These days it’s not unusual to see girl-on-girl action on TV and in mainstream movies. Are we tolerant of lesbianism? Let’s do a thought experiment:

Two thin, young, conventionally attractive women in stillettos with large breasts making out? Hot or not? Hot.

Two women making out? Hot or not? Hmmmm.

Sometimes in classes this comes up and a man will say “I think lesbians are hot!” And I will reply “No, you think hot lesbians are hot.” And he nods.

Much of the supposed acceptability of girls kissing girls is predicated on the idea that they are doing it not for themselves, but for an imagined male viewer. That is, they’re kissing each other to get guys off. That male viewer doesn’t even have to be present. He’s implied when the girls are, as I described above, “thin, young, conventionally attractive women in stillettos with large breasts.” Looking “hot” signifies a capitulation to the male gaze. So long as the women kissing each other conform to this standard of beauty, they aren’t breaking the rules of femininity (one of which is a desire for male sexual attention).

This may sound outlandish, but consider the disgust or outrage that is often aimed at lesbians who do not conform to this standard of beauty. When lesbians are not thin, do not wear make up, or refrain from dressing in ways that reveal and feminize their body, they are “dykes.” These women are not unacceptable simply because they are sexually attracted to other women, they are unacceptable because they are refusing to acknowledge and accept that they exist, first and foremost, to please men.

Bryan Safi discusses the fetishization of the girl-on-girl-just-for-guys trope, humorously and without the same degree of feminist ire, in this three minute video from Current TV (via):

UPDATE: MC and Matt K, in the comments, remarked on another consequence of the implicit male gaze. When lesbians are conventionally attractive, their sexual orientation gets called into question (by both straight and gay people alike).

ALSO! Giorgios typed in the analysis of girl-on-girl pornography
by D. A. Clarke (from an article callled “Prostitution for Everyone”):

The ‘kick’ of girl/girl porno lies partly in its catering to the fantasy of violating the privacy of lesbians, of making even sex between women – something very threatening to male sexual prerogative – serve a male agenda; the other, tacit element is the kick of seeing ‘normal girls’ made to emulate homosexual activity. The assumption is that homosexual activity is repulsive, and therefore the models are disgusted by it and endure it under some compulsion – whether the compulsion of money, force of personality, or physical threat. Pictures of real lesbians – at Gay Pride rallies, for example – kissing, necking, and flirting are often considered ‘disgusting’ and ‘ugly’ by the same men who enjoy girl/girl fantasy porn. Lesbians in the public world who kiss, hold hands, or otherwise behave like a sexually intimate couple (in a restaurant, in a park, at a movie) have often been subjected to abuse, threats, and violence from hetero men – the same men who constitute the market for ever-popular girl/girl porno. What is disgusting in the case of real lesbians in the real world seems to be the women’s autonomy; what is attractive in the case of commercialised, fictionalised documentary porn is the evidence of reduced autonomy, and the dissonance between what the porn consumer assumes are the real wishes of the model, and the reaction she is being bribed or forced to perform. If the model were a real lesbian, she would experience violation and humiliation due to the invasion and exploitation of her sexual privacy by men; if the model is conventionally heterosexual, she is presumed to experience a degree of humiliation in being made to commit or mime homosexual acts.


Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

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