As discussed throughout Tricia Jenkins’ article, Potential Lesbianism at Two O’Clock, there has been an increasing acceptance of lesbian-charged imagery in mainstream media. Wild Things, American Pie 2, and Cruel Intentions are used as examples of movies in which a very specific, hegemonic form of lesbianism is depicted, while advertisements like the Skyy Vodka ad and a 2006 Coors Light ad reinforce this image.
While these images are fairly innocuous in content, they only portray a very narrow and limited view of homosexuality, one that serves primarily to further the male gaze and depict a form of lesbianism that is not true lesbianism, but one that has been created within a heteronormative context. In juxtaposition to these images, there is very little evidence of a parallel existing, one that features homosexual men in the same context. As discussed in the Helene Shugart article, Reinventing Priveledge: The New (Gay) Man in Contemporary Popular Media, homosexual men exist within mainstream media solely within a heteronormative context, serving to reinforce heterosexuality as the norm. Here homosexual men are rarely sexualized and nearly always perceived as hyper-feminized. Why has it become so commonplace for lesbianism to be eroticized, despite existing in such a narrow heteronormative viewpoint, while homosexual males are stripped of their masculinity, and thus by association, power?
These all play into what is believed to be (and further is repeatedly depicted by popular media as) the common male fantasy of lesbianism. In this fantasy world, lesbianism is not a expression of desire or romance between women, but rather a redirection of desire and romance away from a male body, which is undesirable in advertising aimed at libidinous men, and placed on another visually pleasing female body. If asked, we believe that a majority of men would tell you they don’t wish to see male bodies in the materials which arouse them, possibly because this could lead to confusion and ambiguity surrounding their sexuality, something mainstream middle American culture is not very accepting of. This leads to a media system that employs depictions of lesbianism through a male gaze, in which the women have no agency, and take no real emotional joy in the act, but rather are objectified by the male viewer, who is the subject. We see in this advertisement for a homosexual male dating site, Man Crunch, a depiction of two fairly traditional male football fans watching a game.
As their hands meet accidently over a bowl of tortilla chips, they are overcome with desire and lunge at each other, kissing and groping ferociously. This could lead one to believe that progress has been made, especially knowing that this ad was intended to be played during the Super Bowl, one of the most coveted and traditionally heteronormative advertising slots of the year. However, the ad was rejected by ABC on the grounds that the company did not have the funding necessary to purchase a costly ad during the game, but Man Crunch released a statement saying they were indeed prepared to offer more than the going price, 2.5 million.
Physical or sexually emotional contact between two women is totally acceptable, and in some contexts even encouraged, although only when it either benefits the male gaze, or can be perceived as an adventurous yet fleeting moment of experimentation. Why is it that our media system is flooded with these images of female pseudo-homosexuality while depictions of male/male sexuality remain all but missing in our lexicon? Within heteronormative media, the only acceptable form of male homosexuality is safely encased in either child-oriented cartoons, where it easily passes as camaraderie, or in a silly juxtaposition of stereotypes, such as we see in the Bissell Vacuum Cleaner advertisement.
On rare occasions where we do see homosexuality represented in a pronounced and more than momentary form, these characters tend to be castrated of power, portrayed as weak, incapable, rash, and confused. One reason for these depictions is the threat which male homosexuality can be seen as posing to a traditional heteronormative mindset and society. If we agree that to every dollar earned by a man, a woman earns eighty cents, together earning a dollar eighty, we can also agree that a male/male couple earns two dollars, while a woman/woman couple earns only a dollar sixty. This imbalance threatens the superiority of traditional heterosexual couples. We can also see an imbalance of a more primal nature, where a male/female couple has one member (traditionally thought of to be) capable of violence and aggression, a homosexual couple has two, and conversely the female/female couple, none. These examples may help explain the uneven depiction of homosexuality in media.
There has recently been more discussion around the existence of the female gaze, one that challenges the male gaze or simply demonstrates that women too, are capable of infusing their critical scrutiny with power and authority. Albeit the emergence of this female gaze, the discussion surrounding this theory primarily focuses on questioning its existence. Another provocation to this heteronormative view on homosexuality exists within the art world, and in some advertising, in which homosexually charged images of men are used to create a sense of shock and scandal, which serves the basic function of creating publicity for the artist and/or company. Advertisements such as the Dolce and Gabbana ad from 2008 best illustrate this argument.
While this trend is becoming more common, it still exists only on the fringe of mainstream media, and is not as excepted and commonplace as the mediated heteronormative image of the lesbian.
The trend toward including images of lesbians in mainstream media rarely depicts realistic representations of lesbians, but rather presents a co-opted and regurgitated formulation of lesbianism through the eyes of the male gaze. This is the only form of homosexuality that fits comfortably into the hegemonic and heteronormative world view, where the male gaze reigns supreme, carrying and administering the predominant form of power within mainstream media.