RHONJ Shows The Pitfalls Of Sex-Negative Parenting

Photo: Rodolfo Martinez/Bravo.

If the Real Housewives women have any universal hobbies other than drinking white wine and going on doomed vacations, it’s criticizing each other. And, there’s nothing the Bravolebrities enjoy more than taking shots at their costars' parenting. For proof, you need to look no further than a Real Housewives Of New Jersey episode from earlier this season. But, Wednesday night’s season 8 installment, “Growing Up Jersey,” gave viewers an in-depth look at the parenting of Melissa and Joe Gorga, and subsequently let fans come to their own conclusions. The installment proved sex-negativity doesn’t help anyone in a family, and then, unexpectedly, offered up a very reasonable way to fix that problem.

While Melissa dissed sister-in-law Teresa Giudice for her mothering skills in “The Public Shaming Of Melissa,” Mrs. Gorga realizes her husband, and Teresa’s brother, Joe also has some room for improvement in the parenting department. Where Teresa is “Mister Softee,” as Melissa shadily called her, Joe is far too strict. The father of three is especially harsh when it comes to his tween daughter Antonia, who is credited as 11, but described as 12 in the episode. Antonia wants to go to a sleepover at her friend’s house, and Joe immediately shuts down the idea. “I told you, after [you turn] 12, no sleeping out,” the Gorga dad says. “Look at you, you’re beautiful, you’re gorgeous, I want you under my roof.” Five seconds earlier, the Gorga parents were praising their 7-year-old son Joey for supposedly having ”three” girlfriends.

This conversation is already pretty dismissive — essentially saying since the extremely young Antonia is “beautiful” she can’t do certain normal things because it’s the only way to avoid male advances — yet, the moment the word “boyfriend” comes up, things take a turn for severe. One of Antonia’s little brothers jokes she wants to “hang out with her boyfriend” and Joe screeches, “Boyfriend?!” Joe explains he “laid down the law” of Antonia not being able to have a boyfriend at her young age, and she agrees. Yet, there’s a distinct shaming air to the rest of the exchange as the dad asks, his eyes narrowing, “Why, do you want to have a boyfriend? What, do your friends have boyfriends?” Antonia immediately shuts down and runs out of the room.

Being a tween is hard enough, since it’s the first time many young women start having romantic feelings for whatever gender they’re interested in. Joe is already reinforcing those feelings are bad, attraction is bad, and it’s going to get her punished. It’s normal for parents to feel uncomfortable with the idea of their child starting to get crushes, but these kinds of wildly negative reactions can give a kid a complex. As someone who grew up constantly, and not-at-all-jokingly, hearing I wasn’t even allowed to think about having a boyfriend until I was 16, I would know. I swear this mantra started when I was in kindergarten, and now, two full decades later, I find it impossible to talk to my parents about relationships. This is the kind of parental drumbeat that sticks with a person.

It’s clear this is already starting with Antonia, who after the imaginary boyfriend shame parade hears her dad melting down in the kitchen. “You want a boyfriend? Here, have a boyfriend,” he sarcastically tells Melissa after Antonia darts out of the room. “Here’s birth control, honey.” Sometime after the kitchen conversation, Melissa also adds to the negativity during a shopping trip with Antonia. She tells her daughter she should start wearing one-piece bathing suits, adding, “We need to start covering you a little bit. ” This explains why Antonia admits she no longer opens up to her parents due to “strictness.” When Melissa asks if her daughter doesn’t “tell her stuff” because of Joe, Antonia announces, “He’s just scary!”

Despite Melissa’s off-the-cuff bathing suit comment, she is the one who fixes the problem. She dedicates most of the shopping excursion to starting an open, lovably dorky, dialogue with Antonia, asking if she has any crushes. “Is that what you call them?” the RHONJ star questions, and is visibly excited when Antonia says yes. It’s the first time the tween doesn’t look terrified to talk about her very normal prospective feelings. “There’s probably a middle [parenting] ground between Joe and Teresa,” Melissa admits in a confessional interview. “And we’re all just trying to figure that out.” As the mother-daughter pair finish chatting, Melissa swears she will to talk to Joe about calming down so Antonia actually feels comfortable opening up to her parents again.

Melissa lives up to her word, and the results are genuinely touching. Joe and Antonia go trampolining and end the trip with a heart-to-heart. Antonia explains she’s withholding because her dad overreacts to the world “boys,” and Joe explains he overreacts to the word “boys” because he finds Antonia withholding. It’s a vicious circle that’s finally broken by honest, judgement-free communication and trampolines. “You just have to respect yourself,” Joe says. “So, I promise you I’m not going to be as strict. I’m going to trust you.”

Time will tell if hot-headed Joe lives up to his promise, but, at least it's an improvement.

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