SOS! Where are all of the queer women on screen? We should launch a full-fledged investigation. It is true that queer media has come a long way since just the 1990s. We see more queer people on television and in movies than ever before. We even have Love, Simon – our very own semi problematic queer rom-com. Unfortunately, the fight is not over. Queer men have started to see themselves reflected in media more authentically, but women are not getting the same treatment.
Diverse queer stories featuring women are almost impossible to find. Writers treating queer women with kindness and empathy are even harder to find. It is too often that queer women are written off as products of sexual abuse, cheaters, or generally problematic and unlikable. Where are the queer women that came out in high school? The ones that have deep and connected conversations about their sexuality? The ones who find beauty and happiness in life?
What is wrong with queer media?
Where sexism exists in the heteronormative community, it also exists in the queer community. In a society that is so centered around men, it is impossible to escape sexism and misogyny even when queer. Recently, Hollywood has been making strides to correct it’s well known sexist practices. Movies like Bombshell and Charlie’s Angel’s have come out just this year, exhibiting leading women without any love interests. Queer women are not featured in these roles as often.
When queer women are seen in movies, it is more often than not in a sexual context. Take, for example, some of our most highly valued movies. Below Her Mouth and Carol are two films that many queer women hold in high esteem. While these movies may have a cinematic quality, the images of queer women that they portray are not universal. Below Her Mouth Portrays an extremely sexual connection that holds little happiness or satisfaction for either character. In Carol, there is a feeling of manipulation and deceit that prevails throughout the movie. What does it say that the films queer women should see themselves do not offer strong character development or even happiness?
Why is GOOD representation important?
TV and movies have become a way for the newest generations to find their place in the world. Unfortunately, queer pre-teens and teens do not often see themselves in these forms of media. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was the first time that I ever saw a queer person on screen.
Willow was my favorite character. Watching Willow’s coming out story brought tears to my eyes. It took me many years to understand the impact that her journey had on my own path to coming out. The fact that the queer character has to be the side character, the fact that queer people have the tendency to have impulses they can not control, and the subtle allegory for drug abuse in the queer community have been themes in my own coming out journey, and I am sure that of many others. Even before I identified as queer I found myself trying to mimic Willow whenever I could.
On some level I believed that the role she played in the show was the role I was meant to play in life.
One of the issues with queer representation is not necessarily that it is non-existent. The issue is more so found in the connotation of queerness. How does the world see queer people, and how does this manifest in art and popular culture? How do the underlying themes of popular culture not only affect the way in which straight people view the queer community, but also the way queer people view themselves?
What does the research say?
I am not the only person that has experienced the effect of media on their queer identity. Also, a study published in 2011 found that while research heavily suggests that queer, or as they put it GLB identifying people, not only benefit from the existence of queer people in media but that the lack of queer people in media negatively affects their queer identity. (Gomillion) It is unfortunate that this is the only official study that I could find in my research that specifically covered the effects of queer representation in media. In order for the queer community to see real change our issues should be studied and researched. The queer community should be valued in both science and media equally.
Intersectionality in queer film
Many people that choose to label themselves as queer are people that feel they do not fit under any of the other labels in the acronym. At its very root, queer is an intersectional word, often those that identify themselves as queer will have multiple identities within the LGBTQIA+ community. When we look closely at what it means to have queer women in media, we cannot only be talking about CIS women. It is easier to pull out examples of CIS queer women, and even more often white CIS queer women and point to their problematic pieces because they are the most represented of an underrepresented population.
We must approach the issue of under-representation of queer women from two sides. One side should question the authenticity and cultural impact of the existing queer media that we have. The other side should question the lack of diversity in race, sexuality, and gender identity.
The queer community has come so far in gaining both rights and respect from popular culture. However, let us not pretend that the fight is over. As long as young queer women are not seeing themselves in any media, there will be a disconnect with their community and with themselves. Queer women will constantly wonder and fear that they do not have a place in the world or that they are some sort of other. There will continue to be women that feel they do not have the right to come out, to take up space in the world.
While it feels defeatist to say that have not yet won the war for equality, there is hope in the thought that we have more to fight for.
Gomillion, Sarah C., Giuliano, Traci A. The Influence of Media Role Models on Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Identity. 25 Feb 2011. Journal of Homosexuality. Vol. 58. Is.3. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/citedby/10.1080/00918369.2011.546729?scroll=top&needAccess=true