As I decided to change direction for my visual culture essay, I have started to gather a new set of articles and sources that apply to my new cultural text. These will help to inform and strengthen my arguments when I come to write my essay.
‘The Second Sex’ – Simone de Beauvoir (book)
“…counselling man to treat her as a slave while persuading her that she is a queen.”
‘Ways Of Seeing’ – John Berger (book)
“A woman must continually watch herself. She is almost continually accompanied by her own image of herself. Whilst she is walking across a room or whilst she is weeping at the death of her father, she can scarcely avoid envisaging herself walking or weeping. From earliest childhood she has been taught and persuaded to survey herself continually. And so she comes to consider the surveyor and the surveyed within her as the two constituent yet always distinct elements of her identity as a woman. She has to survey everything she is and everything she does because how she appears to men, is of crucial importance for what is normally thought of as the success of her life. Her own sense of being in herself is supplanted by a sense of being appreciated as herself by another…
One might simplify this by saying: men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only most relations between men and women but also the relation of women to themselves. The surveyor of woman in herself is male: the surveyed female. Thus she turns herself into an object – and most particularly an object of vision: a sight.”
‘Lesbian Portrayals In Adult Media’ – Katie Cattermole (video speech)
“Katie Cattermole deconstructs harmful stereotypes in her lesbian portrayal speech by considering the hyper-sexualization of lesbians in pornography in relation to what she calls the “hierarchy of patriarchy.” The hierarchy is a measure of how your characteristics define how you’re treated in society. Cattermole’s hierarchy is as follows: heterosexual men, heterosexual women, gay men and herself. As a woman and a lesbian, Cattermole occupies a rank of double oppression that the preceding groups do not.
In terms of the porn industry, Cattermole notes that most explicit lesbian films include a male observer (usually in the form of the postman or pizza delivery guy). She argues that orienting lesbian sex towards a male gaze can harmfully impact lesbians in day to day life. Namely, lesbians become objects for sexual gratification instead of human beings. Oftentimes, men see her sexuality as a “challenge” as opposed to a fixed aspect of herself.
To finish, Cattermole notes that overt sexualization coupled with oppression contributes to her cautious mind in that she is forced to evaluate the “nature of risk” in every situation. To combat this problem effectively, Cattermole doesn’t suggest that we eradicate the porn industry, but that we implement better sex education earlier.”
‘The Sexualisation Of Queer Women In The Media’ – Spark Movement (online article)
Our society sees sexuality as something exclusively male. Women are expected to perform sexuality—to discuss sex, to look sexy, to have sex—but only and always for male pleasure. Female queerness subverts this. Women loving other women are clearly not doing it for men—there are no men involved. So our society has to find a way to lay claim to queer women’s sexuality as well.
One tactic is violence. Over 16% of lesbian women report being the victims of a violent hate crime. The real numbers–including the number who are victims of intimidation, threats, and unreported crimes–are definitely higher than that. Women who present as butch or more masculine are more likely to be the victims of these crimes, as well as a different sort of harrassment. Unlike other women, who are frequently the targets of demeaningly sexual catcalls, butch-presenting women are often the targets of violent threats and violent acts.
The other tactic is hyper-sexualization. Queer women—specifically femme-presenting queer women—are often viewed as sex objects just as (or even more than) straight women are. A huge percentage of pornography features “girl-on-girl” scenes. I was unable to find a specific number, as anytime I searched anything related to the word lesbian, I was simply barraged by dozens of links to explicit websites. A popular tactic in television series is to include a lesbian kiss during the final week of a series because it boosts viewership among men. There are dozens of TV shows and other kinds of media where women are romantically or sexually involved with each other for the pleasure of male viewers, and far fewer where genuine lesbian relationships are shown. The sexuality of queer women is drowned out by imitations of it centered at pleasing male viewers.
As we fight against the sexualization of all women, it’s important to remember the ways in which queer women are especially affected by sexualization. Queer women are often in real physical danger for practicing their authentic sexuality, but must see overtly sexual and unrealistic images of it everywhere. This diminishes relationships between women to nothing more than sexual and shallow. These ads are just a few examples of these damaging and hollow representations of same-sex relationships between women.
‘The Eroticisation Of Lesbianism By Heterosexual Men’ – Kristin Puhl (online article)
The stereotyping of lesbians includes both a traditional masculine, “butch” lesbian and a feminine, sexualized lesbian. The perception of lesbianism as erotic extends throughout mainstream society, with images of lesbianism targeted to heterosexual men in advertising, film, and pornography. If men do not perceive lesbians as either inherently bisexual or hypersexual, why are lesbians eroticized by heterosexual men? Here, subliminal priming with homosexual or heterosexual male or females primes was designed to elicit chronically accessible eroticization of lesbianism. Findings revealed that, contrary to expectations, priming with heterosexual-female prime sets did not increase reported erotic value of lesbianism relative to other prime sets; however, homosexual-male priming did increase reported erotic value of lesbianism.
Why are lesbian women eroticized by heterosexual men? The prevalence of this eroticization is demonstrated by the proliferation of lesbian content in erotic material aimed at straight men (Palys, 1986), as well as in mainstream media. From Katy Perry’s hit single “I Kissed a Girl” to the infamous kiss between Madonna and Britney Spears at an awards show, to the high degree of publicity given to the affair between bisexual reality star Tila Tequila and heiress Casey Johnson, as well as Lindsay Lohan and Samantha Ronson, a highly eroticized vision of lesbianism has been presented, often devoid of the political context of lesbianism developed in second-wave feminism. Eroticization centers on sexual activity. What is there, in the context of an erotic situation in which there is apparently no role for a heterosexual man to play, that captures the male imagination?
Several hypotheses have been suggested. Perhaps two women in a sexual context are simply twice as sexy as one woman in a sexual context. Perhaps the women involved are seen as inherently bisexual or hypersexual (Whitley, Wiederman, & Wryobeck, 1999). The characteristics of the women in question may be relevant—feminine women engaging in acts of lesbian eroticism may be more acceptable to the heterosexual male consumer than masculine women engaging in those same acts. Additionally, the element of homosexuality itself may add something, whether a broken taboo, anxiety, or simply an increased dose of sexualization.
Lesbian imagery, in popular culture, often employs stereotypes. These stereotypes may be subjectively either positive or negative, and are often concerned with lesbians’ conformity with gender roles and their attitudes toward heterosexual men (Herek, 2002a;
2 Whitley, 2001). The stereotype of the hostile, masculine lesbian probably contributes to
the continuing stigma of lesbianism. As familiar as that stereotype has become, a contradictory stereotype exists beside it in cultural consciousness. The sexualized, feminine lesbian, long a staple in erotic material, has become a mainstream phenomenon. In what fashion are these stereotypes relevant to the eroticization of lesbianism? What factors contribute, consciously or unconsciously, to the eroticization of lesbianism?
(The article is very long so I have only included the first section but plan to study the piece as a whole when writing my essay)
Below, I have included other examples of the sexualisation of lesbianism in the media just in case I want to compare my cultural text to one of them, or decide to use them to strengthen my argument.
Songs & Music Videos
Katy Perry – ‘I Kissed A Girl’
- video features lots of women wearing lace lingerie, having pillow fights and caressing each other in a sexual manner
- “I kissed a girl just to try it/Hope my boyfriend don’t mind it” – makes light of lesbianism, as though it is just a flippant choice one makes. Idea that women just choose to be lesbians, sounds like a mockery.
TV & Film
‘Blue Is The Warmest Colour’
- features several lengthy, graphic scenes of the two female protagonists having sex. Many lesbian women claim that the representations of lesbian sex in the film are “far off the mark” and pornographic rather than realistic and loving. Julie Maroh, who wrote the graphic novel on which the film is based, said the scenes were “a brutal and surgical display, exuberant and cold, of so-called lesbian sex, which turned into porn.” During the screening, “the gay and queer people laughed because it’s not convincing, and find it ridiculous, and among the only people we didn’t hear giggling were guys too busy feasting their eyes on an incarnation of their fantasies on screen”.