Big Brother 16 and why a Dating Hierarchy is Damaging

This season of Big Brother has featured your typical casting of hot young people fighting it out in a house for the duration of the summer in a battle to win 500K. As is apt to happen in these reality shows, so called “showmances” start showing up left and right where people begin pairing off in a mix of puppy love, restlessness, and strategy.

This summer however, houseguest Caleb has become infatuated with Amber, the young model who has not returned his favors. He continually pressures her and advances upon her, while she nervously tries to laugh it off and remains noncommittal. Caleb is a southern boy, strong, with tattoos and a strong Christian faith; he tells the cameras he believes Amber to be the kind of girl he can bring home to his parents. He even gives up his safety in order to protect her in the game –  afterwards believing that she now owes him something.

As a fan of the show, the perception of Caleb’s one-sided showmance has gradually changed. Going from a sort of aw shucks Caleb has no idea that she’s not interested, to a more worried – can Caleb emotionally handle the rejection that is inevitably going to happen?

To think about this scenario outside of the Big Brother house is even more worrisome, yet it is one that consistently happens (the #YESALLWOMEN movement showed that) and it is something that is portrayed all the time, even positively in pop culture. Earlier this year, Genevieve Valentine wrote for the AV Club about the male character who often pressures the female into going out with him until finally she gives in and realizes that he is sweet and she does like him. She uses people like Ross from Friends, Niles from Frasier, and Morgan from The Mindy Project as examples, saying:

“A generation of romantic comedies rewarding men for diligently pursuing a woman until she caves has normalized a behavior that has direct and unwelcome corollaries in real life. In an era when we’re having open conversations about representation and sensitivity in comedy, the shtick of a guy who won’t take no for an answer has lost any charm it once held. It’s become either a romantic signpost to set up a long-term romantic dynamic (which it shouldn’t), or it’s shorthand to denote a clueless creep while rarely taking him to task for it.”

(She also notes that the behavior of a character in Brooklyn 99 follows along with warning signs that the Network for Surviving Stalking has on their site)

The man in pursuit and pressuring the woman is a familiar trope in our television and movie watching experiences, but when it gets translated into real life the lines of consent are blurred in troublesome ways. Women get pressured by men all the time and saying no can be dangerous especially when the guy looks like Caleb does – big and tough – the kind of person you certainly do not want to piss off. How will he handle this within the show when surrounded by cameras and a lack of privacy? How will he react off of the show where there are limitless bounds for messed up things to happen? (I should say here that perhaps Caleb is a wonderful guy caught in the midst of puppy love on a national television show within a house that does crazy things to you – but he serves as an example of a wider problem both within pop culture and society as a whole).

Where does this come from? The idea that pressuring women into liking you is an acceptable form of behaving? I wonder if it is not rooted in the hierarchical ways relationships have been set up in our society.

In America, our society encourages that men seek after women. This is the way it has been and mostly continues to be. Men are the ones who ‘pursue’ women, opening doors, asking them out on dates, and paying for their meals. There is a historical precedent for this, one that has been challenged and pushed back against, but still largely exists across the American landscape. Men are the breadwinners, the ones who buy the ring, and propose. The women may have the power to say yes or no, but it is the men who are in pursuit, attempting to capture them. This is a hierarchical view of relationships, in which men have a higher and more ultimate power.

For the most part this can be healthy, most relationships are like this and most people I know are totally fine. Yet, the power to pursue someone is easily abused, while the power to say yes or no is too easily overcome at the hand of abusers.

Having believed that it is their job to pursue a woman and to “get” her to say yes, men believe that they can force a woman into their good graces. It is their job to get the woman. While this may start as a harmless knight saving the princess fantasy, this notion can be misrepresented and transformed into a stalker-like tendency under the guise that he simply needs to convince her that she should love him.

I posit that an egalitarian approach to dating culture, relationships, and marriages is necessary. As I wrote previously, the breadwinner man seems to come out of a former necessity that is no longer as relevant in our current age. As of now the man as the pursuer seems to solely come from tradition’s sake, one that is based in a time where women were property and given to men so that they could be provided for. In today’s day and age, women are perfectly capable of providing for themselves. Why should a man pursue a woman? A relationship based in mutual understanding and desire should be just a fruitful without perpetuating the pursuit and persuasion angle of dating that I see as harmful.

Will this approach solve everything? Certainly not, people are messed up. Will an approach to dating that sees both people as perfectly capable of making decisions for themselves and for one another ease the ‘I must convince you to date me because it’s my job’ – mindset? I’d like to think so.