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“Running into the arms of a dude”: Femmes on Television

Hi everyone!

Have you noticed that the vast majority of lesbian characters in mainstream entertainment are femme? Seriously, just look:

Now, I’m all for increasing femme visibility, in fact it’s one of the goals of this site, but honestly, where is the diversity in gender presentation? Personally, I think it has a lot to do with femme being the “acceptable” lesbian in the hetero world, as I discussed last week. Is it too much to ask that lesbian characters be portrayed in such a way that reflects the multiplicity of identities and representations that make up the LGBT community?

And if you’re going to make all the lesbian characters femme, at least make us look good! Unfortunately, not only are the lesbians on television and in the movies almost exclusively femme, many in the course of their character development end up sleeping with men. This only serves to perpetuate the stereotype that femme lesbians “just haven’t met the right man yet,” or that they are actually bisexual. As I have said before, I have nothing against bisexuality; the problem here is in characters who self-identify as lesbian having relationships and/or sex with men. Repeated exposure to this kind of story arc continues to undermine lesbian, and particularly femme lesbian, identity.

Having lesbian characters sleep with men is such an obvious way of pandering to the male and/or heterosexual audience. And that’s frustrating. Plus, bisexual characters are not safe from these kinds of story lines either. While it makes sense that a bisexual woman may be attracted to a man, too often female bisexual characters are presented in relationships with women, only to cheat on or leave their female partners for men. This type of representation furthers the myth of the sex-addicted, untrustworthy bisexual woman, as well as the idea that bisexual women are only “experimenting” when with other women, but are straight at heart.

Here are just a few of Hollywood’s lesbian characters who sleep with men, as well as bisexual characters who do so while in a relationship with a woman:

Mandy Musgrave

Ashley (South of Nowhere)

Sara Ramirez

Callie Torres (Gray's Anatomy)

Thea Gill

Lindsey (Queer as Folk)

Julianne Moore

Jules (The Kids are All Right)

Tea (Skins USA)

Marissa (The O.C.)

Tina (The L Word)

There’s also been talk of Santana (Glee) “running to the arms of a dude” in the coming episodes, so we may just have one more lesbian to add to the list.

I'm horrified too, Santana

You guys. They’re all femme. ALL OF THEM. What is this kind of representation doing to popular conceptions of feminine LGBT women?

And the sad thing is, there are so many more interesting stories to tell – ones that haven’t been done yet in mainstream television and movies.

So writers, I challenge you to exercise your creative minds and build lesbian story lines that don’t fall back on the old “lesbian sleeps with a man” trick. It’s not cute, funny, or edgy. It’s insulting, it’s boring, and it’s been done.

*****

Dear reader, does this make you as angry as me? How do you feel about lesbian representation in Hollywood? Why do you think all the LGBT women on TV are femme, and why do so many of their stories have them sleeping with men? Enlighten me in the comments!

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Categories: Femme Theory, The Archives

11 Comments on ““Running into the arms of a dude”: Femmes on Television”

  1. April 25, 2011 at 8:56 pm #

    I agree, I think it’s bullshit. Even on a show ABOUT lesbians, we were fed what Hollywood believes America wants to see: attractive, feminine, white lesbians. While there was a lot to love about ‘The L Word’ there was a whoooole lotta embarrassing shit too. Transphobia, butch hate, lesbians sleeping with men, biphobia. And while all of that does exist in the lesbian world, I don’t believe it’s the norm. (Also, don’t even get me started on the sex in that show…)

    Feminine lesbians are safe. (I say feminine and not femme because I think femme has a lot more to do with attitude than dress and most of those ladies depicted up there, I don’t consider femme.) Hollywood panders to straight America and straight America wants to see itself in movies and on TV. It’s bullshit but it will never change unless writers and directors start getting the guts to tell more of our stories, not just the ones straight people want to hear.

    • April 26, 2011 at 12:05 pm #

      “I say feminine and not femme because I think femme has a lot more to do with attitude than dress”

      Great point, Southernish. You’re a genius. ;)

  2. your #1 fan
    April 25, 2011 at 9:34 pm #

    my friend, I adore you. great work — keep it up!

  3. Karol
    April 25, 2011 at 11:07 pm #

    Yeah huH! why IS lesbianism portrayed so flexibly? and male homosexuality so rigidly? I also think the depiction of femme lesbians as individuals who continually make exceptions to engaging in sexual affairs with men perpetuates and reinforces men’s belief that they can intervene as they please whenever they come across a lesbian couple. How many of us have had men come up in a social setting with complete disrespect and disregard for the lover that stands next to us and despite the fact that we say “no, thanks, buddy”?

    • April 26, 2011 at 12:11 pm #

      Thanks for this comment, Karol. I couldn’t agree more! It’s so true – if a guy just kisses a dude it’s like he is 100% gay, no chance of him even being bisexual. And then woman can come out as a lesbian and sleep with every dude on the show. DUMB.

      And you’re right, this kind of representation teaches men that woman-woman relationships aren’t worthy of their respect. It’s misogyny at its worst: “I’m a man so I have so much more to offer than your partner.” Yeah, I think not.

  4. April 25, 2011 at 11:51 pm #

    I agree with your article and Southernish’s comment. I wasn’t a big fan of The L Word for reasons like that. Most guys I new that watched it because (in their words) “Wanted to see two hot chicks Bang.” If the show was done right then the guys wouldn’t be saying that.
    With TV what it comes down to is ratings. Unfortunately just because lesbians are on a TV show doesn’t mean we’re their target group. Like Southernish said “Feminine lesbians are safe.” For some reason non LGBT would prefer to see Feminine lesbians. If the big shots behind TV are just worried about ratings they’re not going to put a feminine and masculine lesbian couple on TV.
    For now we can only hope that someday in the future lesbians are portrayed the way they should be. The only positive is that at least we’re seeing more LGBT characters on TV these days. We just have to hope it moves beyond feminine one day.
    Great post!!!!!!!!!!! Kara XOXO

    • April 26, 2011 at 12:15 pm #

      Thanks Kara, glad you liked it!

      I agree, it comes down to ratings. And even more than ratings, what it really comes down to is money. Hopefully one of these days the Hollywood execs will realize that LGBT community is a lucrative market. Our money is as green as straight people’s.

  5. April 28, 2011 at 11:17 pm #

    Word. This kind of representation hurts everyone. It even causes discord within our own communities, because the thing is, sometimes that DOES happen in real life – as in, a bisexual woman will end up with a man. Which, in an ideal world, wouldn’t be a big deal – except that it’s the ONLY narrative we get in the heteronormative media, and so it’s (understandably) seen as a betrayal or “turning straight.” And then it turns into a big deal, people’s identities get erased, etc. etc. Sigh.

    On the flip side, as you mentioned in an earlier comment, men turn gay as soon as they even hint at it. And then real live bi men get erased.

    We need more narratives!! One of my favorite authors, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (also one of the most beautiful people on this earth, swoooon), did a TED talk about the danger of a single story (which gets told over and over, while other stories are left out). She’s mostly talking about having a single story about a certain country or culture, but I think it can apply here and pretty much anywhere. http://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story.html

  6. July 25, 2011 at 12:41 pm #

    Ooh very MUCH so agree with this post! In fact I recently blogged about the same thing:

    http://whatwegandidnext.blogspot.com/2011/06/lez-get-real_30.html

    M x

  7. Emie
    June 14, 2012 at 3:14 am #

    Wow, if the Santana one is true than that has reached an all time low. I actually haven’t seen the show for a while because some things in it are really bugging me. But if it is (or was) true, it doesn’t make any sense; considering they did that episode where the guy tried to hit on Santana and telling her the usual “you just haven’t found the right guy yet.” Of course her glee girlfriends tell him off. And I thought it was great that the show was addressing that issue. So why in the hell would they have Santana go for the “running to a dude” trope, when they already tackled that issue and made fun of it as though they were trying to say how wrong it was. It just doesn’t make any damn sense!!!! Not to mention, don’t they realize that it would be EXTREMELY disrespectful to Jane Lynch? Since of course, she is on the show. Wouldn’t she be offended by it? You’d think she would be.

    But I agree with all of this, the trope is SO stupid, offensive and so not true! And yeah, why is it always gay female characters they do this to, but never any gay male characters? Seriously? Why doesn’t Kurt get to end up sleeping with a girl? And if you think about it, what’s REALLY sad about all of this, is that gay men don’t have to worry about any of this, they have it so easy compared to gay women. Whenever a gay male character comes on the scene in film/tv, gay men would be more than happy and relaxed knowing that another homosexual is being represented. BUT, whenever a gay female character comes on the scene in film/tv, instead of having that “more than happy, relaxed” feeling; gay women become nervous and anxious. And it’s because they’re all thinking, “Gee, I wonder how long she’s going to stay that way”. Of course it’s all said in a very sarcastic, bitter, and cynical way. They are dreading the day when the character will end up sleeping with a guy, or “fall into the arms of a man again”.

    Why the hell do the film/tv/media people do this????!!!!!! I don’t understand. But you know, I think the better question, and arguably the most important question is this: If the woman is going to end up with a man anyway, then why the hell even bother making the character “gay” in the first place? Since it seems like it’s planned when a character gets together with a guy, then why don’t they just continue to keep them straight? Or even bisexual? What the hell is the damn point in trying to make them supposedly “gay” in the first place, when it’s never truly going to go in that direction? That’s what really boggles my mind the most, and makes me wonder what the hell these film/tv industry people are thinking.

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