“Which housewife are you?” This question is posed on the homepage of Desperate Housewives, ABC’s hit show which takes a “darkly comedic look at suburbia” by portraying a “truly contemporary take on happily ever after.” By taking the quiz, fans can find out which one of the housewives they are most like-but it’s not much of an honor.
Have no doubt, the housewives of this drama are not the June Cleavers and Carol Bradys of days past. The newest “housewives” are bored with their families; motherhood is drudgery, marriage is dull and liberation is needed. Treating infidelity as comedy and sex as gratuitous, Desperate Housewives glorifies the dysfunction the housewives experience as they seek escape from their misery.
Sadly, the utter depravity of Desperate Housewives seemed to make it immensely popular. During its first season, 24 million Americans flocked to their televisions each week, anxious to see the latest salacious escapades of Susan, Lynette, Bree, Gabrielle and Edie, attractive, middle-aged suburban women whose “secret lives” on Wisteria Lane “aren’t always what they seem.”
In the first few episodes alone:
Gabrielle, a model turned trophy wife, had multiple sexual encounters with John, her 17-year old gardener, and went to great lengths to conceal the affair from her suspicious husband. Bree, whose marriage is on the rocks, started an affair with another man as revenge on her husband. Edie, promiscuous divorcee, had a one-night stand and shocked Susan, a single mother, by telling her she once made out with Susan’s ex-husband-when Susan was married to him. Lynette, a career woman turned stay-at-home mom, said she hated her life and demanded a nanny for her out-of-control children. At one point, she punched her husband in the jaw after an argument about sex.
Regrettably, Marc Cherry, Desperate Housewives’ openly gay series creator, and his writing staff, many of whom are also gay, seem to enjoy treating sexual immorality and dysfunctional behavior with flippancy. Though Cherry describes Housewives as designed “to entertain,” there is nothing entertaining about broken marriage vows, casual sex and a disdain for childrearing. And not surprisingly, Cherry intends to entertain his audience more by introducing a lesbian character to the show in the future.
Rebecca Hagelin, vice-president of communications and marketing at the Heritage Foundation and author of Home Invasion, refers to the entertainment industry’s assault on morality as “cultural terrorism,” a destructive force that Americans unwittingly allow into their homes to erode their sensibilities and personal values. Regrettably, millions of Americans are allowing themselves to be “attacked” by the toxic immorality Desperate Housewives glorifies.
The attitudes perpetuated by Housewives are not only harmful; they are misguided. Though one would never know it from watching a Housewives episode, the vast majority of women choosing to stay at home do not live in misery: They, in fact, feel fulfilled by devoting themselves to family life. According to findings of a 2005 Washington Post poll, 99 percent of stay-at-home mothers say they are satisfied with their role, and a majority rarely or never second-guess their decision to remain at home.
Unfortunately, the message perpetuated by Desperate Housewives is deplorably deceptive. June Cleaver and Carol Brady may be considered old-fashioned by some, but they could probably teach Susan, Lynette, Bree, Edie and Gabrielle a thing or two about marriage and motherhood-mainly that both are fulfilling and honorable, a far cry from desperation.
Jessica Anderson, a senior at the University of Northern Iowa, is an intern in CWA’s Ronald Reagan Memorial Internship Program. She is majoring in public administration, political science and music.