, it ups the intrigue, everybody is following her, even just following her on the road because they don't know where she's going.

ESPINOZA: And she's consistent in her message that she doesn't need the mainstream media.

COEN: Right.

MARTIN: Which is true. Stacie, what do you think?

TURNER: I think it's a circus as well. I think that she is absolutely brilliant and feeding on this. And what's sad is that the media is feeding on it. They are following her everywhere so obviously it's working. I think that she's going to announce her campaign. She doesn't have anything to say because she's about, she's not deep enough to have anything to say.

MARTIN: So we should pull her off that bus tour.

ESPINOZA: Yeah, we should. I mean I think they're a lot of serious issues we should be talking about and she gives everyone an excuse not to talk about them.

MARTIN: So you're saying you won't be seeking an interview.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Neither of you up there? And I won't be reading about her in the pages of Latina and Jezebel?

ESPINOZA: If she was to say something important about immigration we're all ears.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

COEN: And if she came forward and the offer was there, absolutely. But I don't think we're going to really seek it out.

MARTIN: Okay. I'm going to hold - I'm going to play this tape if she announces and I'm going to bring you all back and play it right there. Stacie Turner is a real estate executive, past cast member of the Bravo series "Real Housewives of DC." She was kind enough to join us in our Washington, D.C. studios. Jessica Coen is editor-in-chief of Jezebel.com. Galina Espinoza is editorial director of Latina Magazine and they were both with us from New York. Ladies, thank you all so much.

ESPINOZA: Thank you.

COEN: Thank you.

TURNER: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. And remember to tell us more, you can always go to npr.org and find us under the Programs tab. You can also follow us on Twitter, just look for TELL ME MORE/NPR. I'm Michel Martin and you've been listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium. Let's talk more tomorrow.

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