Most of the women on the Real Housewives show are housewives in name only, given that most of them run their own businesses and have had careers before finding a home on Bravo. So seeing some sort of feminist awakening isn't all that random. But now, even the more traditional women are starting to get in on fighting the patriarchy, and it came from one of the most unexpected cast members. This week, Melissa stood up to Joe on Real Housewives Of New Jersey, and it was exactly what her daughter — and millions of other women and girls in America — need to see.
Melissa is married to Joe Gorga, aka Teresa Giudice’s brother, and Melissa is always on her husband’s side. When we first met her back in Season 3, she was a doting housewife and happy to cater to her husband’s demands. Their dynamic wasn't just for TV either, they really seemed to believe in a traditional, patriarchal style of marriage. In 2013, Melissa wrote Love Italian Style: The Secrets of My Hot and Happy Marriage, which detailed how the couple stayed together. The secret recipe to marital happiness includes, according to the book, giving him a say in everything you do and giving him sex whenever he wants. “[Women want] to be dominated,” Joe wrote in aside. It was not a very refreshing or modern look for the couple, and a lot of RHONJ fans rightfully balked.
But things have definitely changed in the Gorga household. In Season 8, Melissa opened a boutique, Envy By Melissa Gorga, and she got a first-class ticket into the trials and tribulations of being a business owner who also happens to have children and a man-child for a husband. Joe had opinions about Melissa working, because she wasn't able to cater to his every need every second of the day, and it was a serious point of contention in their relationship. He told her that he brings home the cookies, and anything she does is just “crumbs.”
Melissa has evolved in her opinions since her book. In 2018, she told E! News, "I don't believe in that like I used to. I wrote a whole book about it and I don't know if I agree with everything I wrote any longer." Joe, though, hasn’t. In the Jan. 9 episode of Real Housewives Of New Jersey, the Gorga family is out to dinner, and Joe starts asking his son if he wants to be in the construction business like his dad. Of course, he says yes. But Joe and Melissa’s daughter, Antonia, wants to run a store like her mother does, and Joe makes cracks about not being able to afford a good life on a boutique budget. Joe really assumes that Melissa does nothing. He thinks that running her business is not that hard, and he says as much in front of their daughter.
Old Melissa would have let it go, but new Melissa shuts Joe down, telling him that he shouldn’t speak like that in front of their daughter, and that he’s insulting all of the hard work she’s put in building her business. Just because Melissa doesn’t build buildings doesn’t mean her business isn’t a viable company. And even if the boutique does fail, that's what business is all about. Taking risks, taking charge, and seeing it where it takes you. Boys learn that all the time, and often, the message to younger women somehow gets lost in the noise that they should be a princess, "beautiful," and "daddy's little girl."
Melissa tells Joe, in front of Antonia, that their daughter is watching her mother make something, and that that’s important. And it is — while Joe has told Antonia that she should just stay home and be a mother after she gets married, Antonia sees Melissa and her evolution and wants to follow in her mother’s footsteps. Antonia aspires because her mother aspires, and hopefully the cycle will continue for generations to come.
Joe’s sexist behavior isn’t news to anyone who has watched the show in the last six seasons, but it’s been invigorating to watch Melissa stand up to her husband and assert that she deserves not only a seat at the table, but credit, too, for all that she does for her family. She shouldn’t have to, of course. But Melissa has had a taste of something new, and she won’t let herself — or her daughter — go back.