The Oxygen reality series “Running Russell Simmons” may be over for the moment, but the reverberating effects for young women of color are no doubt still being felt. Like many, I watched several episodes of the craziness of the interns, glamour of the Hamptons and fast-paced blur of Russell’s remarkable life. It seemed light entertainment accompanied by relatively solid hip hop beats as the show transitions from one scene to another. Fun.
Or is it?
As the weeks went on, I began to be a bit more concerned about the way in which the series was being sold to its viewers. Upon first glance, it’s all about these “powerful” women running this meditating mogul’s life. But if we stop and think a minute, just how powerful are these young women who are either corking roof leaks to stressing about securing outfits for notables with a pout?
Unfortunately, none of them will probably earn anywhere near what their dear boss does. And by seeing women, though very stylish and socially conscious, in subordinate roles or by watching them compete against each other, as women sometimes already notoriously do, leads me to question: is the show simply reinforcing stereotypes from which many Gen Y females want to break free?
I thought maybe I was just being too sensitive about such televised female images so I decided to check out the comments on top Black sites to see what was up. While many thoughts are related to the various celebrity appearances on the show, I was actually fairly surprised to find more than a couple that were pretty strong. For example, “cheap, bottom of the gutter entertainment” (in response to an intern crotch-flashing scene) or “Russel [albeit missing that last "l"] you’ve been out of the light and appear to be a respectful man why now in this stage in your life be connected with women who appear to be ‘Trash’ and connected with your name. At this stage in your life it’s reaching. Pull back; you don’t need the reality shows nor the filth that’s connected with them, besides you have daughters what will they think of you once you have long left this earth? Integrity is everything.”
I certainly wouldn’t go that far, but I would say that there is probably a real opportunity being missed in not simply providing either additional positive images within the show or on additional shows. What the network and producers seem to be missing is that many female viewers are simply gazing right over the supposed “power girls” and instead zeroing right in on Russell. They are seeing a lifestyle that they want to seize for themselves, and it doesn’t include lassoing interns. Case in point? An episode crept up where Russell prepares to make an in-store appearance at a local Kay Jewelers. A young, hazelnut brown face finds her way to the front with unbridled energy to lean over the velvet ropes and shout-out, “I want to be just like you!!”
Really? That’s great and who wouldn’t, but just how might she accomplish this when there are hardly any televised Black female role models with that same swag, lifestyle, celebrity, and earnings as Russell Simmons? And therein lies the rub. Because Gen Yers, the most diverse U.S. generation ever and the generation which out-indexes in digital media frequency and whose females are earning more higher education degrees than males, simply want a piece of the real game now.
What this generation, those faced with the lowest job opportunities in decades, wants to know is how do you make those Oprah-like and Russell-like deals and make it to the end of the rainbow, not how to assist such icons.
So how to begin a better balance of power? Well, here’s 4 tips to early moguldom I wish I knew from the jump as a young girl:
1) Start networking even while you’re in high school if you can. Relationship capital is everything. It’s not just about the grades but lining up people early on who will be champions for you and open doors. Studies show males have an easier time attracting such support because men feel more comfortable with other males. So, push, if you have to.
2) Become really great at self-promo. A women’s magazine recently noted that women are many more times apt to shrug off achievements than men. Be your own best cheerleader; think Donald Trump, think Diddy
3) Just say no, apparently (and I’m far from hatin’ but more so admiring) this is what the boys do. Look around. How many male assistants do you see in the work force? Find out what they are doing to leap over that track and use that strategy
4) Guys look out for solid girls. If you see a female really doing her thing; talk her up to others, partner with her, collaborate.
It’s time for a new era, one which is more balanced in gender, with new ideas from women. There’s room for everyone and room for all images, not just the expected ones.
Lauren DeLisa Coleman is a writer, host and thought-leader specializing in the diverse segment of the Gen Y demo, tech and its convergence with socio-economic concerns. She is also the CEO and founder of Punch Media Group, an edgy digital media and entertainment company which develops pop culture experience and branding strategy across digital platforms. Follow her @mediaempress