Whose Gaze Is It Anyway?

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Words || Jasmine Phillips

It’s no secret that Western society loves to sexualise and objectify queer women. The presence of the male gaze is well-established in how lesbians are represented in popular culture, with a large proportion of lesbian storylines being designed for the enjoyment and consumption of men.  

The first time I was confronted with the inexplicable male obsession with lesbianism, I was twelve years old. I was watching an episode of the Simpsons with my family. If I remember correctly, Homer is concerned about not renewing his health (or life) insurance? He imagines Marge’s book club suddenly dissolving into disaster; someone trips, a book catches fire – and then Marge turns to the woman on the couch next to her and they begin making out. Homer is drooling when he is shaken from his fantasy.

I look to my Mum in confusion, gesturing to the television with an expression that indicates “please explain”.

She rolls her eyes reflexively at the program, then shifts uncomfortably when she meets my eyes. However, my mother’s personal philosophy has always been “old enough to ask, old enough to answer”, (especially for sex ed questions), and so she ploughs on.

“It’s stupid,” she tells me firmly. “Some men think that lesbians are… sexy. They like to fantasize about it.”

Now, I don’t know if it comes across in my articles, my dear reader, but I’m kind of known for being a chatterbox. I’m loud and energetic, and the words “Jasmine is prone to disrupting other students’ learning” have graced twelve out of twelve school report cards.

But this information left me speechless.

I might be a whole decade older than I was that fateful day, but the reasoning behind men’s obsession with lesbianism is no clearer to me now than it was then. Given that my own lesbianism has since been discovered, however, I’m certainly a helluva lot grumpier about it.

And so, for the moment you’ve all been waiting for, I’ve decided to interrogate the heart of lesbian objectification: lesbian porn.

The title credits close, and the camera focuses in on two young women playing chess on a bed together. They’re college girls, and the woman on the left is raving about how she’s loosened up heaps since she took time off of school. They chat and giggle about how much her life has changed. 

“I’ve had, like, some boyfriends, some girlfriends-” 

“Girlfriends?”

“Yeah.. haven’t you fooled around with some of the girls in your sorority? Don’t any of them notice you?”

“What do you mean, like… my academics?”

The dialogue gets worse, but that’s minor compared to the other issues I have with realistic representation in this film. 

As a dudebro in the comments made sure to point out, the two of them are playing the worst game of chess in the history of fake chess games. There’s no real plot, no real purpose, no real acting – and no real enjoyment. Women do not sit on their beds at home (or at their friends’ for that matter) sitting in a crop top and booty shorts with no bra or underwear. 

And that is certainly not want an orgasm looks or sounds like. 

My dear Grapeshot reader, I don’t know where you’re at with concepts of lesbians and/or porn. Perhaps you are a lesbian. Perhaps you are a pornographer. Nevertheless, since I do want all of us to start out on the same page.

Lesbian porn is not for lesbians.

In fact, in the production and consumption of lesbian pornography, there are very few lesbians involved at all. Few lesbians star in lesbian porn, few lesbians (or even women) direct lesbian porn, and few lesbians watch lesbian porn.

By “lesbian porn”, I am not referring to home movies produced by women in the comfort of their own homes and uploaded for fun.  Rather, I am specifically referring to professionally filmed, directed and produced girl-on-girl content. Content that is produced on such a massive scale that plot, acting and pleasure are all brushed aside to make way for the real priority: objectification.

Don’t believe me?

Just go to pornhub dot com and type in “lesbian”, and you’ll have over 200 000 videos illustrating exactly this.

You might argue that any pornography essentially objectifies people. While I’m neither a gender studies nor media student, I would respectfully disagree. The definitive property of sexual objectification is its dehumanising quality: you are objectified when you are stripped of your own wants, needs, thoughts and desires and merely positioned as an object for someone else’s sexual enjoyment.

And given that it is men who are the primary consumers of these films? This is clear pandering to the male gaze.

Women in mainstream lesbian porn are rarely genuinely attracted to women. In an informal interview with Nikki Hearts, pornographic actress Gia Paige attests that her own attraction to women is an anomaly amongst “lesbian porn stars”.

“I’ve had girls tell me that they hate doing girl-on-girl right before we start shooting,” she admits.

By no coincidence, Paige is the only actress (from any of the three full pages of lesbian porn that were consulted) who explicitly and verbally asks their partner’s consent before touching them. The film is called “Lesbian Sorority Sisters Eat Out With The Pizza Delivery Girl” and also contains the line “she’s just a slut that’s her full time job” so like it’s not exactly an upstanding example of ethical lesbian pornography.

In preparing for this review, many different pornographic lesbian films were consulted. Each and every one of them prioritised and idealised constructions of lesbianism that fit the male gaze. That is, actresses in lesbian porn are typically slim, young white women with large breasts. Women with long hair and nails, flat stomachs, and little clothing.

To the man reading this who just muttered “but that’s everyone’s type!”: Ding dong, you are wrong.

I don’t have time, even in a longform review, to get into a debate about how “everyone has a type” and “you can’t tell a girl is gay by looking at her”. Both of these statements are absolutely true and correct. But you’ll need to trust me when I say that “flagging” is a real and legitimate thing, and that the “classic, conventional beauty” that y’all think is everyone’s type is not the type that queer women typically go for.

Look, both myself and my gorgeous girlfriend have long hair, and I’m not saying that lesbians don’t. But that is why we have a collection of hair-ties on the bedside table, and the fact that I saw absolutely no hair-ties in these videos? Fake. Lesbians. 

And it’s true that some lesbians have long nails. No, seriously, queer girls reading this, I swear on my life that it is true and possible to have long nails while engaging in lesbian sex. But when it happens, it is absolutely not the vaginally-shredding intense pounding with nails out like that. It hurts. Who directed this shit?

The most popular lesbian porn films typically fall into two categories: plotless, or seduction plot. “MILF seduces straight girl”. “Seduced by lesbian massage”. Even when the title doesn’t explicitly involve seduction, it involves two college girls sitting on a bed and one of them saying “but I’ve never been with a girl before.”

Nearly every film consulted included scissoring, which, honestly – guys, it’s 2019? Seriously? Like every mainstream lesbian comedian has told you that that isn’t a thing. Do you know how confusing it is to grow up gay and then try and make that work? God