Oh, hey Internet, I didn’t see you there. I was just in my closet. But considering the number of states that will soon allow same sex marriage, I think I feel kinda safe now to come out of that closet and let you know that I, too, date women.
Are you surprised? No? Of course you’re not, because you knew that already I just…wanted an excuse to use the closet joke.
But, I am really sick of how grossly misrepresented and over-sexualized I am by the media, based on my sexual orientation. So today, we are going to talk about the media’s representation of lesbian and bisexual women or lack thereof.
A few months ago, I did a totally awesome and successful video on how pornography affects or warps men’s perception of themselves as sexual beings. In the video, I addressed four lies that pornography sells to men and then bust those myths.
At the end of the video, I made a reference to the fact that there are plenty more lies where that came from. And I made the throwaway, or what I thought to be throwaway comment, “Don’t even get me started on lesbian porn.”
To my surprise, an outpouring of messages came from various social networks asking me to please explain the lesbian thing. So to placate my fans, viewers, friends, I thought I should probably address their request.
But, as I started thinking about the ways that pornography portrays lesbian and bisexual women in the ramifications that it has in real life, I realize that it’s not just pornography that’s spreading these falsities.
The media, in general, tends to treat queer women the same way by doing us such disservices as:
1. Representing us as either feminine or butch stereotypes,
2. Making men our true, honest golden desire,
3. Representing bisexuality as either A) a phase, or B) a stepping stone towards lesbianism, and
4. Oversexualizing us. Like, even more so than the media does to women in general, which is already a lot.
And if you don’t know or think that you know any queer women in your life and you’re being bombarded with all these bullshit images by the media, then what are you left to do than buy it into them?
But the problem is that these widespread misconceptions about lesbians and bisexual women have real consequences for us in our relationships in the real world. So let’s quickly address these misconceptions, talk about the kinds of consequences that they have for my community and then come up with five ways that you can help. Shall we?
Myth: Lesbians are all either super sexy feminine or tomboy butch stereotypes.
Fact: No. Lesbians come in all shapes, sizes and styles. You cannot tell someone‘s sexual orientation by looking at them.
Real Life Consequence: Raise your hand if you’re a feminine lesbian who’s been told on multiple occasions that you’re too pretty to be a lesbian.
Myth: Secretly, men are our one true desire.
Fact: No. Lesbians are lesbians because they’re lesbians. And the definition of a lesbian is a woman who is sexually and romantically attracted to women. Men don’t have to be in the picture at all.
Real Life Consequence: Raise your hand if you’re a lesbian woman who’s been told that the reason why you are probably gay is because “you haven’t met the right guy yet,” or that “you just haven’t been fucked right.”
Myth: Bisexuality is just a phase that women go through (usually in college) and then they return to their happy, normal heterosexual lives. Or else, they’re really lesbians and their bisexuality was just a stepping stone.
Fact: No. Bisexuality is a real fucking thing and it’s really easy to understand. Bisexuals are people who are sexually and romantically attracted to two genders. What is so hard to understand about that?
I don’t identify as bisexual but I used to and I once had a partner tell me that I was actually either straight or gay because “there’s no such thing as a bisexual old lady.”
Seriously. A real life consequence, indeed.
Myth: Lesbian bisexual women are for men’s sexual pleasure. Just like all women are, except lesbian and bisexual women are even better because, hey, two women are better than one.
Fact: No. Stop, just stop. Women, first and foremost, do not exist for any other reason except to fucking exist. And lesbian and bisexual women have beautiful, meaningful, awesome relationships with other women.
They’re not into women so that they can attract men. They’re into women and want to attract other women. And it’s rude and degrading to objectify not only that woman but also her relationship.
Real Life Consequence: How many of you out there had a man proposition you and your girlfriend for a threesome? Or otherwise, openly comment on your relationship while what you’re trying to do is walk down the street, holding your lady’s hand?
A man one time came on to my ex-girlfriend when we were on a walk, and when I told him that she was with me, he said, “Oh, that’s okay. I’ll take both of you.”
What? No, we are not a package deal! Would a guy say that to another guy? “Oh that’s okay, I’m just gonna borrow her.” Unlikely.
The fact that lesbian and bisexual women are so under- and misrepresented by the media, means that the little that people do know (or think that they know) about queer women is wildly incorrect and oftentimes insulting.
People argue with me sometimes that feminist media criticism is a waste of time because “no one actually believes what the media says.” But as a woman who dates women, I can tell you that this is positively not true.
People internalize these messages and sometimes they output them in really offensive ways. Thanks a lot, media.
What can you do to help?
Celebrate media that has positive representations of queer women. Like, don’t settle for representation that LGBT women, whether plot lines are directly related to their sexual orientation. We’re more than just our sexuality.
Write in to the writers and producers of shows that you watch that feature lesbian and bisexual women and couples and let them know that you want to see them more developed and varied.
Or, if those TV shows do a really good job of representing lesbian and bisexual women, let them know that you appreciate it.
Tell your family and friends when the stereotypes they’re suggesting in casual conversation about lesbian and bisexual women is degrading or just plain not true.
And think things twice always before you comment on someone’s sexuality and relationship.
As always, thanks for watching. I hope that this got you thinking a little bit and gives you some tools that you can use to help dismantle this nonsense, whether you’re part of the LGBT community or an ally.
Leave comments about lesbian and bisexual characters that you see in TV and movies that you think are well-represented, and explain why you think that they’re so well-rounded awesome.
And see you next time on YouTube!
Melissa A. Fabello is the Editor at Everyday Feminism. She’s a feminist blogger and vlogger, as well as an online peer sex educator, based out of Philadelphia. Along with Everyday Feminism, Melissa also currently works with Miss Representation and Laci Green’s Sex+ community and hosts a YouTube channelcalled “Everyday Media Literacy.” She is a second-year graduate student, working on an M.Ed. in Human Sexuality. She can be reached on Twitter @fyeahmfabello and Tumblr. Read her articles here and book her for speaking engagements here.