5 UAE homemakers speak out against the portrayal of women in Real Housewives of Dubai trailer

Ahead of the reality show’s premiere next week, local women offer their perspective on the series teaser, explaining what the role of a housewife really entails and why it deserves to be depicted more sensitively in mainstream media



Reel vs Real: local homemakers Sara Al Saadi, Mona Al Mutawa, Tania  Kaddoura, Nataly Leslie and Khawla Alblooshi (From left to right)
Reel vs Real: local homemakers Sara Al Saadi, Mona Al Mutawa, Tania Kaddoura, Nataly Leslie and Khawla Alblooshi (From left to right)
by

Somya Mehta

Published: Wed 25 May 2022, 9:42 PM

Last updated: Thu 26 May 2022, 5:23 PM

The recent trailer launch of Bravo TV’s The Real Housewives of Dubai has received a lot of backlash on social media for its depiction of the role that female homemakers play in this part of the world. Following an Instagram video by renowned Emirati commentator Majid Alamry denouncing the show for its portrayal of women in Dubai, several women — housewives, working mothers and others — took to their social media and echoed Alamry’s view, demanding a more accurate representation.

But what exactly defines the role of a modern-day housewife? The show, which is set to air on June 1, defines it through the lens of flashy lifestyles, materialistic desires and frivolous agendas, which depict Dubai in a largely “You think money can’t buy happiness? Habibi, come to Dubai” manner.

In regions like the Middle East, where representation becomes a key bridge to communicate cultural nuances from one part of the world to the rest, it becomes paramount to portray onscreen characters that reflect the life and lived realities of the place. And even more so, when representing a section of society that is already faced with scrutiny and judgement. A single-dimension view then becomes all the more problematic when it may, in fact, shape ground realities for women who identify themselves as housewives in the UAE.

To learn more about why accurate representation is necessary, we speak to five UAE-based housewives — expats and Emirati women — who offer their perspective on the series trailer, thereby explaining what the role really entails and why it deserves to be depicted more sensitively in mainstream media.

MONA AL MUTAWA

Mona Al Mutawa, 32, is a mother of two and an entrepreneur. Born and raised in Denmark, Mona is half-Emirati and half-Danish and has been residing in Dubai for 22 years. Mona juggles her businesses alongside being a full-time homemaker and has a micro-influencing blog on Instagram (@monablogz) where she documents her family and work life.

Mona Al Mutawa, 32, is UAE-based homemaker and mother of two
Mona Al Mutawa, 32, is UAE-based homemaker and mother of two

Do you identify as a housewife?

Mona: Every wife/mother identifies herself as a housewife because of the responsibilities that come when you embark on that journey in your life. So, yes, I do identify myself as a housewife.

How would you define the modern-day housewife?

Mona: A modern-day housewife is not very different from the traditional housewife. The responsibilities are exactly the same. What’s probably changed is while ensuring everything is taken care of, one also needs to strike a balance and leave room for their ambitions, working, studying and other things.

The recent trailer release for The Real Housewives of Dubai has received backlash on social media for showing Dubai housewives in a negative light. What’s your take?

Mona: I believe the show should have had a different title. I understand the idea behind the drama and scandal that is being portrayed in the show, but it has used a ‘mass’ title, which has excluded so many personalities and nationalities. The title gives the impression that majority of the housewives of Dubai are scandalous, which is false. Being a housewife in Dubai, I could not relate to any of those characters. Dubai and our leaders have always taught us respect, tolerance and that with hard work everything is achievable. Where is that in the show? Where are the ambitious women, business owners, women working full-time jobs while taking care of their kids and running an entire household operation? Why was that not important to be shared? THAT is what a REAL housewife of Dubai is.

Do entertainment shows portray housewives accurately?

Mona: I have watched many shows that involve housewives and most of them show a glimpse of what it’s really like to be a housewife.

Why do you think a more accurate representation of housewives, especially from this region, is important?

Mona: I have personally done a show that represents a housewife in her household with her family and kids. The idea behind the show was to educate and create awareness on what a housewife in Dubai can actually achieve with unlimited support from the government and unconditional love from her family even though she is a full-time housewife. There are a lot of stereotypes in the foreign society about the Arab women and, therefore, it is important to share the actual facts from the majority of Emirati households.

Have you generally faced judgements that undermine the role of a housewife?

Mona: Yes, I have. Especially with my businesses. Sometimes people don’t take a housewife seriously because they believe she has no other ambition than just staying at home and being with her kids. Not knowing that even while being at home, around her kids, she can be running a million-dollar company.

There’s also a criticism that the trailer shows a single-dimension view of Dubai.

Mona: In the show, we see women who could be scandalous from anywhere in the world, not just Dubai. So instead, the show would have done a better job if they named it “women around the world” because I don’t think they have represented any real chores of a housewife and specifically not a housewife of Dubai.

TANIA KADDOURA

Tania Lolla Kaddoura, 36, is a sports physiotherapist with a master’s degree in sports science and physical fitness. Originally from Serbia, Tania is an athlete and proud mother of her three-year-old son Noah. She also has an Instagram blog ‘Your social media running BFF’ (@lolla_fitness), which provides fitness tips and guidance.

Tania Lolla Kaddoura
Tania Lolla Kaddoura

Do you identify as a housewife?

Tania: I consider myself lucky to be holding the title of a housewife, supporting, nurturing and taking care of my husband and son with all heart.

How would you define the modern-day housewife?

Tania: A housewife in modern day or traditionally, working or staying at home, according to me, was and will always be the supporting pillar that holds the house together.

The recent trailer release for The Real Housewives of Dubai has received backlash on social media. What’s your take?

Tania: This is an entertainment show, which reflects the ideas and the point of view of its creators/producers. I believe it’s made in this way to receive the type of reaction we have all witnessed across social media and society. There is no bad publicity, after all. It will probably give it higher views and hits on all platforms.

Do you think entertainment shows portray housewives accurately?

Tania: The answer depends on the show itself, but for this particular one, I do not believe it reflects even a fraction of Dubai housewives or another society across the world for that matter.

Why do you think a more accurate representation of housewives, especially from this region, is important?

Tania: I think it’s very important to highlight the great role that housewives play across this region and the world.

Have you generally faced judgements that undermine the role of a housewife?

Tania: Personally, I have not so far, at least not to my face. I have the support and trust of my husband and family.

Tania with her three-year-old son and husband
Tania with her three-year-old son and husband

There’s also a criticism that the trailer shows a single-dimension view of Dubai.

Tania: I think it does not portray any dimension of Dubai, UAE or any other place, when it comes to portraying the role of housewives. It may highlight things like the luxurious life in the city, the safety, the futuristic innovations, but doesn’t capture the heart and soul of the city, country or even the region.

SARA AL SAADI

Sara Al Saadi, 33, is an Emirati PhD researcher in the field of community and social sciences. Working with government and private entities for the past 12 years, Sara is a mother of two boys, Zayed and Theyab. She also hosts her own podcast called The Community Platform.

Sara Al Saadi
Sara Al Saadi

Do you identify as a housewife?

Sara: Depends on the definition of housewife, but yes, I do identify as an independent, working housewife and a mother of two boys, with my husband sharing equal responsibilities as me.

Sara's two boys, Zayed and Theyab
Sara's two boys, Zayed and Theyab

How would you define the modern-day housewife?

Sara: A modern-day housewife can be many things. It’s a woman who is resilient, one who looks after her well-being and understands that her influence as a woman in society is crucial. Over the years, women have also started contributing financially to households. So, no matter how you term it, housewife, homemaker, house CEO — the fact still remains that it’s a pivotal role in a household.

The recent trailer release for The Real Housewives of Dubai has received backlash on social media. What’s your take?

Sara: We’re also discussing the trailer and its reactions on my podcast because everyone has an opinion about this. When I put up a question about it on my Instagram (@sara.alsaadi1), I got hundreds of responses. Some people actually said, “We just want to watch it for entertainment." But others like me, for example, disagree with this for many reasons. I don’t think women in any culture or region should be perceived, in ways that identify them with being motivated by materialism. Women are active members of society and even at home, they’re equal partners.

Do you think entertainment shows portray housewives accurately?

Sara: From a social researcher point of view, I have been involved in communities for years. This does not represent a whole community. A ‘modern’ woman to me is a symbol of beauty, selfless love, purity, grace, hard work, respect and dignity. Strong women lift each other up and should work towards making the world a better place.

Have you generally faced judgements that undermine the role of a housewife?

Sara: Not judgements, but I’ve got comments on how I do it all with two kids.

There’s also a criticism that the trailer shows a single-dimension view of Dubai.

Sara: It’s easy for people who haven’t been to Dubai to perceive it as a one-dimensional place. Yes, it’s got its glitz and glam and amazing infrastructure too, but what Dubai has also acquired is beautiful tradition. Let’s not forget the technology that has been invested in the country and that one of the leaders of the UAE mission to Mars was a woman.

KHAWLA ALBLOOSHI

Khawla Alblooshi, 30, is an Emirati mother of a four-year-old son. Khawla got married in 2016, and since, tries to maintain a strong balance pursuing her passion, work and duties as a housewife. Although, being there for her family takes precedence above all else.

Khawla Alblooshi
Khawla Alblooshi

Do you identify as a housewife?

Khawla: Yes, my house needs always come first. I love the work I do, but once you get married and have kids, nothing can take over your role as a housewife.

The recent trailer release for The Real Housewives of Dubai has received backlash on social media. What’s your take?

Khawla: If you want to see the “real” housewives of Dubai and the UAE, you should visit any Emirati household and speak to the wives. The range of inspiring stories you will hear is overwhelming. For example, my mother paused her dream of pursuing her college degree for 19 years, to raise her seven children and when we all grew old enough to depend on ourselves, she went ahead and registered for her higher studies. She graduated from the school of pharmacy with a GPA of 3.89 out of 4.0. There are so many inspiring stories out there, and not enough coverage to spotlight these stories.

Do you think entertainment shows portray housewives accurately?

Khawla: Not at all, it is too neat and easy. It does not offer the slightest idea of how messy the situation really is. These women are out and about and seem to be responsibility-free whereas in real life, 24 hours in a day are barely enough for us! We are caught between taking care of ourselves, children, our husbands, and then we have a career and our own hobbies, and a social life. These shows primarily focus on the “social life” aspect rather than focusing on a holistic picture. The closest show, in my opinion, that offered a clear idea about being a housewife is Working Moms on Netflix.

Why do you think a more accurate representation of housewives, especially from this region, is important?

Khawla: In this region, we have it more difficult than other places because of the traditions and the demanding expectations from society. Usually working mothers have it very difficult as they’re constantly blamed for pursuing a career and not just settle for being a full-time housewife, but with all the high expectations, we’re still doing a great job. Our generation of housewives is slaying! They’re setting new and fair standards for the next generation.

Have you generally faced judgements that undermine the role of a housewife?

Khawla: Yes, I have faced judgement because I work. To many people, when you work it means you put your career first and that is incorrect, I am working to ensure I can offer the best life for my child.

There’s also a criticism that the trailer shows a single-dimension view of Dubai.

Khawla: Yes, the typical stereotype of women coming to Dubai to seek a “provider” who’d make their materialistic dreams come true, offers a very bad image of hardworking mothers and housewives who live from paycheck to paycheck and are actually working hard to earn money so they can provide better lives for themselves and their children.

NATALY LESLIE

Originally from Peru, Nataly Leslie, 38, moved to the UAE in 2009. She has four children, two of whom were born in the UAE. She has been a full-time stay-at-home mum. In 2015, Nataly decided to work part-time as a tour guide in Abu Dhabi, where she gets to talk to people from all over the world and clear their misconceptions about this country, as a passionate expat ambassador.

Nataly Leslie
Nataly Leslie

Do you identify as a housewife?

Nataly: Yes. My main job is to take care of the kids and the daily activities of home. I oversee the school runs. I do the cooking, grocery shopping and laundry. Even though I have a part-time job, I still have my full-time work at home.

How would you define the modern-day housewife?

Nataly: I believe that women nowadays put so much pressure on themselves. As modern-day housewives, we have a bit more freedom to choose what is the path we want to follow, either staying home full-time or being a working mum. We are caring, strong and we can carry the world on our shoulders!

The recent trailer release for The Real Housewives of Dubai has received backlash on social media. What’s your take?

Nataly: I feel sad and disappointed that we are being portrayed like that on television. I work everyday trying to change the misconceptions and wrong ideas that people have about the UAE, especially when we talk about the role of a woman here. The UAE is always recognising the value of women in society.

Do you think entertainment shows portray housewives accurately?

Nataly: The shows don’t represent what a real housewife is. Their topics are shallow and far from reality. They are just created to attract views and money by creating a fake environment full of gossip and controversies.

Why do you think a more accurate representation of housewives, especially from this region, is important?

Nataly: Sadly, people abroad have a very wrong idea about the role of women in the UAE. It is full of false ideas that they usually get from media in their own countries. The UAE is working hard to achieve gender equality and has launched many other initiatives related to women. This is what we should be portraying to the world to encourage other governments to follow these ideas and to change how the world still sees women in the Middle East.

Have you generally faced judgements that undermine the role of a housewife?

Nataly: Yes, many times. A few years ago, before I started working, people used to call us “Jumeirah Janes”. There was this stereotype that we all drove big SUV cars, got together for fancy breakfast, spent all our “free” mornings in the gym or at the hairdresser’s. I had single women telling me that I was lucky to have a husband that works hard while I sit at home doing nothing. They even asked me how I managed to get him. They treated me as a lazy, shallow gold-digger. Other people would ask me if I was not embarrassed for living off my husband’s money.

Even my own mother felt a bit ashamed of me because I didn’t make any money. This made me feel really bad. I felt I was working hard to take care of demanding little people and making sure things were running smoothly at home. Amidst this, my husband always told me I was doing an important job.

Even though times are changing, there is still this wrong idea that a housewife doesn’t work. Our work at home is diminished and overlooked. I think we should do more to keep raising awareness and show people that being a housewife is also a full-time job.

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There’s also a criticism that the trailer shows a single-dimension view of Dubai.

Nataly: Definitely. It is showing just a little part of Dubai. We can’t deny that Dubai is a cosmopolitan place, and you can find every kind of people here. We have so many women coming from so many different backgrounds living here. I would’ve liked to see the series representing this diversity and showing an Emirati housewife. That would’ve given real insight into the country and the women of the UAE.

somya@khaleejtimes.com


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