Lesbianism Explained

Or, “Why women are leaving men for other women”. Despite the hilarious title, some good people get interviewed like feminist philosopher Susan Bordo:

“When a taboo is lifted or diminished, it’s going to leave people freer to pursue things,” she says.

“So it makes sense that we would see women, for all sorts of reasons, walking through that door now that the culture has cracked it open. Of course, we shouldn’t imagine that we’re living in a world where all sexual choices are possible. Just look at the cast of ‘The L Word’ and it’s clear that only a certain kind of lesbian — slim and elegant or butch in just the right androgynous way — is acceptable to mainstream culture.”

Thanks, Jender-Parents!

14 thoughts on “Lesbianism Explained

  1. Interesting articles. I am sympathetic to the claim made in the second article, that treating lesbianism as something fashionable and trendy could be problematic, although I am not sure what the best arguments for this would be (one possible argument could be that it suggests that lesbianism is a matter of choice, and this idea has been used to argue against gay and lesbian civil rights, although I think that those arguments are probably wrong even if we grant the lesbianism-as-choice premise). What seems to be clearly problematic in some of the attempts to explain the “new trend” is that they assume that lesbianism is something that cries out for explanation, in a way that heterosexual relationships do not.
    In any case, it is important to clarify what the “new trend” is really about. The second article makes a useful distinction between women who have the desire to be with other women, women who actually have relationships with other women, and cultural representations of lesbian and bisexual women. An increase in the third aspect does not necessarily mean that there has been an increase in the second one, let alone the first one. However, as suggested in the article in O, perhaps an increase in cultural representations of lesbian and bisexual women could cause an increase in the number of women who have lesbian relationships. But it is important to distinguish these different causal claims.
    Another interesting thing in the article from O is the reference to some studies about sexual fluidity in women and in men:
    As with many arguments of this form, I think that the conclusion is too quick. First, there are issues concerning whether a study of responses of sexual arousal to erotic films is a good test of someone’s sexual orientation. Secondly, as with many studies of behavioural differences between men and women, there is the possibility of explaining those differences in terms of cultural and social rather than biological factors. And thirdly, even if differences in sexual responses were an indication of brain differences, this does not necessarily indicate a “fundamental” difference between men’s and women’s brains, because such brain differences could again be explained in terms of environmental factors such as cultural and social differences.

  2. I think that one problem with treating lesbianism as a “new trend” is that it walks hand-in-hand toward the commercialization of sexuality; more specifically, the commercialization of women’s sexuality. It might be useful to read the O Magazine article, then, against the historical background of economic and bodily exploitation of women. I think that we also have to recognize that at the same time the representation of lesbianism as a “new trend” puts a price tag on women’s relationships, it also cheapens them by suggesting that they won’t last. It’s sort of like when parents tell a tomboy that she’ll have to grow out of it at exactly the point she reaches maturity. Well, maybe not quite like that.

    Anyway, I think you’re right to point out that we should be asking what this so-called trend is about and I like the idea that more representations of lesbians in the media could produce more real-life lesbians. Although, I do think that will definitely depend on what form those representations take. I mean, I hate to think that all those women who just came out of the closet might go back to their husbands now that the L Word is over. Trends, movements, crusades… these things come to an end. Drives, however, do not.

    Not that Freud could explain women’s sexuality any better than O Magazine.

  3. Des Es, perhaps another side is that they think readers of O might like the idea that they have a price tag.
    The idea might be that one’s sexuality is almost tabloid material, thus tapping into a sense that if one was on TV one would be more real.

  4. Esa, someone should do a critique of the tendency to use 2-d images to advance our understanding of human sexuality. Do you know of any work in this area?

  5. A quick thought, there are lots of lesbians living in my area. I regularly see small children shouting at them in the street. They sometimes shout at me, in fact, when my hair is short and I am wearing trousers (!). I assume that fashionable means a higher profile (amongst other things), which might help with the small children shouting.

  6. Monkey, that’s awful. I had foolishly thought that areas with lots of lesbians wouldn’t have that happening.

  7. Nope. Although to be fair, the small children shout at everyone for one reason or another.

  8. Cheers, h :) Depending on my mood, I sometimes stop and shout back. With mixed results. The first few times they all ran away – obviously frightened of the crazy lady wildly gesticulating in the road. Shock value has now worn off, however, and the best strategy seems to be ignoring them. Or packing a flame thrower.

  9. I am trying to write a paper on recognition, and run into a curious observation which I have been googling to get confirmed, but to no avail: Is it true that lesbians have a bit of an easier time in general for getting accepted than gay men? It seems to me that homophobes seem mostly to have problems with gay men, but not so much with gay women.
    Maybe related to that is that lesbian porn, or rather, porn involving two women having sex with eachother is apparently very popular with men, and not so much vice versa, it seems.
    Could there be a relation with the fact that the visible gay scene is so explicit (I think of the gay parade in Amsterdam with all those heavily leatherclad men with pants with no bottoms in and all that… I don’t know any gay guy like that though) and so male dominated that there is an automatic link to that kind of overtly sexually tinted extravagance when one thinks of gay?
    Maybe my perception is just wrong, but also with famous people there seems to be more of an nasty outrage when men come out of the closet (poor George Michael) than when women do (Lyndsey Lohan). Also, the first openly gay prime minister in this world is a woman, not a man.
    If my hunches are correct than I guess that of all the suppressed groups in the world, homosexuals are the only group where the women have it “easier” than the men.
    Any ideas on that?

  10. I am a social worker. I’ve had grown men cry in pain when their wife/girlfriend comes out. One even considered suicide. Even I can’t give them an answer except that their ex is happy now. What do you tell this man who is in great pain? Just deal with it? This was the true love of their lives! You just can’t tell them “Tough shit” or “go ahead and jump”. Like lesbians, straight men are human beings!

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