I shamefully confess an addiction to reality shows of the artsy variety such as Top Chef, Project Runway, and The Next Great Artist. I don't know why I'm attracted to shows involving contrived interpersonal work situations when I get home from work - but I find them oddly relaxing.
Almost any show on the Bravo cable channel is a welcome bit of escapism at the end of the day - except for the Rachel Zoe Project. I've avoided that show like the flu since I got a glimpse of trailers featuring the rare-animal fur wearing, emaciated, bleached-blond youth striver that is the show's namesake (truncated name, of course.)
This season the show got my attention, however, because the main storyline features Zoe's family (husband, sister, parents) launching a concerted attack to convince the childfree Zoe to reproduce. In spite of her furs and her unhealthy aversion to food, I feel empathy with her in this situation.
As things stand now, Zoe is passively-aggressively resisting all attempts by her family to coerce her to have a kid. Of course, this entire situation may have been concocted by a cadre of reality show writers who will feature this struggle all season and then, last segment, have Zoe cave in to the pressure and bear the child she wanted all along.
Still, in spite of my suspicions, the storyline rings true. Zoe seems to be passionately committed to her career. She lives her work 24/7 and enjoys the hectic lifestyle. In spite of her obvious satisfaction, her family continues to harangue her with the idea that her life will lack fulfillment unless she bears children.
This verbal bullying is particularly insensitive and brutal in light of real-life evidence that Zoe suffers from anorexia and bulimia, has a history of harsh drug abuse and is much older, close to the big 5-0, rather than her proclaimed age of 38. Either way, she is physically fragile and would be risking her health to bear a child. Sadly, her closest family members don't seem to care about her physical well-being.
The fact that this storyline even exists on a mainstream television channel confirms my worst fears that we are rapidly backtracking as a culture in terms of our perceptions of women's lives. Can anyone imagine watching a show in the 1970's and 80's in which the weekly storyline is a communal pregnancy appeal directed towards an independent working woman?
Yet, the Rachel Zoe Project is underwritten by major advertisers and watched by millions of people. And, in glancing through blogs, many of Zoe's fans are eagerly advocating for Zoe to cave in to the pressure and get pregnant as quickly as possible.
Perhaps I'm attracted to watching the show each week (like the proverbial train-wreck) because it reminds me of the concerted efforts my mother-in-law, in collusion with her sister, made to convince me to have kids. I kept telling my in-laws that our childfree status was a joint decision, made equally between my husband and myself. I finally asked my mother-in-law to discuss the matter with my husband because I didn't feel comfortable discussing our choices with someone who was so set on the viewpoint that women are the sole regulators of childbearing.
This poor woman passed away believing that I had selfishly denied my husband something to which he was entitled. At her most desparate, she considered employing my husband's aunt (whose children eagerly bred plenty of grandkids) to talk some sense into me. Luckily, this conversation never took place because I know I wouldn't have been able to preserve the fragile civility I maintained with my mother-in-law for so many years.
In retrospect, I don't understand the entitlement family members feel in launching these clannish interrogations of the childfree about their reproductive choices. The same never happens in reverse. Can you imagine a group of childfree people cornering parents and barraging them with critical questions about their decision to breed?
Perhaps this scenario should happen, and often, especially with the human-induced degradation of our crowded planet. Still, that's the stuff of progressive science fiction. The current state of affairs is that parents feel entitled to harangue childfree people to breed, and, worse to adopt an attitude of righteous indignation when we defend our choice to remain childfree.
I'll watch the Rachel Zoe Project this week with a combination of revulsion and curiosity. With one segment left in the season, will Zoe cave or stand up and defend her decision to commit to her hard-won success and passion for her career? Maybe, she'll make a statement that rings loud and clear to a generation of young female TV watchers, boldly declaring her freedom of choice and her lack of guilt and self-recrimination while she remains happily childfree.
I hope for that ending because this woman, in spite of indulging in some pretty unhealthy lifestyle choices and PETA-adverse clothing, has managed to carve out a successful career niche in an extremely competitive industry. Zoe could continue to be a true inspiration to young childfree women who see value in having lives outside of the realm of caring for children. So, I'll watch the last segment with trepedation. I'm hoping for the best - preparing for the worst.