The Depiction of Lesbianism in the Media

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The Depiction of Lesbianism in the Media

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Women and Gender Studies

The depictions of lesbians throughout the TV industry and other forms of media is often used to increase ratings, sexually titillate men and for entertainment purposes. The problem the culture encounters is the stereotypes are widely agreed upon and thought to be right. Many media outlets have made the distinction that attractive women kissing equal to ratings. For example, the kiss between Sarah Michelle Gellar and Selma Blair during the movie Cruel Intentions was widely talked about in the media and amongst the movies target audience. The scene featured two young attractive females engaging in a 10 second kiss. Although neither of the characters in the movie were lesbians, the scene however did convey a lesbian image to the viewer. We see many different images of lesbians all over the media, which tends to isolate two stereotypes out of the culture. These terms are used for describing masculine and feminine traits, behavior, style, and expression amongst gay women. On one end of the spectrum, with the butch lesbian, we see the combination of a lot of stereotypes and prejudices about gender, body image and sexual orientation, many of which are used to stigmatize lesbians. This butch lesbian takes over the traditional male role in a relationship and is often working class and dominant in her relationship and is predominantly portrayed wearing men’s clothing. Besides portraying lesbians as stereotypical butch companions the media also show them as fake and scantily clad which brings us the other end of the spectrum. The sole purpose of this image of lesbianism is to titillate men.

“Like the English punks, butch lesbians use clothing as a way to indicate membership in a group. Butches are easily recognized as lesbians because both lesbian and heterosexual cultures typically interpret masculine appearance and clothing, particularly when such feminine signifiers as lipstick, makeup, long hair, and jewelry are absent, as indicators of homosexuality. Being butch is thus a way to announce to the world, I am lesbian.” (Inness,1997,p.186)

Unlike gay men, lesbians, had for many years been brushed under the rug and never had many central gay women in the media. But, in 2004 Showtime focused on a topic that no other network had done before an took on the lesbian lifestyle launching The L-Word which was a drama revolving around a group of lesbians and straight women in Los Angeles. The show focused on their relationships, workplace and their sex lives. Focusing on lesbian sex lives was something that has never been done before. The show was a great insight into the world and culture that is often unspoken.

During most of history, television has not done an adequate job in portraying this minority group to the mainstream. It wasn't until 1973 that American television offered its first portrayal of homosexuality in a made for TV movie titled That Certain Summer. Throughout the following decades, lesbians, along with gay men became less of a rarity in television.

“By the second half of the 1980’s, network attitudes appeared to be shifting towards a more liberal approach to both language and story themes........the commercial viability of gay themed material in other mass media, and the appeal of emerging social issues in general as a backdrop for broadcast productions all contributed to the creation of a climate in which homosexuality was once again permitted to emerge on television. Lesbian characters, always a rarity in the past, were no longer invisible.” (Moritz, 1999 p. 318-319)

Unlike their heterosexual counterparts, homosexual forms of affection or kissing is something that is often not displayed. For example, the sitcom Heartbeat, which aired in 1988 on ABC, had a contrast of straight and lesbian couples that was staggering. The lesbian couple barely gets physical which the straight couples are...
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