vanderpump rules james kennedy
photo: Bravo

Dear Lisa Vanderpump, Giggy the Pomeranian, and the producers of "Vanderpump Rules":

As we grapple with the fact that the United States just elected a racist, misogynist, pussy-grabbing, body-shaming monster as its president, low-stakes reality shows like yours can be an escapist blessing. 

As New York Times critic Naomi Fry wrote just last year, "Watching it is like having my brain stroked to a very low-grade, consequence-free orgasm — a pleasurable sort of noninvolvement. And I never once have to compare myself unfavorably with the people onscreen."

However, with the aforementioned election of Donald Trump currently pointing a long-overdue spotlight on how our country treats its women, one particular element of your show is finally, after five whole years at SUR, adding non-pleasurable consequences to the collective orgasm.

This element is obviously DJ James "White Kanye" Kennedy, and you need to fucking fire him for relentlessly body-shaming and slut-shaming women. Now.

In a season that opened with an explosive rumor that Kristen ate Brittany's "Kentucky Muffin" off-camera, the fact that James' body-shaming is dominating social media buzz about the show proves that you've touched a nerve — but not in the way you should be wanting to.

photo: Bravo

Before you chew me out, Giggy, yes — I realize that it was Lala who said " I can see that everybody here has not been working on their summer bodies," not James. 

It was a shitty, nasty thing for Lala to say — but it was also undoubtedly spurred by the relentless slut-shaming Lala has faced from Katie, Stassi, Jax, and other members of the group, including James himself, on this show. Lala's is a story of what low self-worth, bullying, and internalized misogyny can do to a women when they're combined with a youth-and-beauty-obsessed culture, and even though it's painful, I still firmly believe it's a story worth telling. (Especially if you pull her away from James and give her a story with, say, Faith, whose perspective working in West Hollywood as a Black woman I'd be far more eager to explore than James'.)

James' story, however, is one of a violent, emotionally unstable young man who spits on and verbally abuses women. That's about it. For a guy in his mid-20s to use his parents' recent split as justification for his continued verbal harassment of multiple female cast members (and occasionally, physical harassment of men, though this has primarly happened off-camera) is despicable, but it's even more despicable that your producers continue to encourage his behavior by giving it so much screen time, to the detriment of other people in your cast.

There is nothing valuable you are saying about abuse or misogyny by telling James' story. If anything, by arguably making him a tragic anti-hero in the story of his parents' divorce, you're enabling the abuse and telling viewers it's OK to shame women like Katie for daring to gain a few pounds, or Scheana for maybe (but probably not) getting a nose job, or Kristen for dating multiple men while definitively single ... as long as the man doing the shaming has a relatable enough sob story.

For a network that supposedly champions women, normalizing James' behavior sends millions of female viewers a pretty abysmal message about their worth and their bodies.

photo: Bravo

Here are some things James Kennedy has said about his female cast mates within the last several episodes of your show:

"Do I think Katie is a bit overweight? Yeah ... If I called you fat, and didn't really think it, then why would I call you fat?"

"Wait, are you pregnant? Oh my god, congratulations!”

"Honey, you're ratchet. Look at you."

... And this is obviously just scratching the surface of James' abuse, as ever since he began dating Kristen two-ish seasons ago, it's become the de facto character trait that defines him. (That and an unholy ego, but it doesn't take a psychology degree to figure out that the two are connected.)

In the article "Banking on Females: Bravo and the Female Audience," writer Haley Swartz points out that your network, which reaches 94 million subscribers and 95% of U.S. women per month across TV and digital outlets, has historically given its audience — affluent-skewing females 18-49 — a voice, but that "that voice can only operate within the confines of preexisting gender stereotypes." 

When James asserts in nearly every episode that your outspoken female leads — especially Katie, Kristen, Stassi, and Scheana, who have all earned his ire for various reasons — only have value if they A) are physically attractive to him and B) are physically attractive to him while having sex with a number of partners he deems appropriate, you're proving Swartz right. You're proving that the physical and emotional well-being of these women — nearly all of whom have spoken out against James in some form or another — is not as important to you as keeping James on board for the sake of explosive headlines and ratings. (Which were pretty fine in the two seasons before he joined the show, by the way.)

But the thing is, taking care of the women of SUR (and the SUR-adjacent) should be pretty high on your list of priorities. Because if social media reactions, interviews with your female cast, and the overall fucking mental state of half the women in this country post-Trump's election can tell us anything, it's that women are no longer OK with being objectified punching bags for men like James Kennedy.

Bottom line, "Pump Rules," I love to love you — I really do. But when I sit down with a glass of Stassi's beloved Pinot Grigio to watch you every Monday night, I'm doing so for a pleasant escape — not for a sober reminder of how little women can matter when money is at stake.

photo: Bravo

Look, I get it — at the end of the day, you're a reality show about hot rich people, not "This American Life." Viewers don't come to you looking for a nuanced take on gender dynamics; we have "Westworld" and "Insecure" and "Broad City" and "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" for that very sort of thing.

And we know that, on some level, the men on this show are always going to be shitty. Jax is always going to cheat on his girlfriend, Schwartz is always going to be a lazy partner to Katie, and Sandoval is ... well, his behavior towards women in general does not offend me, but I'd argue strongly that those new highlights of his are offensive to my eyeballs, which counts. 

But there's a difference between setting up an even playing field where slutty servers of both genders get wasted, have consensual sex outside of their relationships, and occasionally back-hand each other — which was the case for your first few seasons — and setting up a playing field where your female cast members feel abused. Stassi is fed up with it, Scheana is fed up with it, Katie is definitely fed up with it. Kristen is fed up with it, too, and Kristen is literally a recovering psychopath, while Ariana would be fed up with it if she wasn't still mad that Kristen is doing improv night without the proper training.

And while your show does exist in a weird little bubble on Robertson Blvd. near The Abbey, nothing exists in a vacuum. Women in America — the sane ones, anyway — are feeling scared, confused, unappreciated, devalued, and so many other things, all thanks to an election that validated men who slut and body-shame women. 

We're tired of seeing their behavior suck up valuable air time on CNN, and we're tired of seeing it on Bravo. Do the right thing. Tell him he's fired.

Sincerely,

Shaunna "Vagina Mafia" Murphy, noted Kristen enthusiast