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I’m not the ‘media lesbian’: Media portrayals trivialize lesbianism

I am not the first open lesbian to endure a man presuming I can be coaxed into sex, and I will not be the last.

Fortunately, I don’t experience this very often. Most men are respectful, but a stigma remains that lesbians cannot be exclusively attracted to other females.

This false perception doesn’t come out of thin air. Lesbianism has been trivialized by skewed representation in the media, specifically movies and television. Suddenly, the stigma attached to intimacy between women took a complete 180 in entertainment.

The infamous kiss between Madonna and Britney Spears was only a precursor to an influx of girl-on-girl media.

American audiences are now bombarded with depictions of lesbianism. Viewers may not notice until watching “Mean Girls” a tenth time, but two girls are shown locking lips for a split second in the background at a house party.

Recent lesbian-oriented films often depict a heterosexual woman who is bored with her long-term male partner, which prompts her to secretly pursue a lesbian relationship.

The endings aren’t usually happy, either – the storylines often conclude with the heartbroken lesbian being ditched, seen in the films “Lost and Delirious” and “Kissing Jessica Stein.”

Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl” has provoked girl-on-girl kissing action nationwide, as long as boyfriends “don’t mind it.” Regardless of Perry’s intention, the popular tune legitimized female experimentation, but only when heterosexuality is the ultimate outcome.

“Black Swan” may have gained popularity from its artistic direction, but it became better known for its fantasy oral sex scene between Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis.

Now many men think lesbians are “hot,” which can encourage straight girls to make out in pursuit of male attention, and college-aged women who are frustrated with men often pull the “I’m-going-lesbian” card.

These common media references show an increase in female homosexuality’s acceptance among American audiences, as well as same-sex relationships in general. A 2012 Gallup Poll showed 63 percent of respondents supporting same-sex marriage, up from 49 percent in 2005.

However, increased media attention is a double-edged sword. Popular culture suggests lesbianism is a temporary and a conscious choice if a bored wife can decide to rendezvous with another woman. It also insinuates lesbians cannot be exclusively attracted to other females, which is not true for many self-identified lesbians.

If a female movie character is bored with her husband, pursues another woman but returns to her husband in the end, female homosexuality may be written off as experimentation, or a “phase.”

This may be why some men assume lesbians can be coaxed into sex. The media lesbians often bounce between relationships with men and women, but not every lesbian is a “media lesbian.”

On the other hand, songs and frequent film scenes depicting male homosexuality haven’t gained as much traction, and male homosexuality faces a different stigma.

Popular television shows often feature a token gay male character, such as in “Glee” and “The New Normal.”

Token-gay males often represent flamboyant stereotypes, and gay male sex and intimacy are rarely depicted in the same light as lesbianism. There is no guy-on-guy make-out action or “Black Swan”-like oral sex scenes.

“Brokeback Mountain” remains one of the few mainstream films depicting intimacy between men but still does not contain any graphic sex scenes.

Popular media has created both positives and negatives by increasing male and female homosexuality’s acceptance. But by showing lesbian relationships as casual, flippant and entertaining, the media diminishes the seriousness of lesbianism but leaves the stigma of gay male intimacy intact.

I believe sexuality is not as cut-and-dry as it appears. Some individuals are not exclusively gay, straight, lesbian or bisexual and lack a precise label.

But for people such as me who identify with one specific sexuality, Hollywood’s portrayal of homosexuality sometimes leaves me reminding others that I’m not the “media lesbian.”

mhartigan@unews.com

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2 COMMENTS

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