Why can’t TV let women be friends?

04/25/2014 3:57 PM

04/25/2014 4:14 PM

When Porsha Williams dragged Kenya Moore to the ground on the “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” reunion show, it was a 10-second beatdown. But the assault on female relationships onscreen is never-ending.

The cursing, hair pulling and in-your-face arguing have become synonymous with women and reality television. Why? People love it. Some 4.1 million viewers tuned into Bravo on Easter Sunday to see the fight they’d been hearing about. It cracked Nielsen’s top 10 most tweeted shows.

They’ve been insulting each other all season, and at the reunion it came to one big blow. Kenya, a former Miss USA, taunted Porsha with a scepter, pulled out a bullhorn and called her a dumb whore. Porsha went all caveman. Afterward, she cried with regret and embarrassment.

We could pretend this is only a reality TV problem. Whether we’re talking about basketball wives, housewives or the Kardashian or Braxton sisters, name-calling and cat fights are a constant storyline. On television in general, brawls might not be a habit, but you have to ask, are female friendships under attack?

Women on TV are all work, romance or insanity. It’s hard to believe friendships can’t be a part of their lives.

Among the top 20 shows watched last week, “Grey’s Anatomy” and “The Good Wife” are the only two that showcase female bonding — and for the latter, that’s a recent development. “Scandal,” for all of its awesome qualities, leaves Olivia Pope friendless. Every relationship in her life is conditional.

Sure, on cable and Netflix we have our “Hot in Cleveland,” “Orange Is the New Black” and “Girls” with its complicated sisterhood of self-involvement, but overall, lady friendships are lacking on the small screen. (And in YA fiction, movies and music, too. We are always finding ways to pit our favorite female stars against each other.)

Do TV execs really believe we can’t be friends? VH1 pulled the plug on “Single Ladies,” a scripted show anchored on three besties, yet it happily promotes reality shows perpetuating bottle-throwing and beatings. This is not real life.

Girlfriends matter. One of the most redeeming aspects of “Golden Girls,” “Living Single,” “Girlfriends” and “Sex and the City” was the friendships themselves. Women didn’t just want to be Carrie Bradshaw, they wanted that kind of unconditional friendship. They wanted sisterfriends who were going to stand by their side. You just don’t see that anymore.

Maybe that’s why there’s so much excitement about “The Other Woman,” which opened Friday. The chick-flick comedy starring Cameron Diaz, Leslie Mann and Kate Upton sees the ladies stick it to a cheating husband. Instead of fighting for a man, the women band together.

“We’re trying to put it out there that women can be there for one another,” Diaz told Shape magazine. “Women don’t have to hate other women. You can celebrate other women’s beauty. We should be there for one another when we need it, and we can help each other through things, especially tough times — even when it’s the same man that all three just broke up with!”

I understand good TV calls for tension and problems to solve. But friendships can have all of that without being violent and back-stabbing. I don’t know many women who spend their days treating their friends like prey. They’re not punching bags, they’re our chosen family.

On prime time, friends are a vanishing breed. “Parks and Recreation” just went BFF-less, thanks to the departure of Rashida Jones. In a few weeks, “Grey’s Anatomy” bids farewell to Cristina Yang (portrayed by Sandra Oh, who announced she’s moving on). She and Meredith Grey are the twisted sisters. Their relationship gets messy. It gets real. And they push through it.

There’s a way to portray women and friendship without sticking them in a bottom of a bucket filled with sticks and stones. And scepters.

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