The premise of this article was unfortunately inspired by my dad.
A little over a year ago he was streaming Netflix on the living room television. Lo and behold under the “Continue Watching for Jim” tab, right next to a World War II documentary about the Third Reich, was a movie cover featuring two presumably naked women leaning in for a sensual embrace. The film was called A Perfect Ending, a tale of a “repressed wife” who explores her sexual desires with a call girl.
Surely my dad wasn’t interested in the movie because he is of a marginalized group with limited media options representative of his identity. I eventually called him out for watching the movie and tried to forget about the whole situation.
As time went on, this became a sort of pattern in my dad’s Netflix viewing history. Scattered between war documentaries and episodes of House of Cards were the stories of femme, thin, conventionally attractive, white women with a high sex drive whose husbands happened to be out of town.
My frustration grew with each predictably plotted lesbian flick. For as long as I can recall, this man has preached on behalf of cisheteronormative traditions and denounced anything besides as being “against the family nucleus,” whatever that means. Not only was the hypocrisy a stab to my sexuality (and a major reason I waited years to come out to him) but my dad was both fetishizing and condemning a significant part of my being.
Unfortunately, the fetishization of same-sex relationships between women far extends past my living room and beyond the interest of just my dad.
When two women are in a relationship — even platonic — straight men have the tendency to turn it into an overtly sexual spectacle in order to fulfill their male-directed Pornhub fantasies. They offer us drinks at the bar in exchange to watch us make out, they catcall us as we walk down the street holding hands, they invite themselves into our beds for threesomes, and as quick as we can turn them away they defend their primitive behavior by questioning the validity of our sexuality.
A false sense of acceptance masked by the fetishization of lesbianism is not uncommon by straight men. Like my dad, many heterosexual individuals can look past or even partake in lesbian culture when it assimilates to their objectified version of what lesbianism looks like (this includes you too, straight women). Rather than accepting and respecting the sexual identity of queer women, fetishization is all about entertainment, power, and self-pleasure at the expense of another’s identity and culture.
Possibly most damning is that fetishization reduces women/women relationships to being about nothing but sex. Not only does this thinking limit the depth of same-sex female relationships, but it further perpetuates the stereotype that LGBTQ individuals are perverse by nature and lack the ability to grow loving relationships. There is nothing innately sexual or taboo about queer women. Nothing.
Lack of authentic representation in pop culture further propels stereotyped and fetishized portrayals of queer women, their relationships, and the lives they live. Television and film often depict lesbian and bisexual characters as white, femme, hyper-sexual, or killed off in an untimely manner (R.I.P. Poussey). These characters are generally not representative of lesbians or queer culture and are created with heterosexual comfort in mind.
Pornography has largely contributed to a fabricated idea of what sex between two women looks like. I know it may be hard to believe, but most lesbians don’t scissor, have long acrylic nails, or are secretly sleeping with the MILF next door. The vast majority of mainstream lesbian pornography is made by men, for men, leaving out an essential component — queer women. Yes, most pornography is dramatized to play into the viewer’s wildest fantasy, but when that fantasy rewrites the narrative for reality (and capitalizes on it), there is a major problem.
Of course there is an undeniable difference in the attitudes toward queer women who present as femme verses those who are more androgynous or masculine. Femme lesbians and bisexual women are seen as a challenge, as if there is no possible way a feminine queer woman would actually “choose” a female partner over a male partner. Maybe they just haven’t found “the right guy yet,” or they are just going through an “experimental phase,” that could be it, right? These blind stereotypes projected onto femme queer women, delegitimize their sexuality and contribute to the notion that their relationships are fleeting.
As a queer woman moves further away from the culturally favorable high femme/“lipstick lesbian” trope toward futch, and then to most masculine, butch, the questioning and fetishization of her sexuality dissipates. The fantasy of being with two women for a night is no longer appealing when those women are not filtered through the lens of the male gaze. Lust can turn to confusion, disgust, or intimidation. All of the sudden the high femme lesbian of their Girls Gone Wild-induced dreams is now the eager to please stone butch of their nightmares. Not only does she pose a fierce threat to fragile masculinity, but can also change a tire faster than any straight guy in the room.
Joking aside, the hypocrisy, objectification, and stereotyping of queer women is harmful and stunts progress for LGBTQ equality (emphasis on the “L,” in this case). Unfortunately, this is very much a non-issue for a lot of heterosexual people. There is a good chance my dad wasn’t even thinking about the implications of streaming soft porn-esque lesbian films, nor did he think I would find out about his little movie marathon. Men like him are ignorant to the natural privilege that allows them to live a life without the fetishization of their bodies, sexual orientation, or relationships. What heterosexual men need to realize is that being a lesbian has never been, and will never be, about what pleases a man.
And until they get the memo, we will just have to keep working on dismantling the patriarchal society that forces women to be the subject of male fascination and pleasure…or change their Netflix passwords.
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