'Real Housewives of Orange County' Pilot Is Surprisingly Feminist — 5 Things I Noticed

I watch a healthy chunk of Bravo programming every week. It is my dirty little secret: From Southern Charm to Millionaire Matchmaker, I’ve seen it all. In the midst of a binge-watching session of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills last week, I thought to myself: “Where did this all start, anyway?” Sometimes you have to go back to the beginning to know where you’re heading, know what I’m saying? So, I queued up the very first Real Housewives episode ever — from Real Housewives of Orange County — up on my Hulu, and boy, was I surprised at what I saw.

We’re used to these Real Housewives of drink throwing and screaming harpies, but the pilot of RHOC is so REAL. Sure, these women — Kimberly Bryant, Jo De La Rosa, Vicki Gunvalson, Jeana Keough, and Lauri Waring — have more money than I could hope to have in a lifetime, but their problems are relevant, their worries are real, and they all — whether they know it or not — lean to the side of the feminist sisterhood. Who knew that a series said to be bad for women actually got its roots in a group of women who were just out to make it for themselves? Here’s what I picked up on during my rewatch.

Jo Is Only 24 And That’s Mind-Boggling

When we meet Jo De La Rosa, she’s velour tracksuit-clad and discussing her engagement to Slade Smiley. 36 years old to Jo’s 24, Slade talks about their age difference and says, “I’m eager to teach, and she’s eager to learn.” Um, ew. I don’t care much about age differences in people’s relationships (as long as you’re happy, that’s cool), but Slade is so pompous and gross.

In the pilot, Jo goes along (sort of) with Slade and the idea that he just wants her to stay at home (even though they have no kids together and his kids barely stay with him), but then she’s like, “nah, I’m gonna go out with my friends.” As a 27-year-old, I can’t even imagine being asked to stay at home all day long now, let alone at 24. If you actively want to stay at home and be mom, that’s great, but Slade forcing her to do so is not OK in my book. She has this really lovely moment of vulnerability with Kimberly when she says she doesn’t know anyone in Coto and fears that her dreams don’t match up with Slade’s. I’m glad that eventually Jo goes out, gets herself a job, and dumps Slade. You go, girl. You don’t need him.

Vicki & Jeana Have Always Been Hustlers

To quote the opening credits of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, “females are strong as hell.” Say what you want about Vicki (especially since she’s still on the show and basically just fights with everyone now), but she knew what she wanted and she set out to get it. Vicki divorced her first husband, learned a trade, and now runs one of the most successful insurance firms in the O.C. Jeana makes top money as a real estate agent. When the bottom dropped out of the economy a few years later, guess who were the only ones that stayed afloat? A running theme through many of the Housewives seasons is that it’s important to have your own money in a relationship, and Vicki and Jeana are a great example of this.

The Kids Are The Worst

I thought Lynn Curtin’s daughters in Seasons 4 and 5 were the worst in RHOC history, but they had amazing groundwork laid for them by Shane and Kara Keough (Jeana’s kids), Ashley Waring (Lauri’s daughter), and Mike Wolfsmith (Vicki’s son). Whining about hand-me-down Mercedes, complaining that they’ll have to get a job, expecting that mom will pay all the bills forever, ugh. Get it together. When contrasted with Bianca, Kimberly’s daughter, they look even worse. The most spoiled kids I’ve ever seen. They just don't get how hard their moms (and dads, in some cases) are working for them. That being said, Shane Keough is still the hottest dude to be on any of the Housewives franchises, and I still would.

The Quotes Are Cringeworthy

Though it was hard to narrow down the quotes from this episode that gave me the willies, let’s try a few. Perhaps it was Jeana saying, “My husband and his mother picked me out of several of his girlfriends because they thought I had the right build for their genetics.” Or Slade asking his five-year-old son “Do all the girls dig you ‘cause you’re rich?” or talking about how any earnings above a million dollars is “just adding zeroes.” All of these make my face go numb.

The Ladies Really Do Lean On Each Other

Kimberly and Jo bond over Jo not having any friends in the neighborhood, and Kimberly is Jo’s sounding board as she stresses about having to give up her career goals and dreams to be a stay-at-home mom to Slade’s kids. Lauri got no money in her divorced settlement and needed a job, so Vicki gave her one. All of the women in the O.C. seem to understand the precariousness of their image as trophy wives and recognize they need to make their own paths. The sisters are doing it for themselves.

Who would have thought that RHOC would have so many feminist undertones? Maybe the whole season is worth a rewatch to pick out how these women are really in control of their own destinies.

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