Desperate Housewives

Desperate Housewives follows the lives of the residents of Wisteria Lane, a street in an upper class suburban neighbourhood in a fictional town in the United States. The residents all appear to be well off, with high-paying jobs such as doctors, advertising executives and real estate agents. The story of the neighbourhood begins with the suicide of one of the neighbours who proceeds to narrate the series as the mystery surrounding her death unfolds. Although it appears on the outside to be a picturesque perfect picture of happy suburbia, Wisteria Lane quickly reveals itself to be a hotbed of cheating spouses, secret past lives, and troubled children. Every character appears to have a secret or is in the process of trying to figure out her neighbour’s secrets. Although the creator of the show is a gay man the show is written for a female audience, and, as the title suggests, the stories primarily focus around the experiences of the female characters. The neighbourhood is quite homogenous in terms of class and race. There is one latino couple, Gabrielle and Carlos, and an african-american family, the Applewhites, who played a large part in the second season’s plot line before moving out of the neighbourhood. 

 

It appears that stereotypes of race play a part in shaping the story lines that the characters experience. Although it is important to note that white characters are also involved in cheating, stealing, lying and killing, the crimes of racialized characters are constructed as more heinous and morally reprehensible than similar crimes by white characters.  When it is revealed that Matthew Applewhite attempted to frame his mentally-challenged brother for murder, he is characterized as dangerous and evil. [1] In contrast, white characters who have been under suspicion of murder are portrayed as suffering from mental health problems. When Bree Van De Kamp’s husband is found to be engaging in “kinky” sex with a prostitute, it is not seen as his fault, it is because Bree is not fulfilling his sexual needs. Only Bree is disapproving of his behaviour. Gabrielle cheat on her husband Carlos but she does it with an underaged man and is seen as morally inferior by all of the other characters because she is unable to stop herself even after the affair is exposed. The requirement is never made of Gabrielle’s to fulfill her sexual or emotional needs. 

 

The one exception to this is Andrew Van De Kamp. Although he is white, his intoxicated hit and run accident is portrayed as a ruthless, selfish act for which he shows no remorse is constructed in a similar fashion to his homosexuality. While his mother was initially quick to forgive and cover up his accident, she feels betrayed when he confesses his homosexuality, and eventually abandons him at a rest stop because she can no longer deal with his deviant behaviour. However, this could also be read as a resistance script as Bree’s actions in abandoning Andrew do not go uncontested and are part of a larger construction of Bree’s failure as a mother. Although she keeps a perfectly neat house, and garden, and serves elaborate meals for her husband and children, Bree is too perfect, too sterile, and this interferes with her ability to be emotionally available to her children. Her husband reveals that things haven’t always been this way, but Bree’s need to perfect every aspect of her life appears to be the only thing she cannot fully control.

 

The Scavo family household provides interesting constructions of masculinity and femininity. Lynette gave up a successful career as an advertising executive after her children were born—at her husband Tom’s request. Although Lynette does not deny that there are positive aspects to motherhood, she seems to have difficulty finding time to enjoy them between chasing her overactive children and cooking dinner for her husband. Her character exposes the myth that motherhood is a road to instant fulfillment for women, and as the Scavo family’s story progresses, also offers up Tom as an example of failed masculinity. [2]  Although not all the characters on Desperate Housewives are as outwardly feminist as Lynette, the show does offer some opportunities to see the power of groups of women, but also plenty of examples of how men, and families, can drive a wedge between them. In the following clip Lynette confesses to Bree that even though she loves her children, they do make her crazy. She is unsure if medicating their Attention Deficient Disorder is the right thing to do, and Bree admits it is a difficult decision. Lynette seems to equate medicating her children with failing to fulfill her as a ‘good mother.’

 

 

 

 

[1] Williams, Jennifer. 2006. “ABC’s ‘Desperate Housewives’ reinforces stereotypes of gender and race.” dailyorange.com. Retrieved April 17, 2007. (http://media.www.dailyorange.com/media/storage/paper522/news/2006/10/12/Opinion/Abcs-desperate.Housewives.Reinforces.Stereotypes.Of.Gender.And.Race-2346084.shtml)

[2] Vickery, Jacqueline. 2007. “Sometimes a Woman just Wants to Be on Top: Desperate Housewives and a ‘Woman’s Place.’” flowtv.org. Retrieved April 17, 2007. (http://flowtv.org/?p=64).

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