They say it’s a man’s world out here.

It has been constructed, crafted, and created for and by men. For their consumption, use, and very importantly, their pleasure. In the face of that, rose the embattled lesbians. The first time I heard about lesbians was in a rushed whisper about Deepa Mehta’s Fire. As I grew older, the references continued, albeit sporadically. F.R.I.E.N.D.S with the mandatory laugh track over every mention of Ross’s first wife, Barney Stinson losing his mind at the mere mention of a girl fight, and who can forget the sheer adoration with which teenage peers discussed lesbian pornography?

Stonewall paved the way for gay rights, I Kissed A Girl by Katy Perry paved the way for the modern sexualisation of lesbian relationships. It wasn’t until I was much older that La Vie d’Adèle brought in the first look at lesbians as they really are: human. In the world of men, the idea that women could successfully live and thrive in relationships without them has been either objectified or shunned. No in-between. Most of it boils down to the simple matter that lesbians are — women. Women who make up less than three per cent of recorded history. Women who have been cultivated to be dependent on men. Women, who laughed in the face of a big, strong man, and lived their lives seemingly independently. Boy, did that anger men. It was one thing to get the right to vote, another to own property, but to cut the need for men out altogether?

It stung.

So men, fed a diet of heteronormativity. Perhaps it is society’s glorification of the penis and masculinity in sex that causes people to marvel over what two women can possibly do in the bedroom. Even now, in 2022, most information about lesbians easily accessible is about sex. Lesbians have long been a porn category before they became people. The fetishisation of same-sex attraction affects the everyday experience of queer women. It makes them stop and look around before they can kiss their partner goodbye in public. It makes hands fall to their sides when a man passes by in a quiet street. If we frame instances of women kissing each other on physical stages in a hyper sexualised way, we suggest that lesbian affection belongs on a metaphorical stage. It exists for, and is continually fuelled by the straight male gaze. A performance, one might say, depends upon spectatorship for its very existence.

Lesbian representation could exist, does exist even now, through the male gaze. It’s because women’s sexuality has been recognised as its own entity. So, there has never been room created in popular media for female love where a man does not matter. Anecdotally, it could be radically explained that male and female sexuality suffer from inverse problems. Male sexuality is taken too seriously, and female sexuality fails to meet that standard set by society, once again. Penises are threatening and always demand attention, but vaginas don’t matter unless they’re titillating… to straight men.

But at least they’re talking about it? It’s really not solving the problem, though, is it? Being fetishised is not like being on the same boat as being accepted. They aren’t even sharing an oar. Having your identity and relationships judged by what is deemed sexually appealing to those outside of it is not a celebration of queerness. TV and movies have been a major culprit in socialising these attitudes by regurgitating a narrative of lesbianism that is unrealistic and unrepresentative. The colloquial idea of queer women is one that is constructed to be attractive to men. And most depictions of homosexual women solely feature able-bodied cisgender feminine white women. Pop culture continues to push the notion that femininity is exclusively intertwined with sexuality.

Zarah is a creative producer in Delhi and runs a K-pop/K-drama show ‘It’s K!’

The reasons why the media fails to represent gay women accurately are complex. Journalist Julie Bindel suggested the problem lies in the fact that men, who largely still dominate the industry, fear losing precedence. “Men are deeply concerned that if you subvert the patriarchal norm, things will start to fall apart, including the masculine identity,” she said. Further, pornography, which has typically been made for men by men, has been incredibly damaging for how we define lesbianism. The proliferation of men ‘joining in’ with lesbian intercourse in erotic media has further pushed the idea that the sexuality of women is inherently fluid, and merely an experimental phase. This is incredibly harmful for women in the LGBTQ+ community as it not only completely invalidates the experiences of bisexual women, but also portrays lesbianism as being readily available to men. The narrative of lesbianism being a hypersexual fantasy for men has been birthed into society and has real life consequences. These hypersexual responses make it almost impossible for queer women to be taken seriously in society.

After the rousing success of the Red Scare in the US during the 50s, America saw the Lavender Scare. A policy was based on the unfounded fear that gay men and lesbians ‘posed a threat to national security because they were vulnerable to blackmail and were considered to have weak moral characters’, according to historian David K. Johnson. Johnson, though, argued that lesbians were at less risk of persecution than gay men because ‘lesbians have traditionally had less access to public space than men, and therefore were less vulnerable to arrest and prosecution for their homosexuality.’ So, in an extremely roundabout way, perhaps in this instance the oppression of women allowed them safer passage than most. Moral policing had become the norm in a post-cold war era and fighting communism meant pushing the idea of nuclear families with no space for queerness. It wasn’t until 1998 that this frankly frightening policy was actually scrapped. Queer folk have lived under judgement, fear, and claims of blasphemy. Why society chose to add sexualisation to their condemnation remains a mystery.