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Real Talk: Is Reality TV Making Us 'Mean Girls?'

Do you think reality TV informs the way young girls behave today?
I know you’ve heard people blaming the bad girls of reality TV for the downfall of civilization, and younger womankind specifically. But every time that argument is made someone inevitably points out that TV characters are not to blame. It’s the parents, the culture, the society that we live in that fosters anger and insecurity in women, and a million other reasons, “they” say. And while all those may be true too, the effects of bad-girl reality TV may actually be worse than we thought, according to a recent study.

Earlier this month, researchers at Iowa State University published Frenemies, Fraitors, and Mean-em-aitors: Priming Effects of Viewing Physical and Relational Aggression in the Media on Women. The study, which observed 250 college women, found that viewing mean girl antics such as social exclusion, gossip and emotional bullying on shows like Basketball Wives, Love & Hip-Hop and Real Housewives of Atlanta primed viewers to be more aggressive. Need an example? Think of the scene from last night’s Basketball Wives where Tami, Evelyn and Kenya disrespected Kesha at the restaurant by calling her out of her name, tag teaming her and then walking out on her.

Of course, this sort of behavior didn’t originate with the likes of Basketball Wives. The saying “Mean Girls,” based on the 2004 movie of the same title, pre-dates the currently popular reality shows. The reason the movie — and the book it was based on — did so well was because so many people could relate to misguided social hierarchy of teenage life. By the time I popped up in high school in the early ‘90s, nothing had changed. My school’s bully was a teeny woman with a big personality, like a Chihuahua. She’d wait until just before the morning bell when the halls were most crowded to confront a new student she perceived to think too highly of herself, and then yell epithets in her face to diminish her in front of her peers.

A good friend and HBCU professor swears all the crazy behavior on TV shows is inspiring an uptick in bad behavior among women, just like the study found. He sees it play out in dorms and dining halls everyday.

Earlier this semester, he had to break up a brawl between two female students, once friends. One student flipped her hair in another’s face, the offended student threw a cup of water (and the cup) on her one-time friend, then the wet hair-flipper dragged her ex-bestie to the floor and began punching her in the face.

As I sat with my mouth hanging open with a “WTH?!” look on my face at the idea of two degree-seeking women rolling around beating each other, he informed me that while that was the worst incident he could think of, it wasn’t the first and it won’t be the last. “The girls see that on TV and think it’s okay to act that way,” he explained. “All those crazy reality shows are normalizing acting ignorant.”

Do you think, he (and the study) is right?

Demetria L. Lucas is the author of “A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life” (Atria) in stores now. Follow her on Twitter @abelleinbk