The Real Housewives franchise seems like it’s been in existence since the dawn of time. Recently, the Real Housewives franchise went international, to Dubai. The cast of six diverse women includes a native Emirati, Dubai’s first Black Supermodel, and a Housewives franchise alumna.
While the franchise will focus on the women’s stories, it’s important to acknowledge the stories they tell have a direct impact on people’s perception of Dubai and its people. This can go one of two ways: either Dubai will be overcast with stereotypes of Muslims, Arabs, and the MENA/SWANA region. Or Dubai can be a new look into our world, a more positive representation of our actual values, traditions, faith and life.
Let’s start with the cast themselves. Caroline B, Nina, Sara, Ayan, Lesa, and Caroline. All of the women are very successful and pride themselves on working to achieve the lifestyle they have. Honestly, I love to see it: women owning their own businesses, becoming the “first” in their field, and proving they can do it all.
However, while the RHOD cast is diverse unlike some of their franchises (New York, Beverly Hills, Dallas…we are looking at you), I wish they would have branched out a bit more. Only two of the six women are Arab. Additionally, the franchise missed out on a huge opportunity to bring in cast members from the MENA/SWANA regions. And why not have a cast member that wears a hijab? I’m not trying to say that the cast of women they came up with is not representative of Dubai — they are. I just wish casting directors in the entertainment industry would go beyond the bare minimum and take a risk with their casting choices.
But because we are centuries away from that happening, we must focus on the talented cast we have now. Initially, after watching the first few episodes, all of the women share a similar sentiment of Dubai being a beautiful, extravagant world that sets you apart from anywhere else. I was surprised and really happy to see the women combating negative stereotypes and the traditional orientalist/western narrative. Unfortunately, not all that glitters is gold.
Sara, a native-born Emirati, talked about how she does not dress to “satisfy people’s expectations of her as an Arab woman. When people see Arab women covered up, they think it’s Islamic but it’s cultural.” While I agree that no one should dress to pander to society’s expectations of you, I’m conflicted about her other statement. I have to recognize that everyone’s upbringing in Islam results in a different perception of Islam. A less traditional perspective would focus on the modesty aspect of the verses of the Quran related to Muslim women covering themselves. A more traditional perspective will read into the verses as dictating Muslim women should cover themselves.
Sara’s statement is problematic within itself because (whether she meant to or not) it perpetuates the western/orientalist narrative that Muslim women are oppressed — specifically the hijab is used to oppress Muslim women.
I’m not going to argue about which perspective is the right one to interpret her statement because that is up to everyone to decide for themselves. Regardless of the perspective, Sara’s statement is problematic within itself because (whether she meant to or not) it perpetuates the western/orientalist narrative that Muslim women are oppressed — specifically the hijab is used to oppress Muslim women. Her statement also feels dismissive of Arab women who choose to be “covered up.” Saying that it is more cultural than Islamic is almost insulting to women who choose to be covered. Also, dressing modestly along with being covered are parts of our Islamic scripture.
I’m also not sure if she was talking about it in the context of some Muslim countries forcing women to wear a certain hijab/covering. While no one or country should force a Muslim woman to dress or not dress a certain way (France, no, we have not forgotten), I think she could have clarified what she meant with some more context. Regardless, I believe she could have been more careful with her words because she knows the stereotypes and negative stigma around women who wear the hijab.
Caroline, an alumna from the housewife’s franchise in London, was talking about successful women in Dubai. Caroline claimed that any woman that made a life in this country had to have a hustle, because “no one gets left with giant golden cages with pots of money.”
Honestly, I don’t know what the thought process was behind the “golden cages” analogy, but it does not sit well with me at all. I get that everything in Dubai is gold, and they are holding gold bars in the intros, but you can stop with the gold analogies. The golden cages with pots of money seem stereotypical of Dubai’s wealthiest families. While there is an admiration for their wealth, there is this underlying narrative of control over the women in their lives and everything they do. It’s like they can’t have their own careers or be successful on their own.
I do agree that being successful in Dubai requires a lot of hustles, especially for women who are not native to Dubai. It does take a lot of work, time, and energy to be successful on your own. Again, I think the analogy could have been stated in a much more eloquent manner and not something that can be read a million different ways.
Sara talked a lot about how she wants to preserve the traditions she grew up with for her kid, and throughout the first few episodes, we see her actually trying. For example, she is speaking Arabic with her son, she sits on the floor and eats her food with her hands. And even though her son is not always amicable to everything, she says she will keep trying.
I really appreciated the effort she made and how she is not just going to give up after the first few tries. Children don’t understand the importance or value behind a lot of things when they are young (myself included) but with enough practice, they can grow into it. I appreciated how she emphasized she wants to raise her child within “both cultures.” She is not sacrificing one for the other or trying desperately to fit into one. Appreciating and loving our culture is almost never shown in the oriental/western narrative.
Sara also talked about how she would do everything she could to combat this culture of toxic masculinity, and really encourage her son to share and feel his emotions. I loved to see that, this is a topic that is present in cultures across the world and does not get talked about enough. Boys deserve to have their emotions and feelings validated as much as anyone else. The whole idea of creating tough boys and real men is bullshit. All that mindset does is create misogynists with low self-esteem. Western/Oriental narratives love to forget that men anywhere, in any culture, can exhibit toxic masculinity.
Another thing I loved about Sara was how she highlighted her relationship with her parents. She got candid about being divorced two times, and both times her parents were there to support her. I don’t think I have ever seen a positive representation of a Muslim family or household on TV. That hurts. Because I know the sacrifices, trauma, heart, and success Muslim parents have in them. But to see Sara talk about her parents, how she lit up and was genuinely grateful — that’s real, and that matters.
Lesa is the owner of a luxury maternity brand, and she has three super cute children with her husband. When she was describing her life in Dubai, she said that it is “safe for small Black boys,” and that is one of the main reasons why she loves being there. With the significant rise of murders and mass shootings involving Black men and women in the United States these past few years, I empathize with Lesa. No parent should ever have to wake up to their child’s death. This statement is powerful in itself and its implication. Feeling safe in a Muslim country is something we rarely hear. Instead, the focus is always on the terrorists, the war, the destruction, and death without ever asking who made our countries unsafe in the first place? I hope that Dubai continues to be a safe place for everyone and that people will have to develop the same feeling about other Muslim countries too.
Ayan is truly a legend, being Dubai’s first Black supermodel. Overall, from the way Ayan described Dubai and her life there, you could tell it held a special place in her heart. Ayan is the storybook definition of a self-made woman, and she epitomizes the luxurious lifestyle of Dubai that we imagine people to have. However, she is still able to be vulnerable and stay connected to her roots. Vulnerability is rare in this franchise, and I appreciate Ayan being brave enough to talk about her past trauma. Not everyone’s life is perfect because you have all the money or material items. There is still a part of you that may need healing.
Nina was four years old when her family moved from Lebanon to Texas. Nina, a successful entrepreneur, puts a lot of focus on wanting to pass on the traditions and values she grew up with to her children. Nina also faces some challenges with maintaining the balance between cultures with her children — and so did Sara. But we see her making the best of it, throwing a lavish Thanksgiving party because she remembers this as the time of the year when her entire Lebanese family would get together. I love to see the effort and the passion push.
Caroline did get candid about being a single mom and how that is difficult anywhere, Dubai included. I have an immense amount of respect for single mothers. They give everything they can and more to support their children. Single mothers have a special place in Heaven, and they deserve so much more recognition and support. Speaking of fabulous single mothers, Caroline B. has made waves in both real estate and beauty. She is the daughter of Honduran immigrants, and she worked tooth and nail to get to where she is today. Anytime a daughter of immigrants succeeds, we all succeed. I appreciate her advocacy for creating a more inclusive beauty industry because feeling both seen and heard is so important.
While I only highlighted a few key moments that stood out to me, the season just started. I am excited to follow these women and their stories as the season continues. I hope the show’s writers create a positive narrative that shines through even after the cast’s dustups have settled.