Lesbians as Represented in Mainstream Television

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  • Topic: Lesbian, Homosexuality, Butch and femme
  • Pages : 6 (2298 words )
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  • Published : January 26, 2011
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Lesbianism as Represented in Mainstream Television

Lesbian images have been entering into mainstream media more and more. Some argue that this is a sign of a wider acceptance of lesbianism in Western culture. In this paper, two mainstream television programs, Grey’s Anatomy and Law and Order: SVU, will be looked at to assess the nature of lesbian images. It will be argued that if and when lesbians are portrayed in mainstream television they are highly feminized, desexualized, and their lives are almost always framed in ways that appeal to heterocentric norms. Thus, mass media almost always fails to provide the viewer with an accurate and unbiased perception of lesbianism or homosexuality in a broader sense. Grey’s Anatomy has emerged onto the lesbian scene in the last couple of years by developing Callie Torres, a beautiful, vivacious, Latino woman, into a lesbian in the fifth season. A friendship develops between her and Erica Hahn, a successful, ‘sassy’, and appealing newcomer, and it gradually progresses into something more until finally the two share a kiss. Before the romance can flourish, Torres wrestles with her sexuality, her fears, and her lack of understanding of lesbianism. Soon after the relationship establishes itself, Hahn unexpectedly breaks up with Torres and leaves the show. Typical... or is it? A season later, Arizona Robbins, a semi-regular of the show, comes into focus when she blatantly hits on Torres. Shortly after, the two start to date and later find themselves in a committed relationship. The question is how good a job does the show do of accurately portraying lesbians? To start, all three of the women mentioned above are attractive and feminine. All three have long flowing hair - always nicely styled and maintained - and pretty faces carefully done up with light make-up. This is what Ann Ciasullo refers to as “sanitizing of the lesbian through her feminizing” (599). In other words, Grey’s Anatomy offers up an image of lesbians that is not too homosexual for the heterosexual audience. While it could be argued that such representations help to combat the rigid stereotypes of lesbians as ugly, butch feminists, the very widespread nature of the ‘femme’ image in media indicates something more is going on (Tamsin). The book Out of Focus, suggests that such feminine representations act to lower the threat of lesbianism by reassuring viewers that such (beautiful and feminine) women can or must actually be heterosexual (Kath Davies). In fact, in Grey’s Anatomy, as in many television programs, the ‘butch’ lesbian is completely absent. All of this suggests that the lesbian chic of the ‘90s is far from dead (Tamsin). Grey’s is well known for its scandalous call room sex scenes. Characters, heterosexual characters that is, escape to hidden corners of the hospital where they argue, make up, and make love on a regular basis. This is interesting because such scenes are practically nonexistent between Torres and Hahn or later Torres and Robbins. In fact, physical contact of any kind is somewhat limited between Torres and Robbins. An example of this can be seen in Season five episode 13 when Robbins` patient dies during surgery. When she gets home to see Torres has planned a surprise birthday party for her she bursts into tears overcome by her grief. The pair leaves the room and at this point you would expect a comforting hug, a loving embrace, or a reassuring kiss on the cheek from any reasonably intimate couple or from any other couple on the show for that matter, but not in this case. Torres tells Robbins that she will explain the situation to their friends and at that Robbins leaves. Additionally, sex scenes between Torres and Robbins are few and far between; those that exist are cut short by interruption or not shown at all. The latter is evidenced in Season five episode 11 when the viewer is shown only the aftermath - them lying in bed together, presumably after making love, eating pizza. It is a cute...
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