The Herasure of Lesbians

By Madeleine Clow

Lesbians are defined through the dictionary as, a woman who is sexually attracted to another woman. I would define lesbianism as any queer AFAB (assigned-female-at-birth), AMAB-trans person, non-binary/gender-nonconforming/gender-fluid, self-identified woman/female, who is attracted to another queer self-identified woman/female.

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According, to Kate Manne’s definition of misogyny, in her book Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny, lesbians are ‘bad women.’ Manne defines misogyny as enforcing sexism bypolicing women in society, in order, to keep them subservient. Every woman is a ‘bad woman’ in Manne’s definition because they haven’t become ‘good women.’ A woman can become a ‘good woman’ by provide feminine-coded goods and services for men. Lesbians are incapable of ever becoming ‘good women,’ because our existence makes men irrelevant and unnecessary, rendering them powerless.

Not only are lesbians failing to be ‘good women,’ but we are in competition with men,

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Kate Manne

because misogynists require women to provide feminine-coded goods when lesbians are presenting masculine-coded goods by simply living without men. Manne writes in Taking His Out, “In view of differential norms of giving, a woman may be held to owe characteristically feminine-coded goods to some man, ideally, or at least to society; and a man may be held to be entitled to lay claim to them from her with impunity – women may be effectively prohibited from competing with him for, or otherwise robbing him of, certain masculine-coded prizes; and he may also be deemed entitled to prevent her from so doing.” When lesbians have masculine-coded goods, men are threatened to the point of needing to punish us as the ‘bad women’ we are. Nora Berenstain writes in her Book Review on Down Girl, “On Manne’s account, the primary function of misogynistic acts and behaviours is to punish women who deviate from patriarchal norms and expectations. Under these norms,

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Nora Berenstain

women are expected to provide men with feminine-coded goods, such as deference, attention, care, and sympathy. When women do not provide such goods or request masculine-coded goods like status or authority, they can expect to be put in their place as ‘more or less subtly hostile, threatening, and punitive norm-enforcement mechanisms will be standing at the ready.’ Misogyny is thus construed as the series of ‘coercive enforcement mechanisms’ that ensure that women stick to their assigned patriarchal roles of providing emotional labour and that those who deviate from the script are swiftly punished.” Lesbians are punished into ‘herasure,’ resulting in undervalued women and the erasure of lesbians.

 

Society is complicit in the ‘herasure’ of lesbianism by the public acceptance of gay couples and families more than lesbian couples and families. The L versus G controversy is subliminal in our society. But it is consistent in its ‘herasure’ of lesbianism. Gay men and the word ‘gay’ are widely more popularly accepted than lesbian. Many women

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Brie Larson

would rather identify as gay or queer when coming out, than as lesbian. Lesbian has become a charged label with a negative connotation, I believe this has stemmed from misogyny. According, to Out.com and their timeline of Nearly Every Queer Couple in TV History, there is less than half as much lesbian representation than there is gay. Many companies would rather skip around the idea of female queerness rather than outwardly make a character lesbian. Captain Marvel and Elsa are perfect examples of sexual identity ambiguity for character depth. Elsa had meet-cute moments with 

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Honeymaren and Elsa from Frozen 2

 

Honeymaren in Frozen 2. Many queer people believe Elsa’s new solo in the movie, was a queer anthem. Almost every queer woman has a crush on Brie Larson, her strength and style. Yet these characters are given no labels, when there have been many more explicit moments of gay male relationships on TV. Lesbian families are also rare to see in popular culture unlike gay families with children. Two lesbians mothering children threaten men’s masculine-coded prizes of a nuclear family, therefore resulting in misogyny.

Popular Culture celebrities are also playing around with sexual ambiguity to entice fans and hopefully gather support from the LGBTQIA+ community. Stars like “Madonna, Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus and Ariana Grande have used lesbian/bisexual hints to titillate fans and sell more records,” according, to Spectator UK. These hints of lesbianism are called ‘lesbian tourism.’ When it is popularized for heterosexual women to display

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Miley Cyrus and Ariana Grande (Getty)

queer woman-on-woman flirtations this furthers the ‘herasure’ of lesbians. Examples of queer women love that are inaccurate to the truth of lesbian love is harmful to lesbian women. It creates an inner-misogyny along with battling compulsory heterosexuality. This inner-misogyny comes from concepts created within the lesbian community to validate true ‘lesbianism.’ Labels like ‘gold star lesbian’ are harmful to the community and the perception of there being guidelines to identifying as a lesbian. A ‘gold star lesbian’ is a lesbian who has never been intimate with a man. Identifying as ‘gold star’ creates a hierarchy within lesbianism and therefore makes women who identify as lesbian who have previously been with men, experience ‘herasure.’

 

Living in the patriarchy, as a lesbian, results in hostility and punishment from men and misogynists for not being gender compliant women. Lesbians aren’t capable of ‘giving’ any ‘goods’ to men. Lori Watson adds in her Comments on Down Girl, “One aspect of

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Lori Watson

patriarchy’s reliance upon a gender binary to ensure conformity to binary gender roles, and thus secure a set of reliable givers from whom men can take, is the “benefits” compliant women secure within this system. For as Manne carefully argues these gendered roles work to subordinate women as unequals in a binary gendered system and make them targets for violence and hostility.” Watson’s argument relates to how lesbians are not only incapable of ‘giving’ to men, but because we are ‘bad women’ we will never be deserving of social goods and standing. Therefore, misogyny villainizes lesbians because of our perpetual ‘badness.’ Watson describes this phenomenon, “Sometimes that includes being read and treated as a “failure” as a woman.  Instances of being perceived as a “failed woman” can be illuminated by the idea that in failing to conform to dominant standards of femininity, I have stepped out of line.” Lesbians being perpetual ‘bad women’ results in being ‘failures.’ Lesbians are ‘failures’ as women.

 

Because lesbians are ‘failures’ as women, lesbian can be an ‘insult.’ Being a lesbian can also be a place of power, because we disregard gender roles, misogyny, and the patriarchy, for what we want. That is why Hillary Clinton made headlines on NBC last

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NBC News Dec. 4th (Paul Morigi/Getty)

week for once again reiterating that she is not a lesbian. This came as a shocker, considering she has been married to a man for many years, had children with him, and is still married to him.

 

If being lesbian is regarded by, the majority, of society as negative, it is easy to deepen the demonization and propaganda against us. Clinton being accused of lesbianism is one case of portraying lesbianism asnegative. TERFs are an extreme case of negative propaganda against lesbians. TERFs, also known as, trans-exclusionary radical feminists, are not a part of the LGBTQIA+ community. TERFs believe only a woman born a woman can be a true lesbian. This is transphobic and not in accordance with the queer community’s beliefs. The world’s leading publications for lesbians came together to send an unapologetic message of support and solidarity to the trans community.Screen Shot 2019-12-14 at 3.32.02 PM.png

This public condemnation of male-owned businesses who are profiting off the misrepresentation of lesbians is a positive step towards social understanding. Because lesbians are consistently living within going against the grain of society, we are a perfect example of ‘bad women.’ Lesbianism has been around since women have existed, we are not going anywhere. The patriarchy cannot sustain expecting women to serve to their needs through misogyny when we are no longer fitting the definitions they want to put on us.

Compulsory Heterosexuality and the Lesbian Continuum

By: Madeleine Clow

I began research for a presentation I was going to give in my Queer Literature class taught by Toby Wray, here at the University of Idaho, when I came across the concept of compulsory heterosexuality. Once researching further into the subject, I found it originated from an author, Adrienne Rich, who first developed the theory of

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A double Venus represents lesbianism

compulsory heterosexuality. What is compulsory heterosexuality? In literal terms: compulsory, meaning required or obligatory, and heterosexuality, referring to sexual relationships with the opposite sex.

 

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Adrienne Rich as a young writer

When Adrienne Rich wrote of compulsory heterosexuality, in her 1981 literary essay, “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence,” she originally referred to the definition of a male-dominated society describing the only natural sexual relationship is between a man and a woman. Continue reading “Compulsory Heterosexuality and the Lesbian Continuum”

The Art of Passing

By Olivia Comstock

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A comic about the notion of passing
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Another comic about passing

Passing is about performance. Passing is about presentation. Passing is about appearance and external markers of identity. Because most of the world only knows each of us through how we look, and we never get to explain our inner nuances to them, then they only see us for what we are the outside. They make assumptions for what our outward selves signify for our inner selves. Our identity and beliefs are assumed from a quick glance. Usually people think of gender or race with the topic of passing, but passing can involve a huge range of personal characteristics, including race, ethnicity, gender, sex, sexuality, religion, disability or ability, job occupation, level of education, intelligence, economic class, and social status. Passing can signify any personal characteristic of identity.

Continue reading “The Art of Passing”

Exploring Sexuality

By: Madelyn Starritt

Women are constantly presented as sex objects in the media (Advertisements, movies, etc.). This degrades women and can cause many insecurities and issues for women who are constantly surrounded by this hypersexualized, unrealistic image of what we expect women to be. We all know this though because this content is constantly getting called out and criticized. Something surrounding this issue that isn’t so popular is how it hurts a woman’s sexuality as well.  Problems surrounding sexuality aren’t just reserved for women, there are so many issues surrounding how we should express our sexuality and if it should be accepted for all genders. This is not only perpetuated by the media industry but by porn as well. These industries help to degrade women, perpetuate stereotypes about all genders, and contribute to the idea that women’s sexuality shouldn’t be taken seriously because it is only there for the pleasure of straight men.

Here we are, back to the patriarchy. Where a woman’s sexuality is only supposed to be explored for men to look at and men aren’t supposed to explore their sexuality at all unless it’s to bang as many women as he can.

Continue reading “Exploring Sexuality”

The Sexualization of Queer Women

By Jolie Day

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Two girls holding hands

A couple of weeks ago, my partner and I who are long-distance decided to go on a trip to Las Vegas the weekend before I planned to visit her in Phoenix. We hadn’t seen each other for two and ½ months after she graduated and made the move. We really looked forward to seeing each other and had high hopes that our trip would allow us both relax and enjoy our time together. However, our hopes were dashed by the countless people who decided to sexually harass us during our trip.

My girlfriend and I have been together for 6 months now. She and I are each other’s first relationship with another woman. She identifies as bisexual and I identify as pansexual. Together we have been navigating the experience of the being LGBT in a heteronormative society. More often than not, people are positive and accepting of our relationship. However, there are instances when people will assume we are straight and hit on one of us, and when we specify that we are dating the ensuing comments can be less than endearing. Continue reading “The Sexualization of Queer Women”

Sexuality, Gender, and Representation in Science Fiction

Amber Atalaya Evans Pinel

        For many people science fiction is a genre full of new ideas, futuristic thoughts, innovative design, and political insight. In many ways, science fiction reveals current political climates and cultural ideologies of our time. Some might even call the genre socially progressive due to it’s ability to introduce characters and ideas that don’t fit the “norm.” I can sing praises of all the great things about science fiction all day, but I think it’s time to explore what science fiction television shows are lacking – proper representation for people of the alphabet soup (LGBTQA & etc.), and specifically transgendered and non-binary people/characters.

I don’t want to say there aren’t any LGBTQA characters in science fiction television, because that’s not true at all. In the prequel to Battlestar Galactica (the 2003 reboot), a relatively short series called Caprica (2010), one of the main characters – Sam Adama – is portrayed in a loving and healthy relationship with his husband.

Sam Adama from the series Caprica

Sam Adama is a gang member who came to Caprica with his family some years before the show’s beginning. Sam is a hit man and is portrayed as a very strong, determined, and dangerous character. I think the writers did an excellent job on him and his family’s story, in that they did not make him a trope, nor did they particularly emphasize his relationship with his husband. The fact that he is in a same sex relationship isn’t even mentioned: he’s simply married. Furthermore, Caprica features a group/cooperative/polyamorous family in which one of the main characters, Sister Clarice Willow (the headmaster of a religious private school), has several husbands and wives, and they all communally raise their children and live under the same roof.

However, Battlestar Galactica doesn’t feature any relationships that aren’t heteronormative. And, both shows only have cisgendered characters. Unfortunately, this isn’t exclusive to Battlestar Galactica and Caprica. I have never seen a science fiction or fantasy television show that featured transgendered characters. Science fiction literature tends to be much more liberal with their characters; I’ve read a variety of books that contain lesbian, gay, and bisexual characters. However, even in the literature of one of the most progressive genres that features new ideas and “radical” political views, LGBTQA characters are still a rarity. And, books that feature transgendered characters are even more difficult to find. I wanted to include some titles and authors of books that do feature these characters, but after a lengthy internet search I’m still at a loss. Here’s a list of science fiction books that feature gay, lesbian, and bisexual characters.

It’s true that in recent years lesbian, gay, and bisexual characters have been making it into science fiction television. However, the numbers of those characters are still relatively small and there’s only one I know of who is the main character: Bo in the series Lost Girl. Lost Girl does an excellent job of portraying LGB characters without making them tropes. But even that excellent show lacks transgendered characters (as far as I know, I haven’t seen the whole series yet.)

Why, in the genre of the future, are transgendered characters invisible? Because writers, producers, directors, and screenwriters are not pushing for these characters to exist in their worlds. I cannot stress enough how important it is to put these characters into science fiction literature and television, and media in general. People who do not fit the gender binary do exist in our world; a large part of letting them know that they’re normal, and their experience is natural, is to make sure they see people like them in the media. We gather almost all of our cultural information through the media – especially through television. It is imperative that transgendered characters are written. And, in the futuristic and boundary-pushing genre of science fiction, I’m disgusted there isn’t already ample representation of transgendered characters.