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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.

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Women’s Sports and the Media: Why is it so hard to find coverage?

By: Hayley Morris

If you’re a soccer fan, or simply a sports fan in general, you’ve probably heard about the remarkable strides the US Women’s National Soccer team has made in recent years. They have been wiggling their way into more widely broadcasted games on well-known networks, with 15.6 million viewers tuning in to watch them win the final at the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup. They’ve made headlines by demanding equal pay for male and female athletes. They have inspired young girls all over the world to pursue soccer. But they’re an exception to the rule.

I don’t have to think back very long to remember the weekends when my dad would be flipping through channel after channel on the TV, searching for women’s soccer games for my sister (who played soccer) to watch, eventually landing on some obscure channel with a grainy quality. The men’s game would be available in HD, on multiple channels at once. And while women’s soccer has certainly made traction in the broadcasting network, the overall statistics in all sports categories show a much more gendered divide. While 40% of athletes in America are women, only 6-8% of total sports media coverage is devoted to them. Of the four major US Newspapers only 3.5% of all sports stories focus on women.¹ It bodes the prevalent question: why is it so hard for women to gain media coverage in the sports industry?

A large part of the issue seems to stem from the way sports are divided in terms of masculinity. The more masculine the sport, the less people seem to be inclined to watch women play. Women’s tennis, ice skating, and gymnastics, to name a few, typically have an easier time gaining an audience compared to women’s wrestling, rugby, and boxing. These are of course two ends of the spectrum when it comes to the perceived masculinity of sports, but the argument remains: when was the last time you watched a women’s rugby game on a major television network?

I’ve watched my sister switch from sport to sport over the years, shifting from ballet to soccer to softball to basketball to rugby, and with each new sport comes similar comments of how it’s unladylike to play such a physical sport, or why didn’t she just stick with ballet, or aren’t you nervous about the long term effects this will have on her body? Clearly, there is still the mindset in modern society that women should be slim and delicate, not muscular and heavyset. It’s no wonder then why major broadcasting networks don’t televise women’s sports: to a large proportion of the population, watching women participate in a sport that is aggressive and physical goes against the very nature of what a woman “should be,” and therefore makes the viewer feel uncomfortable. Broadcasting networks take these opinions into account and therefore focus on televising men’s sports as they know it will draw more views.

Others argue that the reason they don’t want to watch women’s sports is because it’s not as interesting as the men’s, and there lies another issue: the capability of a woman is still being compared to that of a man. Rather than observing women’s sports and appreciating the game in it’s own ways, women are consistently compared to the way men play the same sport. Women are criticized if they can’t be as tough or as quick as men, and the other skills women bring to the field are brushed aside. A prime example is the bias many hold toward softball, arguing the sport isn’t as interesting to watch and is easier to play because the field is smaller and the ball is bigger than in baseball. This viewpoint overlooks how one may appreciate softball for the quick reaction times players must have because the field is smaller and the strength needed to hit a ball that is heavier because it is bigger. When one considers the comparison of two sports from more than one angle, it becomes clear to see both sports are equally as challenging and thrilling to watch in their own unique ways.

Sports should not have to be played the same between men and women in order to be enjoyed. By buying into the sexist belief that women simply aren’t as appealing to watch as men, the media allows for the gender typing of sports to continue. This is detrimental to young girls who may be passionate about a certain sport, but grow up unable to find coverage of professional female athletes in the media. This also explains why a large proportion of girls quit sports, particularly in their teenage years, since they are told by society there is no profitable future for them in the world of sport. While boys are encouraged to play sports with the continued streaming of professional male athletes in HD with world renowned commentators in the background, girls are left with the scraps, trying desperately to search for other women as passionate about the sport as she is.

What needs to change is the mindset of modern society. Women are no longer adhering to the outdated societal stereotypes of the submissive homemaker, instead choosing to establish their own ground and pursue their own goals, and we need to begin to accept this change. Instead of clinging to the sexist hierarchy of the past, women should be praised and encouraged to participate in sports that have traditionally been male-dominated. This includes equal coverage of men’s and women’s sports on TV and other media. Without equal publicity in the media, women’s sports will continue to appear inferior to men’s. By providing equal coverage, women will be given the opportunity to attract sports fans and gain views, rather than being shut out from the sports fanatic world from the get-go. And by providing easier access to women’s sports, girls will be further inclined to continue to play. So it’s time to get over the fear of girls having muscle, playing fiercely, and sweating a little on live TV. The gender roles that have encapsulated the world for hundreds of years are finally beginning to break down—shouldn’t this apply to women’s sports too?

  1. Athlete Assessments, The Gender Equality Debate; A Boost for Women in Sport
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The Hard Truth of the Glass Ceiling

By: Hayley Morris

The glass ceiling is a phrase that permeates modern media and is impossible to avoid when discussing women in the workplace. Defined by Merriam-Webster as, “an intangible barrier within a hierarchy that prevents women or minorities from obtaining upper-level positions,” the issue of the glass ceiling has been a long discussed issue by feminist organizations and politicians alike. In S&P 500 companies, women make up only 26.5% of executive and senior-level managerial positions and 5% of CEOs as of 2019. When factoring in race, the numbers become even more skewed. In 2018, 32.6% of all managerial positions were held by white women, while latinas held 6.2%, black women held 3.8%, and asian women held only 2.4%.¹

And while the wage gap between men and women has decreased significantly in the past thirty years or so, from women making 64% of what men earned in 1980 to making 85% of what men earned in 2018, this progress has stunted significantly in the past several years,² and it’s not due to a lack of political intervention. Just this year, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reintroduced the Paycheck Fairness Act, aimed at strengthening equal pay protections for women. Politicians such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna S. Pressley have spoken out about breaking workplace barriers. The government isn’t shying away from tackling the issues of the gender gap. So what’s the driving force behind the inability of women to catch up in the workplace?

The answer can be found in the societal norms and stereotypes women are introduced to as young girls. Growing up, it is standard practice to instill the idea of the male as the dominant sex and to teach women they are physically and emotionally inferior. Girls must be home before dark, while their brothers can stay out late. Girls are more physically and emotionally fragile, while boys are more level-headed. If a woman accepts a compliment or takes pride in an achievement, she is vain and stuck-up, while if she deflects it she is weak and insecure. And if women are assertive, are stubborn, and do disagree, they’re often labelled as the “B” word. In many societies, sons are preferred over daughters. Parents will choose to send their sons to college rather than their daughters because they believe the males will be able to earn more for the family. Women grow up with the societal notion that they are the weaker counterpart to males.

All of these factors contribute to a persisting issue: many women simply won’t reach for higher executive roles or ask their employers for a raise, despite wanting to strive for these goals. They will often make up excuses, undervaluing their talents and viewing men as smarter and more technical. Because women are taught by society to view themselves as less valuable compared to men, many females struggle to break free of this stereotype, and as such, believe they should be paid less and aren’t capable of taking on top corporational roles. In addition, the general population continues to wait desperately for governmental legislation to fix the issue of the glass ceiling and the wage gap for them. The problem is, legislation is never perfect, and companies will continue to find loopholes within the system to discredit a woman’s work as something less valuable than a man’s.

Other issues stem from the idea that many women will often accept they will not be able to climb as high on the executive ladder as men, and therefore don’t even bother trying. And while they may be frustrated knowing they’re earning less than the man performing equal work in the next cubicle over, they’re unlikely to do anything about it, as women can be more prone to the fear of failure because of the pressure they are put under by society’s skeptical lens. The glass ceiling then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It’s time for the working population to face the conflict of the glass ceiling head on if we want to balance both the wage gap and ratio of top corporational roles between men and women. The unfortunate truth is that women have been undervalued by society for hundreds of years, and this mindset isn’t going to disappear anytime soon. While there have been massive improvements in the equal treatment of women in the past several decades (such as the establishment of Ellevest in 2014, an online investment platform that factors in issues of gender, salary, and education levels to help encourage women to invest while considering certain setbacks that other robo advisors don’t factor into their recommendations), there is still a long way to go. And until we get there, the working population will have to do the legwork to research and fight for the wages—and positions—women rightfully deserve. It’s time to start addressing the issues within the cultural system, and teach young girls they can be as dominant and assertive as boys, they do work as hard as men, and they can be as successful as them too, as long as they stand their ground and don’t allow their equally valuable talents be undermined by outdated societal stereotypes.

  1.  Catalyst, Quick Take: Women in Management (August 7, 2019).
  2. Pew Research Center, The narrowing, but persistent, gender gap in pay (March 22, 2019).