We live in a day and age where people are quicker than ever to call out injustices in society. Recently, we’ve seen an unprecedented rise of social activism, as a direct influence of social media, allowing anyone with a cause and a platform to fight for change.
We’ve seen this form of activism translate into campaigns to challenge institutions such as the legendary Black Lives Matter movement which calls out police brutality and systematic racism towards black people. The profound impact this influential movement had on both political and cultural landscapes across the globe is undeniable, popularising using online activism to inspire mass mobilisation for social change.
Earlier this month, a photo of Melania Geymonat and her girlfriend Chris went viral. The photo was taken following a homophobic attack on the couple by male perpetrators who aggressively tried to exploit the two women’s sexuality for their own gratification. The violence and oppression in this attack was abhorrent, providing a stark reminder that we have not yet combated the prevalent discriminatory attitudes towards Sapphic women in our society.
Society has normalised the view that romantic female relationships are a synonym for the hypersexual fetishization of lesbians. The way we portray Sapphism as inherently erotic has socialised a whole culture of men to view homosexual women as entirely for their own sexual gratification.
The media has been a major culprit of socialising these attitudes into society by regurgitating a narrative of lesbianism which is unrealistic and unrepresentative.
The normative idea of queer women is one which is constructed to be attractive to men. The majority of depictions of homosexual women solely feature cisgender feminine white women. We see it in films, music and wider pop culture – that femininity is exclusively intertwined with sexuality. This blatantly disregards that we come in all shapes, colours and sizes and teaches women growing up LGBT+ that unless they’re hypersexual and fit a certain stereotype, their place in society is inconsequential. This is something Chris herself criticised in regard to the media attention around her attack, highlighting that the world-wide press coverage her and her girlfriend received was not coincidental to the way they look.
Moreover, Sapphic pornography, which is typically made for men, by men, has been incredibly damaging for how we define lesbianism. The proliferation of men ‘joining in’ with lesbian intercourse in erotic media has regurgitated the perception that the sexuality of women is inherently fluid and merely an experimental phase. This is incredibly harmful for women in the LGBT+ community as it not only completely invalidates the experiences of bisexual women, but also portrays lesbianism as being readily available to men.
The narrative of lesbianism being a hypersexual fantasy for men has been injected into society and has real life consequences as we have seen by the horrific attack on Melania and Chris. But if you look a little closer to home, the majority of queer woman can also tell you multiple accounts of when a man has questioned or belittled their sexuality.
Once it’s made aware that we’re LGBT+, we become plagued with questions picking apart our Sapphic experiences.
Some men will make bold claims around how they can somehow be a ‘cure’ for lesbianism, such as;
“But how do you know you’re a lesbian? You just need a real man, I bet I can turn you”
In the most extreme circumstances, this mindset has resulted in corrective rape. This term was first coined in South Africa, following the case of Eudy Simelane. Eudy was an out and proud lesbian and professional footballer for the South African national team who was brutally raped and murdered in a hate-crime by male attackers. Her death resulted in a national outcry, begging for the eradication of the discriminatory attitudes against lesbians stemming from male gratification.
Unfortunately, there is a whole culture of fetishized entitlement to our relationships from men. It’s not abnormal to be asked questions like;
“You have a girlfriend? That’s hot, can I join/watch?”
These hypersexual attitudes make it almost impossible for queer women to be taken seriously in society. Ironically, according to Pornhub, the world’s most popular porn website, ’lesbian’ is the most commonly searched topic amongst several U.S. states which have constantly condemned and opposed the LGBT+ community. This unequivocally shows that lesbians are viewed as no more than an erotic fixation for men to gawk over with little consideration for the genuine love within our relationships or our fundamental rights.
We’re no strangers to social activism, and we must use our tools of mass mobilisation to challenge the culture behind men who view lesbianism as merely a hypersexual fetish. It’s bizarre to me how we have allowed men to view Sapphic women as inherently erotic and for their own sexual gratification for so long when by definition, lesbianism does not include them. The unfair sense of entitlement to our bodies and sexuality must stop, and instead we must empower a narrative of lesbianism which is inclusive and representative of our community, encapsulating what it means to be a homosexual woman beyond just the sexual aspect of it.
The treatment of lesbians is a social injustice and we can no longer sit idly by whilst this discrimination continues. It’s time for this to change.
‘Knowing Me; Knowing You: Is this the best we can do for cohabiting couples? Engender has responded to the Scottish Law Commission's consultation on reforms to the law governing cohabitation in Scotland. This blog, from Engender's Policy and Parliamentary Manager Eilidh Dickson, sets out why equality in cohabitation is a feminist issue.
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