In Nigeria’s Biggest Reality TV Show, Sexist Tropes Draw Fresh Breaths
In a country that is desperately telling the world that progressive gender ideas have reached its borders, the most-watched indigenous reality TV show in the history of Nigeria takes viewers to the very belly of the beast, revealing sharp contrasts about what it truly means to be female and Nigerian in 2020, even when the camera is never off housemates for three months.
Comments aired from social media directly on the Big Brother Naija (BBNaija) live broadcast on DSTV can be anything and everything from which female housemate is the most “wife-material” to who certainly must be a sex worker both in and outside the house. Sexist comments and memes about female housemates’ body parts make for juicy clickbait contents on gossip blogs filled with even more sexist comments.
The ancient traditional ideas of women not being allowed to fully immerse themselves in the fullness of their sexuality comes more to life. While male housemates get a pass for public display of sexual desires, female housemates who engage with their male counterparts in intimate activities on the show are immediately met with the wrath of Nigerians on social media for expressing sexual desires.
In the house, sexual predatory behaviours run rampant. Female housemates have been subjected to inappropriate and unsolicited touching by their male counterparts. During the very first of the weekly parties, held live on Saturday nights on the show, to outrage on social media, mostly from handles that have been tagged “Twitter Feminist” in the Nigerian Twitter cyberspace, a male housemate unsolicited squeezed a female’s housemate breast while they danced, to which she spanked his hand off.
Days later, a different male housemate continues in his attempt to put his hand under the skirt of an inebriated female housemate, despite her repeatedly saying “No.”
In a previous season, a male housemate was disqualified from the show for allegedly sexually assaulting a sleeping female housemate. The female housemate was met with criticism of being “difficult” and “impossible” during hot topics segments on the radio in Lagos. The male housemate has gone on to become a celebrity fitness trainer, posting clips of his workout sessions to his 200,000 followers on Instagram.
With celebrities, most of whom are adverse to cancel culture for fear of skeletons that might be found in their cupboards, and legions of Nigerians who argue on social media that rape is mostly solicited or even impossible, it becomes out of question for any moral justice to be meted out on exposed sexual predators, even in the courts of public opinions.
Hope seemed to have come to Nigerian women last year when the country took to the streets of the capital, Abuja, to very publicly protest the alleged rape of a minor, who later became Busola Dakolo the famous photographer and wife of the Nigerian music sensation Timi Dakolo, by a pastor, but Nigerians soon gave up when she lost the case and was asked to pay the pastor a million naira for “wasting the court’s time.”
With the commercialisation of the women of the BBNaija reality TV show, whose Instagram followings only continue to rise by the thousands daily in the media, and brazenly normalised sexist comments airing live on national TV, it becomes more than glaring that the Nigerian media has not come to a consensus on what to do with old and familiar sexist tropes. But this year, social media feminist will not let that fly too easily. Telling their own stories about women from the female perspectives, they are gradually taking their counter opinions about how the women of BBN should be talked about to the middle of the country.