Media portrayal of lesbianism

Lesbians often attract media attention, particularly in relation to feminism, love and sexual relationships, marriage and parenting. Some writers have asserted this trend can lead to exploitive and unjustified plot - Smallville Exploits Lesbianism, Again


During the twentieth century lesbians such as Gertrude Stein and Barbara Hammer were noted in the US avant-garde art movements, along with figures such as Leontine Sagan in German pre-war cinema. Since the 1890s the underground classic The Songs of Bilitis has been influential on lesbian culture. This book provided a name for the first campaigning and cultural organization in the United States, the Daughters of Bilitis. Joseph Sheridan le Fanu's 1872 novella Carmilla is cited as a root of the lesbian vampire trope about the predatory love of a vampire (the title character) for a young woman (the narrator) which was picked up in 20th century exploitation films.

During the 1950s and 1960s lesbian pulp fiction was published in the US and UK, often under "coded" titles such as Odd Girl Out, The Evil Friendship by Vin Packer and the The Beebo Brinker Chronicles by Ann Bannon. British school stories also provided a haven for "coded" and sometimes outright lesbian fiction.

During the 1970s the second wave of feminist era lesbian novels became more politically oriented. Works often carried the explicit ideological messages of separatist feminism and the trend carried over to other lesbian arts. Rita Mae Brown's debut novel Rubyfruit Jungle was a milestone of this period. By the early 1990s lesbian culture was being influenced by a younger generation who had not taken part in the "Feminist Sex Wars" and this strongly informed post-feminist queer theory along with the new queer culture.

In 1972 the Berkeley, California lesbian journal Libera published a paper entitled Heterosexuality in Women: its Causes and Cure. Written in deadpan, academic prose, closely paralleling previous psychiatry-journal articles on homosexuality among women, this paper inverted prevailing assumptions about what is normal and deviant or pathological and was widely read by lesbian feminists.


See also Lesbianism in erotica, The Sleepers which openly depicts two women asleep after love-making (indicated by the broken pearl necklace); and Dominique Ingres' Turkish Bath in which, in the foreground, one woman can be seen with an arm round another and pinching her breast. Both these painting ended up in the collection of erotica collector and diplomat Khalil Bey .


The first lesbian-themed feature film was Mädchen in Uniform (1931), based on a novel by Christa Winsloe and directed by Leontine Sagan, tracing the story of a schoolgirl called Manuela von Meinhardis and her passionate love for a teacher, Fräulein von Nordeck zur Nidden. It was written and mostly directed by women. The impact of the film in Germany's lesbian clubs was overshadowed, however, by the cult following for The Blue Angel (1930).

Until the early 1990s, any notion of lesbian love in a film almost always required audiences to infer the relationships. The lesbian aesthetic of Queen Christina (1933) with Greta Garbo has been widely noted, even though the film is not about lesbians. Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca (1940), based on the novel by Daphne du Maurier, referred more or less overtly to lesbianism, but the two characters involved were not presented positively: Mrs. Danvers was portrayed as obsessed, neurotic and murderous, while the never-seen Rebecca was described as having been selfish, spiteful and doomed to die. All About Eve (1950) was originally written with the title character as a lesbian but this was very subtle in the final version, with the hint and message apparent to alert viewers.

Playwright Lillian Hellman's first play, ''The Children's Hour'' (1934) was produced on Broadway. Set in a private girls' boarding school, the headmistress and a teacher are the targets of a malicious whispering campaign of insinuation by a disgruntled schoolgirl. They soon face public accusations of having a lesbian relationship.Hellman, Lillian | Introduction: Feminism in Literature The play was nominated for a Pulitzer prize, banned in Boston, London, and Chicago and had a record-breaking run of 691 consecutive performances in New York. A 1961 screen adaptation starred Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine. The play's deep and pervasively dark themes and lesbian undertones have been widely noted.

Mainstream films with openly lesbian content, sympathetic lesbian characters and lesbian leads began appearing during the 1990s. By 2000 some films portrayed characters exploring issues beyond their sexual orientation, reflecting a wider sense that lesbianism has to do with more than sexual desire.

Speaking at the Bombay Academy of Moving Images, Nisha Ganatra revealed that Bend it like Beckham was originally intended to have a more overt lesbian theme by Gurinder Chadha.Bend It Like Beckham - Lesbian Film ReviewAnanova - Bend it like Beckham was nearly a lesbian love story Notably, Gurinder Chadha previously directed the film ''What's Cooking'', which featured Julianna Margulies and Kyra Sedgwick as a lesbian couple. Chadha is claimed to have softened the lesbian angle, to a case of "crossed wires" and jokes like "Lesbian? Her birthday's in March. I thought she was a Pisces.", to make the film more marketable - something which has not gone down well with all gay reviewersBend It Like Beckham. However, Jess' male friend Tony was retained as a sympathetic gay character. Bend it like Beckham also won an award for "Outstanding Film" from the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against DefamationGLAAD: Antonio Banderas, John Waters, "Bend it Like Beckham," "Angels in America," Honored at 15th Annual GLAAD Media Awards Presented by ABSOLUT VODKA in Los Angeles

Notable mainstream theatrical releases included Bound (1996), Chasing Amy (1997), Kissing Jessica Stein (2001), Lost and Delirious (2001), Mulholland Drive, Monster (2003), D.E.B.S (2004), Rent (2005, based on the Jonathan Larson musical), My Summer of Love (2004), Loving Annabelle (2006) and Imagine Me & You (2005). There have also been many non-English language lesbian films, such as Fire (India, 1996), Show Me Love (Sweden, 1998), Aimée & Jaguar (Germany, 1999), Blue (Japan, 2001), The Mars Canon (Japan, 2002), Blue Gate Crossing (Taiwan, 2004), Buttefly (Hong Kong, 2004), Love My Life (Japan, 2006) and Les filles du botaniste (France/Canada, 2006).

Mainstream broadcast media

The 1980s television series L.A. Law included a lesbian relationship which stirred much more controversy than lesbian TV characters would a decade later. The 1989 BBC mini series Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit was based on lesbian writer Jeanette Winterson's novel of the same title. Russian pop-duo t.A.T.u were popular in Europe during the early 2000s, gaining wide attention and TV airplay for their pop videos because they were marketed as lesbians even though they weren't.

Many SciFi series have featured lesbian characters. An episode of Babylon 5 featured an implied lesbian relationship between characters Talia Winters and Commander Susan Ivanova. '''' featured several episodes with elements of lesbianism and made it clear that in Star Trek's 24th century such relationships are accepted without a second thought.

Actress and comedian Ellen DeGeneres came out publicly as a lesbian in 1997 and her character on the sitcom Ellen did likewise soon after during its fourth season. This was the first American sitcom with a lesbian lead character. The coming-out episode won an Emmy Award, but the series was cancelled after one more season. In 2000, the ABC Daytime drama series All My Children character Bianca Montgomery (Eden Riegel) was revealed to be lesbian. While many praised the character's prominent storyline, others criticized the almost perpetual trauma and Bianca's lack of a successful long-running relationship with another woman. In 2004's popular television show on Showtime, The L Word is focused on a group of lesbian friends living in L.A., and Ellen DeGeneres has a popular daytime talk show. In 2005, an episode of The Simpsons ("There's Something About Marrying") depicted Marge's sister Patty coming out as a lesbian. Also that year on Law & Order the final appearance of assistant district attorney Serena Southerlyn included the revelation she was a lesbian, although some viewers claimed there had been hints of this in previous episodes.

Other notable lesbian characters and appearances in the mainstream media have included:


For much of the 20th century, gay relationships were discouraged from being shown in comics which were seen mainly as directed towards children. Artists had to drop subtle hints while not stating directly a character's orientation. An example was in the 1938-39 edition of Milton Caniff's Terry and the Pirates: one of the main villains, Sanjak, has been interpreted by some as a lesbian with designs on the hero's girlfriend, though this is not openly stated.

A more direct example came out some twenty years later in Jean-Claude Forest's Barbarella in which the very-straight heroine encounters the gay Dark Queen of Sogo, with whom she has a twisted sometimes-enemy, sometimes-ally relationship.

Until 1989 the Comics Code Authority, which imposed de facto censorship on comics sold through newsstands in the United States, forbade any suggestion of homosexuality. Overt lesbian themes were first found in underground and alternative titles which did not carry the Authority's seal of approval. The first comic with an openly lesbian character was "Sandy Comes Out" by Trina Robbins, published in the anthology ''Wimmen's Comix'' #1 in 1972.

Gay Comix (1980) included stories by and about lesbians and by 1985 the influential alternative title Love and Rockets had revealed a relationship between two major characters, Maggie and Hopey.

Meanwhile mainstream publishers were more reticent. A relationship between the female Marvel comics characters Mystique and Destiny was only implied at first, then cryptically confirmed in 1990 through the use of the archaic word '''', meaning a lover or sweetheart. Only in 2001 was Destiny referred to in plain language as Mystique's lover. Previously, WildStorm's Image Comics had featured Sarah Rainmaker of Gen¹³ as a character with an interest in other women, and had openly depicted homosexual relationships between the members of the Authority, such as Jenny Sparks and Swift.

In 2006 DC Comics could still draw widespread media attention by announcing a new, lesbian incarnation of the well-known character Batwoman even while openly lesbian characters such as Gotham City police officer Renee Montoya already existed in DC Comics.

Some writers and others (notably Chris Rock on Saturday Night Live) have commented that the Peanuts character Peppermint Patty is a lesbian (and inferred a relationship with her close friend Marcie, although such an inference was never supported by the comic strip's content. (Peppermint Patties is also used as a sometimes pejorative slang word for lesbians.)

In 2006, the graphic memoir '' by Alison Bechdel, was lauded by many media as among the best books of the year. Bechdel is the author of Dykes to Watch Out For'', one of the best-known and longest-running LGBT comic strips.

In manga and anime, lesbian content is called Girls Love (in Japan) or yuri. In the west, a distinction is occasionally made between yuri (more explicitly sex-based) and shoujo-ai (more romance-based), a term created in the west by analogy with shounen-ai. Shoujo-ai is not used in that sense in Japan, where (as a manga term) it mainly denotes lolikon.

A main theme of the Japanese graphic novel Yokohama Kaidashi Kik? is the developing romance between characters Alpha and Kokone.


The third season of the anime series Sailor Moon, Sailor Moon S, features a lesbian relationship between the two heroines Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune. However, the season was heavily censored when dubbed and shown on TV in the United States. Many of the scenes which would suggest this particular relationship were cut away and the two characters were depicted as cousins (this led to further controversy as many fans noticed the editing). In many of the mangaka group Clamp's series such as Miyuki-chan in Wonderland or Card Captor Sakura, some characters are clearly lesbians. In Miyuki-chan in wonderland, for example, Miyuki is constantly trying to escape the attention of scantily-clad female admirers; while Tomoyo in CCS is famous for her ostensibly innocent but rather suspect obsession with playing "dress-up" with the lead character, Sakura.

Video games

SaGa Frontier (a PlayStation title produced by Squaresoft) has a lesbian character named Asellus. Another character named Gina is a young girl who tailors Asellus' outfits, often discusses her deep attraction to Asellus and becomes her bride in one of the game's many endings. However, much related dialogue and some content has been edited out of the English language version.SaGa Frontier (1997) (VG) - Alternate versions The Playstation title (a prequel to Fear Effect) reveals that Hana Tsu Vachel, a main character in both games, had a sexual relationship with a female character named Rain Qin. Strawberry Panic! is a mild Japanese lesbian game for Playstation 2 featuring romance amongst a group of female students living in a common all-girls' boarding house atop Astrea Hill. Tristia of the Deep-Blue Sea, Neosphere of the Deep-Blue Sky, Akai Ito and Ayakashi Ninden Kunoichiban, Fatal Frame II, Kashimashi are widely known in Japan.

See also

External links

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