Over centuries, often through insurmountable challenges, African-American women have broken through barriers to reach the outer edges of space, the depths of the ocean floor, and everything in between. Bessie Coleman soared through the sky as the first African-American female pilot. Mae Jemison transcended the sky by being the first in outer space. Andrea Crabtree Motley was the first African-American deep sea diver, serving the United States Army for 21 years; and Tia Norfleet has broken the sound barrier as the first and only Black woman Nascar driver. On solid ground the list of trailblazers is sweeping: Wilma Ruldoph and Althea Gibson (sports), Rebecca Lee Crumpler and Jocelyn Elders (medicine), Carol Mosley Braun and Shirley Chisolm (politics), Gwendolyn Brooks and Maya Angelou (poetry), Oprah Winfrey and Michelle Obama (ubiquitous). Yet, aside from the final two on the list, it becomes a monumental task to find an average American teen (or adult for that matter) who recognizes the rest of the names on the aforementioned list. Names like Evelyn Lozado and Shanunie O’Neal; Yandy Smith and Rashida Ali, however, are immediately familiar to a subset of the population that, in my opinion, should run in the other direction at the mention of them. The latter are all “stars” from a line of what are “ratchet” reality shows (industry-labeled) called Basketball Wives and Love & Hip Hop. Merriam Webster defines “ratchet” as to increase or decrease something by a series of small steps or amounts. I see these shows and the portrayals offered by the “actors” as going in only one direction.

I am blessed to have two daughters. Both are intelligent, beautiful, stylish, and possessing of a good amount of common sense (this common sense being the characteristic for which I am most thankful). My oldest, a college student, was home this past summer after her first year away. It was a joy to have both of my girls together again—spending time shopping, having lunch, catching an occasional movie, and watching television. Ugh. Well, the watching television maybe not so much a joy. My husband and I have never been big on allowing much television for our kids. They have never had TVs in their rooms because we feel it creates too much of an opportunity to isolate. Plus there is always so much inappropriate material on, which brings me back to the concept of ratchet. I was especially cognizant this past summer of my daughters’ decision to occasionally tune in to these shows depicting women cursing and screaming at each other, pointing neon acrylic nail-bearing fingers in each other’s faces, and actually hitting one another with objects such as wine bottles—all in the interest of clarifying whose boo is whose. It gets me hissing like a barn owl each and every time. I’ve tried. I really have. I’ve tried to sit and watch these women and the men they are interacting with. I’ve tried to see the show as “just entertainment,” and the women as being “laughable” for “acting like that.” But invariably (and rapidly) the hissing resumes escalating to full-blown steam from all of my orifices (a sight which clears the room each and every time).

It’s just not laughable to me—my sisters playing minstrel. Not after Dr. Mae Jemison mastered the disciplines of chemical engineering, physics, medical research, AND interstellar travel. Not with the models of educators, businesswomen, lawyers, journalists, and accountants my kids have right in their own family.

But I am well aware that my kids are not alone. Many talented, intelligent women watch these shows. We all have our means of escape, after all. Maybe the messiness that is reality for all of us is eclipsed but for half an hour during an episode of this pseudo reality.

But at what cost?

These shows are not scarce. They actually seem to regenerate season after season, they have reunions, and many bear offspring (I understand Nene Leakes of Real Housewives of Atlanta landed her own spin off: “I Dream of Nene: The Wedding”).

These programs are doing damage to our girls who increasingly internalize the messages of self-objectification for personal gain: you must be thin, tall, beautiful, rich, and blinged-out to be happy. Oh, and the best route to getting there is to endure degradation in your relationship with a rich ball player/actor/musician/pseudo star. The interactions between the women, much of which is staged for television, also perpetuate the misconception that all women are enemies of one another, and that verbal aggression and violence are acceptable means of conflict-resolution.

I am under no illusion; these reality shows are BIG MONEY across the board—the more ratchet, the more money—it seems. And they involve and affect more than just African-Americans, serving as one more thing to dumb Americans down in an increasingly competitive global market. With the bar so low, we can try to fool ourselves into believing that anyone can get over it. But for African-American women—so many of whom have worked to counteract the age-old stereotypes of being over-sexualized, domineering, uneducated, and lazy—we have the ongoing onus of lifting the bar while simultaneously helping our sisters, daughters, granddaughters, nieces, friends, and ourselves clear it. This means recognizing the harm being done by a constant influx of negative portrayals, and banding together to do something about it.

“But what does this have to do with Bad Girls Club? After all, it’s just entertainment.” Hmm. No it’s not. It’s ratchet.

Angelle Fouther is Senior Communications Officer at The Denver Foundation. Wife and mother to two girls, she has a monumental interest and stake in working to improve the freedom, safety, and pathway to life-fulfillment of hers, as well as all girls.