By: Lisa Morris
Before the 21st century, homosexuality was a topic that media tried to avoid as much as possible. In the 1960’s, homosexuality was seen as a psychological disorder due to many gay activists trying to make a change (Cecco, 1984). It was as if the gay community was neither seen nor heard. With this unjust treatment, it’s no wonder why there were many gay activists who fought for the right to have their voices heard. While homosexuality is very much in the media today, the depictions fall flat of a proper representation. First, gay representation in the media was minimal, now it’s highly exploited, but in the wrong way. Today, homosexuals are now just being seen (under media’s warped idea of them), and still not heard (at least not in the way they want to be). There are many false portrayals of gays in the media; overly feminine men, masculine woman or even acts of lesbianism for male satisfaction, just to name a few. For example, mockery towards a gay man would consist of a limp wrist and an exaggerated feminine accent (Holtzman, 2000). There have even been sexologists in Germany and England that started calling gays and lesbians inverts, which is based off a belief that men who are inverts have feminine traits, while women who are inverts tend to take on more masculine characteristics (Holtzman, 2000). Lastly, and the main topic of discussion, falls into the category of lesbians and the misinterpretation of sex that goes along with it. “Lesbian describes a relationship in which two women’s strongest emotions and affections are directed toward each other. Sexual contact may be a part of the relationship to a greater or lesser degree, or it may be entirely absent…But women who identify themselves as lesbian generally do not view lesbianism as a sexual phenomenon first and foremost” (Atkins, 1999). In this paper I will consider the construction of the lesbian as overly sexualized, presented for male viewing pleasure.
To discuss the latter more in depth, it is clear that, in today’s media, a woman seen kissing another woman is considered sexy. That is the whole idea; media wants to sell sex, and that is their interpretation of sexy. If it sells, the media is surely going to milk it for all it’s worth. But wait a minute; doesn’t the gay community have any say in this? They are the ones being portrayed in front of the world as objects of sex. There are pictures and films that contain woman making out with the intention of pleasing the male demographic. One shocking video from the television show, "The Man Show", consisted of Jimmy Kimmel going around the streets, offering woman money to see them kiss.
He even says at one point “We’re not asking you to exploit yourselves, we’re asking you to French kiss each other on television for guys to masturbate by”. Clearly the first portion of that sentence was a joke, because how is kissing another woman on television, for money, not exploitation? Jimmy Kimmel sees all this as humor and doesn’t care (and clearly neither do these women) about how this footage could affect their lives. His main goal was to reach the needs of his male viewers and sell his distorted version of what is sexy.
Sadly, this type of representation occurs all the time within media texts. Another example of how lesbianism is “sexed up” for the male demographic would be a scene out of every teenager’s favorite movie, "American Pie 2".
Three male high school friends mistake two girl roommates as a lesbian couple. After being caught pillaging through the ladies things, the three boys confess that they just wanted to find any evidence of the two woman being a couple. The girls sympathize and show the three what they want to see; which is a kiss. The boys request more, however the two ladies want to even the playing field, so to speak. The boys could only see more if they mirrored exactly what they wanted the girls to do. Once these terms were understood, the boys go as far as grabbing each other’s butts, but they stop when things get too sexual. It’s shocking, in this case, how far the three boys are willing to go just to see two woman showing sexual affections towards one another. They are so in lust for the image and the act; however, when asked to perform the same acts, they become disgusted and ultimately turned off. This brings the age old question, “why is ok when girls do it, but not for guys?” It is widely seen that girls kissing is associated with sexuality and nothing else. That scene can evoke many moods from the male. On the contrary, when the males kiss, displeasure is seen on their faces and pure disgust is portrayed. This sends the message that this type of interaction between two males is unacceptable and downright scornful. This greatly affects gay males and their standing in society. It’s unclear who to accept at this point because one portion of the gay community is seen as sexy while the other portion is seen as a mockery. If both portions can’t simultaneously be accepted and seen as one, our image of them will forever be distorted. Viewers will consequently associate gays and lesbians with the examples they are given through media.
Portrayals of lesbian acts are defined exactly the way media intended for us to interpret. As Jimmy Kimmel put it, the image is something guys can get sexually stimulated by. It is seen as entertainment to post pictures of woman kissing and it forces women into a one dimensional category which is, sad to say, sex. Lesbians then are standardized only based on sex as well, avoiding deeper issues like gay rights.
Posters such as The Kiss are sold widely in poster stores and seen quite often on the bedroom walls of males. This poster reeks of ignorance with its cheesy angelic white colors, and half naked woman on display while big corporate industries rake in the benefits (aka...cash). It’s as if media is unconcerned about throwing a pigeonholed view of a certain group out for the world to consume and believe.
With ignorant portrayals of lesbians, such as the ones provided, it’s safe to say that the wrong image is being presented. Allowing such a distorted view of woman and their sexuality evokes naive responses from its viewers. This is how media has everything to do with the way we think, act and feel. Unless personal morals and ethics come into play here, the viewer’s fate towards their way of thinking is already decided under the power of media. So far, the image of homosexuality is uncertain at this time, because people are torn between accepting it and denying it.
Atkins, D. (1999). Lesbian sex scandals: sexual practices, identities, and politics . Binghamton: The Haworth Press.
Cecco, J. P. (1984). Homophobia: An Overview (Vol. 10). New York: The Haworth Press.
Holtzman, L. (2000). Media Messages: What Film, Television, and Popular Music Teach Us About Race, Class, Gender, and Sexual Orientation. Armonk: M.E.Sharp Inc.
About BMC 277: Media and Diversity
This course asks students to critically examine the role of the media in facilitating and challenging the social constructions of race, class, gender, and sexual orientation in U.S. culture.