'Big Brother's Battle of the Block Wedding Enforced Unnecessary Gender Roles

On the last season of Big Brother, we had to watch each week as houseguest after houseguest made racist, sexist, and homophobic comments. Was anyone not an awful person on Season 15? So it's been a huge relief to see the houseguests of Big Brother 16 act like the civilized reality stars we know and love, backstabbing each other just for personal gain, rather than discriminatory reasons. So it seemed as if Big Brother had done a 180 on the awfulness of last season, until Sunday's Battle of the Block competition came along and made sure that Caleb wouldn't be the only source of sexism this season.

But if we look a little closer, there's actually a whole lot problematic stuff going on in the world of Big Brother this season surrounding gender and sexuality. The Battle of the Block competition proved that, even if the other houseguests aren't spouting heterosexist nonsense, the producers will be happy to supply them with some completely unnecessary forced gender roles.

Zach and Frankie were both HOH this week, and surprise, surprise, the two Detonators put up four girls as nominees: Frankie chose Jocasta Odom and Victoria Rafaeli, and Zach nominated Christine Brecht and Nicole Franzel. Let's not even talk about how Christine is in their alliance. When everyone headed outside for the competition, we saw that it was wedding-themed. To pull themselves off the block, each pair of nominees had to assemble a gigantic styrofoam wedding cake, then climb to the top and balance there for three seconds. There is a lot of pink stuff strewn about, because the Big Brother producers think that modern brides and five-year-olds have identical taste in party decor.

None of this really bothered me, until I saw the nominees' outfits. Each pair had one "bride" and one "groom." All the contestants are women, but Big Brother decided that, even though this challenge is completely ridiculous in every way, the holiness of matrimony — or in this case, matrimony-themed reality show competitions — demands that the living wedding cake toppers must be male and female. So Christine and Jocasta each wore tuxedos and weird boy-hair helmets, while Nicole and Victoria wore wedding dresses.

It makes you wonder not only how they decided which women would dress up as men, but also what would have happened if one pair of nominees this week had been male. My guess is that the show's producers would not have made one of them don a wedding gown. They probably wouldn't have even had the wedding competition this week. The fact is, as much as Frankie's been highlighted this season, and as beloved as he is by fans, Big Brother still has a heterosexism problem. (Heterosexism being "an ideological system that denies, denigrates, and stigmatizes any nonheterosexual form of behavior, identity, relationship, or community.")

Even though gay marriage has been legal in California for over a year, Big Brother still chose to dress women up like men before it would let them just pretend to be a couple. And this one Battle of the Block competition is only the tip of the heterosexism iceberg. Pretty much every season of Big Brother has included one or two gay houseguests, and for a while that was a commendable choice. Now it's pretty much par for the course. But out of the show's 16 seasons, there have only been three times when two gay men or women (and there has never been more than two) have been allowed in the house together. It hasn't happened since Season 11, five years ago.

Sure, Big Brother is happy to let Frankie be a fun, crazy personality. But because there's no chance of a showmance for him in the house, he's forced into the role of the sexless gay best friend. The show is fine having gay folks over to entertain, as long as they don't do anything too, yah know, gay. Like make out with a dude (as some homosexual gentlemen are wont to do). Sure, Zankie is cute. And who knows, maybe something romantic will actually happen between the two of them. But even as Zach tells Frankie he loves him, cuddles him, holds his hand, he also makes it clear he's straight.

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Zankie is perfect from the producers' perspective, because they add a gay presence to the show without a hint of gay sexuality. From a ratings standpoint it's all reward and no risk. But as any Big Brother fan knows, if you never take any risks at all, there's no way you're gonna win in the end.

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