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.

Virginity

By Kate Ringer

Explicit Content Warning: This article contains explicit sexual content, including the sexual experiences of teens.

I can’t remember the first time I ever heard the word virgin. Although I was not raised Christian, I would guess that the beginning of my understanding came from the Virgin Mary. Since then, I have observed the power this word has over people in our culture. As an adolescent, I learned that virgin meant both pure and prude, both good and bad. I learned that losing your virginity was painful, that women often bleed, but that somewhere along the way sex would become fun and pleasurable, a way to express love. I learned that losing your virginity meant breaking your hymen through vaginal-penetrative sex, that for some reason, oral and anal sex didn’t count. My concept of virginity was fraught with inconsistencies, and I didn’t understand the reasoning behind many of them. I only became more aware of the problems with what I was being taught about virginity as I learned more about queer experiences and became more of a feminist.

Wanting to better understand people’s perceptions about the concept of virginity, I decided to interview eleven diverse individuals about that very topic. This is what they had to share.

Continue reading “Virginity”

A Post-Heterosexual Vision of Love

 

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A comic about gender being performative

By Olivia Comstock

Every part of our lives is stereotyped and put into boxes – our class, our education, our gender, our sexuality, and our love. This is frustrating and wrong because love should be the most free, open, and genuine part of life. Instead, it is limited by strict normalized gender roles and heteronormativity. These place implied expectations and create assumptions based on one’s role as the man or the woman in the relationship. Because of this, the possibilities of what love can be are limited. Openness, comfort, and self-love on the individual level also create these characteristics in a relationship. However, these traits are stifled by what is considered “normal” and people’s attempts to conform to it. There is potential to expand the possibilities of how people love through looking at the queer community and through a vision of a post-heterosexual world. I acknowledge that this is a very broad topic. I am only going to do a brief survey of how I think queerness could help us move beyond the boundaries and institutions in place today, but I am aware of the infiniteness of this topic.

Continue reading “A Post-Heterosexual Vision of Love”

A Discussion of Language and Inclusion with Activist Madeline Scyphers

Last week I had the privilege to meet with Madeline Scyphers, an activist for the queer community. I had a lot of questions about her community, and Madeline had a lot of answers. I started out by asking Madeline what her identities are so I could get an idea of where she is coming from. She has many, and her response was, “I identify as trans. I identify somewhere between a transwoman and someone who identifies as nonbinary transfeminine. What that means to me is I do feel like the binary gender system of being a man or a woman does not necessarily fit me as a descriptor all the time. I never identify as someone who is a man  or a boy, and I really hate it when someone does gender me that way.”

That’s just one aspect of her identity. When I asked her about her sexual orientation, she responded, “The best word I use is queer. I do and have always primarily dated women, but I’m attracted to most people, at least some of the time, but not all people all of the time. Bi and pan don’t really encompass that; only if you explain it to someone. Since I have to explain it to someone anyways, because it’s [the terms bi and pan] implying things that I don’t want it to imply, why don’t you just use the term queer, which is purposefully vague? I can use it, and you don’t make assumptions about what it means.” There’s more to Madeline than her sexual orientation and gender identity. Madeline said, “I also identify as an activist, I am a math student, and that’s really important to me, and it plays into a larger identity of feeling like kind of a nerd.” Continue reading “A Discussion of Language and Inclusion with Activist Madeline Scyphers”

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”

A Child’s Right to Choose: Intersex Dilemmas and Consent

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A construction sign pointing left and right

Last week I talked about consent in the context of sex. This week I want to take a closer look at consent and see the environments where consent operates, outside of sex. One of those environments is for individuals that are intersex. According to the Intersex Society of North America (ISNA), “‘Intersex’ is a general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male.” As ISNA expands their definition, they emphasize that the term “Intersex” is a “socially-constructed” category that comes from our society’s ideas about gender and sex and what it means to be normal. Continue reading “A Child’s Right to Choose: Intersex Dilemmas and Consent”

Tips for being an Ally to Transgender Individuals

By Lauren Anthony

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Support. Love. Trust. Strength. These four words hold so much more than just what we say or use them for in our day-to-day lives. Sharing these words with one another helps bring us closer, but also establishes a new form of communication. We will examine these words while focusing on being an ally  for those who identify as transgender.

I am no expert when it comes to being the best ally after someone comes to you and opens up as transgender. Honestly, no one is going to have the best or only answer for a topic such as this. Instead, I am going to offer some advice and tips that I have found helpful. Through sharing my own experiences my intention is that it will help others who read this article feel comfortable around a touchy topic.

Continue reading “Tips for being an Ally to Transgender Individuals”

The Importance of Character Development: SciFi and the Bechdel Test

 

Amber Atalaya Evans Pinel

You may or may not be familiar with the Bechdel Test; it’s a strategy for looking at movies and TV shows in depth to determine whether or not they are featuring a realistic portrayal of women. Rather, the test asks three simple questions: Does it have at least two named female characters? Do these female characters talk to one another? And, if they do, do they talk about something other than a man?

This may sound ridiculous to you—of course movies feature women who talk to one another about something other than a man! Right? Actually, in most cases, wrong. As I continue to scrutinize my media, it becomes increasingly apparent that fully developed female characters are a rarity. It seems absurd, considering the number of women in our country alone who consume media. Obviously we do talk to one another, and we most certainly have more to talk about than men.

However, I was surprised to find that some of my own favorite movies fail the Bechdel Test. Underworld (2003), for example, the extremely popular Kate Beckinsale vampire vs. werewolf movie that started the vampire craze (in my opinion), totally fails. At first glance, it may appear that Selene is the most badass female character to ever grace the big screen with her presence. A few years ago I would have completely agreed. But let’s take the movie through the Bechdel Test.

Sure, there are quite a few female extras, but there are only three named female characters in the whole movie; Selene (the main character), Erika (her “female rival”), and Amelia (a royal elder of the vampires.) Amelia doesn’t even have lines, she only has two half-scenes where she is present. Erika is also completely lacking development; her only goal in the movie is to take Selene’s place as Kraven’s favorite hot vampire chick. Selene and Erika have a couple of scenes together, and in those scenes they only speak about Kraven and Michael (the other half of the love triangle.) For the rest of the movie, Selene is battling against men and speaking only with men. She appears to be the only female vampire in this world capable of fighting.

Not a whole lot of media passes the Bechdel Test, including everyone’s favorites. Doctor Who (2005 reboot) had a long standing reputation of fully developed companions. But recently I’ve been reading reviews from fans who are less than pleased about the direction the show is going in. Ever since Steven Moffat (co-creator of Sherlock) became the showrunner of Doctor Who, the development of female characters in that show has significantly dropped.

Moffat is receiving a lot of criticism for the direction he’s taken the show since Matt Smith became the Doctor. (Disclaimer: I haven’t seen more than a handful of episodes since Steven Moffat became the showrunner, so everything I am about to say is being reiterated from online blogs and columns I have read about the issue.)

A new companion was introduced–Amy Pond–who met the doctor when she was a child, and then meets him again as an adult. Basically, her entire life already revolved around the Doctor by the time she becomes his companion. However, this alone doesn’t make her a two dimensional character. The problem is that she was never really humanized. She faced numerous challenges and struggles throughout her time as the Doctor’s companion; things happened to her and her family that would be considered emotionally scarring by most psychologists. But by the time the next episode rolls around she seems to be totally un-phased emotionally. Her biggest struggle in the show is that she has to choose between the Doctor and her boyfriend/husband. Other than that decision, she has no goals in life, no prospects or dreams. She is totally governed as a character by the men around her. If you want a really in depth analysis of Steven Moffat’s Doctor Who, and Amy Pond as a character,  this one is the best you’ll ever find.

But Moffat isn’t just receiving criticism on Amy Pond; he’s well known for saying rather offensive things about women in general, including the female fans of Doctor Who and Sherlock. Not to mention the serious lack of developed LGBTQIA characters in his shows.

So, why is this a problem? A lot of people think that’s a dumb question, but Steven Moffat doesn’t. And neither do the all male writers and directors of Underworld. It’s a problem for several reasons: first of all, it’s not an accurate representation of real people. Women do have aspirations beyond choosing which man to follow around. Also, they do talk about other things besides men. Lot’s of other things. (Not to mention LGBTQIA people exist as real people in the real world.) But I think the biggest problem with popular TV shows like Doctor Who failing to show well developed female characters is that so many young people are getting social cues from media these days. Young people eat Doctor Who up. So if they see characters like Amy Pond, who only think about the men in their lives, what does that teach youth? It teaches them that women should only think about men, and that the biggest source of existential struggle they’ll ever have is always going to surround men.

Obviously, women will face a lot of challenges in their lives. Some of them may revolve around men. Many of those challenges will be overcoming gender-biased people trying to tell them they aren’t worth as much as their male counterparts. But what’s important is the media accurately reflect real people of all genders and sexual orientations, and that includes creating well developed characters that pass the Bechdel Test.

 

 

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.