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The Fetishization of Queer Women in Modern Media

By: Hayley Morris

The past few years have been revolutionary for the representation of LGBTQ+ people in the media. According to GLAAD’s 2018 annual TV Diversity Report, 8.8% of 857 series regulars on TV identified as LGBTQ+, a record high, and queer people of color outnumbered white characters, 50 to 49 percent. Love, Simon, relased on March 16, 2018, was one of the first major hollywood movies to focus less on the struggles LGBTQ+ people face and instead provide a story (with a happy ending!) of a normal gay teen navigating his love life while in high school, gaining worldwide praise. Booksmart, released on March 10, 2019, starred a lesbian also navigating the struggles of highschool love in a way that was relatable and funny. 

These statistics would seem to indicate that the representation of queer people is on the rise, so what is there to complain about? A lot, actually. What this data doesn’t represent is the other, darker side of queer representation, most notably the fetishization of queer women in a lot of modern media. Search “lesbian movies” on Netflix and you’ll see what I mean. Instantly the viewer is provided with dozens of erotic thumbnails of women passionately kissing, with descriptions such as “an engaged fashion editor begins a torrid affair with a female roofer” (Below Her Mouth) and “Maya finally hooks up with her online dream girl, only to discover she’s deeply involved with an older sugar daddy” (Daddy Issues). Instantly the viewer is supposed to be seduced by the pretty girls kissing on screen, and from the few movies I’ve managed to force myself to sit through, that is all they do. There is no romance, no character development, no notion of something other than the sex that holds their relationship together. They keep their relationship a secret, adding to the seductive nature of the film, and when they are finally caught, it’s usually right in the middle of a steamy sex scene, only adding to the pornographic nature of these films. Now you might be thinking: whats the big deal, at least there is lesbian represenation in the media, right?

Wrong. The issue with this kind of representation is that it portrays lesbian women as sex objects for others’ entertainment and pleasure. The girls in these movies have no personality, and this is problematic when it comes to queer women dealing with these stereotypes in real life. Those questioning and desperate to find representation of themselves may feel disgusted with how they feel after watching such a film, wondering where the romance was the whole time (I know I certainly did). Queer women in public are often pressured by men to kiss or perform erotic acts with one another for their entertainment, as men are taught by these movies that queer women are nothing but sex toys to play with. And what about the actresses involved in these films? They’re often pressured into such scenes by male directors, forced to participate in scenes that make them feel uncomfortable and exploited.

Blue is the Warmest Color is a prime example. Released on October 25, 2013, this movie takes no time getting to the sexual aspect of Adèle and Emma’s relationship, with Adèle pleasuring herself on screen after her first sighting of Emma. This film follows their relationship over the years, mainly through sex, with one scene lasting an agonizing seven minutes. The summer after the release of the film, actresses Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux accused director Abdellatif Kechiche of abusive behavior while filming. They claimed they were forced into lengthy sex scenes that took them 10 days to film just after meeting. Exarchopoulos claimed that Kechiche was “obsessed” with solving the “mystery” of women, as evident in just how erotic this movie is. The issue then is when does a director wishing to capture the beautiful intimacy of two women turn into “playtime” to satisfy his or her own sexual fantasies and pleasures? Blue is the Warmest Color clearly overstepped several lines, but what about the hundreds of other movies that follow a similar plot of sexual intimacy between two women without much else existing between them?

Increased representation of LGBTQ+ people in the media is a must, but this should only include positive and accurate representation. Films and books and other forms of entertainment that stray from this ideal must not be allowed to gain traction by an audience that simply wishes to view someone engaging in an activity that is considered to stray from the heterosexual cisgender norm, thereby reinforcing heteronormative stereotypes. Misrepresentation of the queer community only serves to dampen their fight to be heard and accepted in society, as those who have only been exposed to the sexualization and fetishization of these groups will not take the struggles of the queer community seriously. In addition, this misrepresentation can have a devastating effect on young queer people desperate to find a place of acceptance in society. Instead of feeling proud of their identity, many will feel uncomfortable and ashamed, too afraid to embrace who they are for fear of being fetishized in a similar nature. The exploitation of the queer community has gone on for long enough. It’s time to speak out against these works that misrepresent such a diverse group of people, because love is love, not a sex show for a straight man.