It’s difficult to talk about this Real Housewives of Atlanta reunion in a fun, snarky way. It’s hard to joke about the imagined slights and hollow power struggles of these women and their alleged businesses while the backdrop of their lives is colored by how the people who are supposed to care for them violate and abuse their trust.
In tonight’s episode, Kenya and Shereé open up about their abusive relationships with Matt and Bob, respectively. There’s nothing to laugh about. It’s hard to even write about their lives as some sort of compelling drama because these aren’t characters; they weren’t written by a team of writers in a conference room somewhere. They’re real women whose partners were emotionally, verbal, and physically abusive. I’ve noticed that abuse or violence against women in television shows can be used to “humanize” them, or even worse, “bring them down a peg.” I was at a comic convention this weekend and I watched a line of men shout, “SHAME!” at a woman cosplaying as Cersei from Game of Thrones. There are an epic number of layers there to consider, but at its essence, a powerful woman character was reduced to a single moment of violence and humiliation as punishment.
That dynamic was (messily) explored as Andy Cohen tries to get to the heart of Shereé’s comment that Kenya provokes people. Shereé talks in a circle about how she doesn’t condone a man putting his hands on a woman, but she includes Matt in her list of people that Kenya has provoked. It is part accusation and part humiliation. No matter what Shereé says, the painful irony of her throwing that at Kenya is not lost on anyone.
The discussion about Kenya and Matt’s relationship goes into how he got progressively more dangerous: shouting, then breaking things, and then slapping a driver who was trying to ferry Kenya away. Kenya says she never equated his behavior with abuse because it was never directed at her. I was reminded of a story about domestic abuse where a woman notes that her husband would get upset and “lose control” and break things. Only upon reflection did the woman note that the only things broken were hers and that she was changing her behavior to assuage her partner’s anger.
Andy asks both women why they stayed or why they put up with it for so long. The first answer both Kenya and Shereé gave was “I’m like so many other women” and my heart broke in two. Not only because it’s sad and difficult to see two vibrant, interesting, complex women fold under the expectations of that question, but also because I’ve been there too. The repeated solution offered by almost all the women and Andy is “leave at the first signs of aggression” and that’s much easier said than done. Matt and Bob showed how abusers don’t just abuse right away. They’re sweet, they convince you they’re kind and funny, and then they turn on you.
Shereé reveals that she’s been holding on to what happened with Bob and his abuse and desertion of their family for over ten years. She would pray something tragic would happen to her so she wouldn’t have to continue living with him. She hasn’t talked to her children about it and doesn’t know if they’ve watched the episodes.
Shereé also cops to feeling like she portrays herself as a strong woman, but felt ashamed that she allowed someone to treat her that way. Cynthia is the first to offer that Shereé doesn’t have to be a superwoman. She doesn’t have to carry all this pain, and opening up about it will inspire other women. Shereé says women have started to stop her in the post office and say they’ve been through the same thing. Kandi even remarks that she’s never seen Shereé be emotional. There’s more to unpack there than Bravo might be able to handle, specifically about the emotional weight black women carry and how a lot of pressure is put on us to be resilient without ever bending or breaking. Shereé wants to help other women know their worth and love themselves so they can have the power to leave.
Phaedra offers that black women are least likely to report domestic abuse. I’ll add that 29 percent of black women have suffered intimate partner violence. I’m also gonna leave this here: www.thehotline.org or call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).
And, of course, there were other topics of conversation in this episode:
• Porsha is upset that no one can celebrate her when she tries to better herself and she believes that Cynthia bullies her. Porsha, you have bigger bullies to worry about in this crowd than Cynthia.
• Absolutely nothing about Phaedra adds up. Her divorce was finalized in July 2016, but she decided not to tell anyone except her closest friends and family. Phaedra also asked everyone if they had security after claiming she always travels with one and no one backed her up. Also, she might be dating Shemar Moore.
• Kandi accuses Phaedra of going down to city hall and putting the brakes on OLG. I think the only thing standing in the way of OLG is Todd’s mismanagement of time and space. She also accuses Phaedra of intentionally misspelling her name on her divorce papers to keep stringing Apollo along. I would like an entire season of Serial about Phaedra’s divorce, please.
• Naomi Campbell said Kairo has a future in modeling and Nicki Minaj commented on Riley’s Instagram.