A Femme Lesbian Done Right: Emily Fields of Pretty Little Liars

Hi! How is everyone? Battening down the hatches? Bracing yourselves for this bitch Irene? I know I am.

I thought in the face of a natural disaster it might be nice to engage in some classic escapism, so let’s talk television! And instead of complaining about the pitiful representation of LGBT women, (like I usually do), we’re going to think positive and talk about the best lesbian on teevee right now:

Emily Fields of Pretty Little Liars.

(Don’t worry if you haven’t seen the show. There are no prerequisites, you don’t even have to take notes! I’m going to explain why she’s perfect, and then maybe you will want to watch. I mean… look at her.)

Now, there are a host of pitfalls into which writers can and do stumble when creating a lesbian character, such as making her fall for a guy, having her make out for the pleasure of a male audience, making her a murderer, or having her killed, to name a few. But – so far, at least – Emily hasn’t been subject to any of those afflictions.

She’s had a coming out experience that was sensitively and realistically portrayed. Her mother freaked out, but her father took it pretty well, and all in all, Emily stood her ground and came out looking like a champ. Emily’s mother has since come around, providing an example for parents watching (this is abc family after all) that even if your initial reaction was “Oh my god, NO!” in time you can accept your child because you love her. (Incidentally, Emily’s coming out experience mirrors my own almost to a tee.)

coming out to Mom - everyone's favorite thing

Emily’s appearance has also not changed since she came out. No stereotypical baby-dyke attire, no rainbows, just Emily being Emily, except now she is gay. If we are talking about Emily the character as though she were a real person, I think that shows tremendous fortitude and acceptance of herself. It’s also providing a little visibility for us feminine lesbians. I appreciate that no one on the show has ever doubted Emily’s sexuality after she came out.

I can’t help but wonder, however, if Emily is being portrayed as a femme lesbian because that is more comfortable for mainstream viewers; (back to the case of femme being the “acceptable” lesbian). Though this is probably the case, kudos to abc family for showing some diversity of lesbian representation during a party in a recent episode:

Pretty Little Liars is getting something else right too. Often when characters come out on television, they are never given a love interest, so that even though the character has been declared gay, no one has to actually watch them be with someone of the same sex. (Because that’s gross.) It’s safer, and the networks probably get a few less calls from the Florida Family Association, but it isn’t realistic. It’s not fair either, especially when every other character has a vibrant love life except the gay one.

Emily, on the other hand, has had the most love interests of any of the other stars of the show, and they are all beautiful lesbians like herself:

Three love interests in a year of being out?? I wish I went to high school with Emily! Also, Pretty Little Liars hasn’t shied away from showing the girls kissing, which, for abc family, is downright fearless.

Of the four central characters, Emily has by far the most integrity of the group. She’s honest, kind, sweet, and a star athlete. She’s completely comfortable with her sexuality now; it’s become a non-issue, which is pretty impressive for a 17-year-old (straight or gay). I really appreciate the way Pretty Little Liars has provided a lesbian character who is flourishing and not floundering.

Now if “A” would just leave Emily alone, she could move on with her life, go to Smith College, and party at Dinah Shore. She’s a swimmer – c’mon, you know she’ll love the pool party.

All this is to say, well done abc family, Pretty Little Liars, and Shay Mitchell. Keep up the good work. We’re all rooting for you.

Are you watching Pretty Little Liars? Is Emily your favorite? Who do you think A is??

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Categories: Femme Theory, The Archives

15 Comments on “A Femme Lesbian Done Right: Emily Fields of Pretty Little Liars”

  1. August 27, 2011 at 8:16 pm #

    “I can’t help but wonder, however, if Emily is being portrayed as a femme lesbian because that is more comfortable for mainstream viewers”

    Bingo. She is portrayed as feminine, as are her love interests, because she (and they) exist for the male gaze. Female masculinity makes people uncomfortable so they wouldn’t dare show actual lesbian diversity by portraying one of the queer characters as butch. (Just like the good ‘ole L Word.) Yet another example of Hollywood only telling the parts of our stories that they’re comfortable with. I’ll pass.

    • August 28, 2011 at 2:26 am #

      I agree that the show leaves something to be desired re: lesbian diversity. And in most cases I think that it is because of pandering to the male gaze. However in this particular show I just kind of doubt that there are that many straight male viewers. I don’t think that is the demographic they are going for; it’s more teenage girls (and me.. Ha!)

      For some reason, it makes me feel better to think that the reason all of the lesbians are feminine is because that’s what people in general are comfortable with, rather than imagining some douchebag man getting off to it. Not ideal, but at least there aren’t sex scenes or anything overtly sexual at all, so I don’t think it’s for men. More so for suburban mothers watching the show with their daughters.

      Basically Emily is the best we’ve got right now… But that’s not saying much!

      • August 28, 2011 at 2:37 am #

        Also this is spot on:

        “Yet another example of Hollywood only telling the parts of our stories they’re comfortable with.”

  2. August 27, 2011 at 8:28 pm #

    I watch this show casually. It is a pretty good show and Emily is one of my favorite characters! When it came to her sexuality, i agree, it was good that they show her flourishing from the point when she was coming out. I’m a surprised at ABC Family, but also proud of their positivity and support of this character.

    PS: Stay safe from Irene, she is one hell of a storm!

    xx

    • August 28, 2011 at 2:31 am #

      Thanks for the well-wishes! She hasn’t quite made it to us yet.

      Also, how the hell do you watch this show casually?? Haha I was addicted after one episode. The suspense is too intense for me to miss a single one!

      • August 30, 2011 at 10:20 pm #

        Well, We are currently surviving on one TV. I need to get into the habit of watching it online!!

  3. Justa Notha
    August 28, 2011 at 10:10 am #

    Guess there’s another show I need to be watching!

    Is it realistic that a 17 year old coming out wouldn’t start showing “baby dyke” stylistic tendencies? Especially if she’s involved In any kind of gay community? Changing your outward appearance to mesh w/your peer group seems fairly typical of teens & humans in general.

    This reminded me of Lincoln Heights, where I felt like they displaced the potential lesbianism of the young tomboy daughter onto a femme side character.

    I know gender presentation and sexual orientation are not necessarily the same thing, but considering how many tomboys DO become lesbians, it felt like a cop-out on the producer/networks part as she developed het narratives.

    Stay safe w/Irene!

    • August 28, 2011 at 5:38 pm #

      Yeah, probably not realistic. Most likely for the comfort of the straight audience unfortunately. But other than her gender presentation, Emily has been a pretty accurate and likable representation of a lesbian woman of color.

      I haven’t seen Lincoln Heights.. Should I watch it?

      Also you should totally be watching Pretty Little Liars, if not for the lesbians, for the suspense. My gf used to make fun of me for watching but she got roped into seeing one with me and now she is addicted. It’s action-packed with lots of plot twists, etc. Check it out on “Mondays, 8/7 central, only on abc family.” (someone watches too much tv…ha!)

  4. August 29, 2011 at 12:54 am #

    I haven’t watched the show but i did read the first five books (please don’t judge, they were there and i was bored). When i heard they were making the books into a t.v show i figured they wouldn’t do the characters justice, the one i was most worried about was Emily. In the books she was femme and had a struggle which i could relate to. i’ll give the show a watch, its reassuring that they kept some of the things the same.

    ps. i came out when i was 16 and am now 26. I’m femme and have never had any ‘baby dyke’ stylistic tendencies — so it does happen :)

    • August 29, 2011 at 1:16 am #

      No judgment from me on the books – if they are anywhere near as exciting as the show, I’m sure I would love them!

      They’ve done Emily really well so far. It’s interesting because I heard a rumor that in the books she ends up liking a guy again later? (Hope I’m not ruining anything for you!) But the show’s writer has been pretty clear that it won’t be happening on the show. (Thank god. We don’t need anymore of this business.)

      ps. Good for you!! It shows a lot of inner strength to be that true to yourself at 16. And 10 years out of the closet – that’s definitely something to celebrate!

  5. September 9, 2011 at 4:42 pm #

    I agree, I love Emily (perhaps swayed by her GORGEOUS looks) but also think they have dealt with her being a lesbian in the best way so far in a TV show. And especially a TV show that most girls will be watching really! I definitely relate to her (same coming out story with parents reaction), stayed femme and never changed and only dates femmes. So I say hooray for Emily! But yes who the HELL is A???

    M x http://www.whatwegandidnext.com

  6. youcancallmesaraah
    May 9, 2012 at 10:45 am #

    I love Emily! She was one of the inspirations I had when I came out since I’m a teen too. And oh, I absolutely love your blog. It gives me an idea on what’s to come for me. Keep writing! x

  7. lolwow
    August 15, 2012 at 10:49 am #

    I love when homosexuals are more narrow-minded than heterosexuals and think every gay person has to wear a uniform.

    There’s nothing wrong with her being feminine because as much as it might torture you people, there are a ton of feminine lesbians out there just as there are feminine straight girls because guess what? A woman is a woman regardless of who she is attracted to and feminity is a part of womanhood. Just because one girl is a macho dyke doesn’t mean everyone is. Open your eyes.

    Also, in the last episode Emily kissed a guy so there goes a good lesbian character.

  8. August 15, 2012 at 10:53 am #

    People saying looking feminine and being gay isn’t realistic.. LOL. God, humanity looks more idiotic with every passing day.

  9. ange
    September 19, 2012 at 9:04 am #

    there are a lot of femmes out there!search them on youtube, there are a lot of them, so beautiful and soo gay…do you girls know jenna anne kroff.hawt…btw.lesbian and feminine is so much more attractive and feminine…if there’s a show about gay chicks that are masculine i would watch it coz it makes me feel uncomfortable…stereotype is sickening and it makes straight people afraid or grossed out of gay girls…i like femmes on tv because people will be able to recognize that not all hot and beautiful women are straight….most of them are super gay!LOL
    -from a closeted gay girl :)

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