I recently decided to return to one of the greatest televisions shows ever created: The L Word. For those who aren’t familiar with The L Word, this Showtime series follows the lives of lesbians and bisexuals living in Los Angeles. All the hook-ups, relationships, and break-ups; happiness, sadness, and intense love; tears and loud laughter; questions, uncertainty, and sexuality; and imperfect perfection are shown. After all, this group of similar, yet different individuals, spend their time “talking, laughing, loving, breathing, fighting, fucking, crying, drinking, riding, winning, losing, cheating, kissing, thinking, dreaming.” It’s the way they live.
The L Word aired on January 18, 2004. I was ten years old, so I wasn’t introduced to it until much later in my life. Similar to many viewers, I found a character that I loved and could relate with (I’m sure my friends will try to guess which one). I also found a character that I couldn’t stand, a character that made me laugh constantly, and a character that frustrated me. However, coming back to The L Word wasn’t only comforting for me, but refreshing and new.
The L Word was truly ahead of its time, and I just realized this! That’s right, this show is brimming with feminism, concepts, and much-needed conversations!
First, The L Word asks us, what’s the male gaze? Huh, never heard of it! This show would exclaim. This groundbreaking show destroys the male gaze and also criticizes the moments it is present. By definition, the male gaze is “the act of depicting women and the world, in the visual arts and in literature, from a masculine, heterosexual perspective that presents and represents women as sexual objects for the pleasure of the male viewer.”
However, in The L Word, this perspective is non-existent. If anything, the perspective is that of the female and/or queer viewer. Taking this accurate perspective into consideration, The L Word characters are ones we love, characters we can relate to, and characters who offer an array of representation.
In addition, and importantly, these queer women do not exist for men, nor are they sexual objects that offer pleasure to possible male viewers. We do not observe these characters actively or inactively pining for, or targeting, a male audience. Shane McCutcheon, the show’s most androgynous character, comes to mind…
Let’s expand on this and the destruction of the male gaze. While some may argue that television shows which feature lesbians and/or bisexuals, attempt to lure in the male viewer through physical attractiveness, this is not The L Word. Characters such as Shane and Dana Fairbanks are examples of this. Now, I know what you’re thinking: Both of these women are physically attractive! Yes… but not in the way men believe they should appear, particularly in terms of the male gaze.
So, for these queer women, it is as if men do not exist in their world; and therefore, the male gaze does not exist. It is clear that in The L Word these women exist for themselves, and at times, for each other. And, we love it.
We see characters criticize the male gaze when it is present, if only for a moment. For example, when Alice nonchalantly states, “Oh, that’s typical of a guy: sees two women together, thinks he’s so needed.” The quick, passing comments in this show are feminist discussions.
The next feminist conversation The L Word possesses is that of diverse individuals. Albeit, the show could have done more if it were created later, but for the early 2000s, this was huge… especially on a show with various queer representations. To be more specific, diversity is present if we analyze Bette Porter; a viewer’s favourite. Bette identifies as biracial; she is of African-American and Caucasian heritage. Needless to say, viewers do not simply see all white women of the same background and social standing.
In addition, as the seasons progress, viewers are introduced to Max who is transgender, and Carmen who is Latina. Diversity lies within the characters that appear and remain throughout The L Word, and diversity is something we need and see in feminism.
Within feminism, we fight to dismantle and destroy “white feminism.” Intersectionality must be the norm. Intersectional feminism, or intersectionality, was first coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989. She created and utilized this phrase to illustrate, or explain, the oppression African-American women experienced.
As the movement grew so did this term. Essentially, intersectionality asserts that all women have different experiences and identities. It takes into account the different ways in which each individual experiences discrimination. Through this, feminism can be truly inclusive and allows women of all races, economic standings, religions, identities and orientations for their voices to be heard.
The L Word shows intersectionality through its characters; much like how it employs diversity. We encounter characters of differing races, economic standings, religions, identities and sexual orientations. These characters then offer their own voices and perspectives on the show. A feminist conversation.
The L Word: One of the greatest shows ever created, filled with feminist concepts and conversations. It’s the way they live.