Last week, I wrote about Caleb Reynolds’, a houseguest on “Big Brother 16,” and his unrequited romantic obsession with fellow player Amber Borzotra. While the television show has gone out of their way not to draw attention to Caleb’s out of whack fixation on Amber, those fans who subscribe to the 24/7 livefeeds are privy to how this is impacting his game, her game and the entire house. While Amber certainly has many, many supporters who see that she’s done everything she can to reject his clearly advances, there are others who have called Amber a tease. In response, Amber’s brother-in-law — one of the family members manning Amber’s Twitter feed and website while she’s in the “Big Brother” house — posted an articulate and smart response on Amber’s blog that defends Amber, but more importantly calls out a culture of victim-blaming that extends well beyond this reality TV show. With his permission, I’m republishing his piece below. Whether you’re a “Big Brother” fan or not, it’s well worth a read. — Amelia
Before I begin, just to be clear, this post isn’t about Caleb, the “Big Brother” game, or even about any concerns we may or may not have for Amber’s well-being. This is solely about the way the narrative is being portrayed by some observers: people who are not subject to the pressures/paranoia of the house and have the ability to know just about everything that is said and done before forming an opinion.
Specifically, there has been a worrying rise in “BB16″ live feed followers blaming Amber for somehow playing a part in encouraging Caleb’s unrequited feelings for her.
While it’s easy enough to ignore the odd fan on Twitter, one of the most respected and well-followed BB feeds tweeted this earlier today:
Trolls are gonna troll, haters gonna hate. I’ll happily scroll right past an offensive comment from a random person without even really caring.
But @hamsterwatch is not a random troll.
Now, “just sayin’” has become code for “I know I just said something offensive, but don’t blame me, I’m ‘JUST SAYIN’ it.” That doesn’t excuse the content, and whoever is running the @hamsterwatch account–with nearly 54,000 followers and a reputation as THE resource for all things related to Big Brother’s live feeds–should have known better than to tweet something this misguided.
So I responded:
The most bothersome part is the suggestion that Amber should somehow be censoring herself, holding back stories or parts of her personality, just to placate a guy who has been obsessed with her despite her actions, not because of them. I didn’t get a reply from @hamsterwatch, but he/she did reply to criticism from others … by blaming them for taking it out of context. I checked back through past tweets, and to be fair, @hamsterwatch has generally portrayed the one-sidedness of the Caleb/Amber relationship pretty reasonably. (To their credit, Hamsterwatch did eventually delete their tweet and apologize.) Still, I could not find anything in the ‘context’ that made it okay to shift blame onto Amber. I had more to say than 140 characters would allow. I wanted to express why the very existence of this type of thinking is so unfair, and not just to Amber.
We are not trying to stir up anti-Caleb negativity, but that there is even the slightest criticism of Amber over this situation is absurd. — Amber Borzotra (@aborzotra) July 15, 2014
She’s not encouraging Caleb. She never has. She never will. She actively rejected him, on camera, AT LEAST 3x. — Amber Borzotra (@aborzotra) July 15, 2014
(SIDE NOTE: These are just the 3 outright rejections during his heart-to-heart confessions of love – there have been many, many more subtle ones, too, practically every time he oversteps the boundaries of the FriendZone.)
Caleb reads into ‘cuddles’ and ‘sweetie’ but she treats all the guys the same. It’s his responsibility to see, not hers to make him see. — Amber Borzotra (@aborzotra) July 15, 2014
Amber has been clear. Everyone in House and watching feeds knows how she feels. That Caleb thinks different is his fault alone. — Amber Borzotra (@aborzotra) July 15, 2014
We all know, at this point, that Amber can’t reject him more firmly without damaging her chances of staying in the “BB” house dramatically. Her game has already suffered as a result of this, and Caleb being ‘for’ her at least means he isn’t an active enemy, targeting her for eviction as revenge for not loving him back. Which, incidentally, is exactly where his anger took him after their first ‘chat’. She has been forced to play nice; trying not to hurt or encourage him, and we think she’s been handing it very well. All of this has been well-established over the past few weeks, and it’s all been said before. However, the people who actually blame Amber are choosing to forget the facts of the situation, as seen and heard by millions of people on the live feeds. Because it must be at least partly her fault, right? This point of view isn’t just a problem for Amber, nor is it just @hamsterwatch: It’s a problem with society.
A woman has right to say no without shame or fear of reprisal. And her decision deserves respect. “No” is not “maybe, keep trying”. — Amber Borzotra (@aborzotra) July 15, 2014
A woman should not have to change who she is just to placate a man who can’t accept rejection. In BB16 as IRL, the problem is his, not hers. — Amber Borzotra (@aborzotra) July 15, 2014
THIS is why I felt the need to speak out.
Not because of an unfortunate tweet by one feedster.
Not because of concerns for Amber’s safety.
Not even because I hate Caleb (I don’t!).
It’s because anyone calling Amber a “tease,” or accusing her of “leading him on,” is willfully subscribing to a point of view that any individual — but especially a woman — could be held responsible for (and accountable for the consequences of) the feelings or actions of another fully-grown adult human being.
In response, one of our followers — Paula (@argh2222) — sent us a post she wrote for TVFishbowl.com on June 29th. In it, she explains why this blame culture is a problem: ”Calling a woman names and blaming her because some guy can’t handle the fact she either isn’t interested or has gone as far as she wants leads to things like this…” before giving two high-profile examples of cases where rape victims were blamed for their own assaults.
Her post was prompted by the Caleb/Amber situation and, specifically, a (now deleted) tweet by Caleb’s brother, Cole:
I, together with Amber’s other family members, wholeheartedly agree with Cole about wanting it over with so they can both get on with the game. And as things stand, we don’t believe that this situation is about to escalate to the extremes of violence or rape.
But the addition of #shesatease was wrong.
I would like to think that the fact Cole deleted the tweet indicates that he realized it was wrong; that rather than truly believing that Amber was actually leading him on, it was something said by a family member striving for a way to explain and defend his brother’s behavior.
Unfortunately, some BB fans have developed that belief, and it is a sentiment which shares the same cultural roots as claims that rape victims are somehow to blame because of the way they dress, or because they deigned to flirt with their attacker at some time then declined to take it further.
No matter the author of those opinions, male or female, it is a form of misogyny that is harder to pinpoint than blatant sexism, but misogyny all the same.
And just in case the sex of the author of my tweets–or this post–somehow affect their legitimacy:
I’m not a woman’s rights activist. Neither this — or reality TV, for that matter — are my usual areas of expertise. I’m just a bloke who thinks his sister-in-law has done nothing to deserve the criticism she’s receiving.
Back to “BB16″ — nearly three weeks after Cole tweeted in defense of his brother, Caleb’s obsession continues.
And just in case you’re wondering: it’s still not Amber’s fault.