Finding any queer women on television was once like searching for a needle in a haystack: difficult, annoying, and rarely worth it. Even if you did get lucky, chances are the writing would have been terrible and the representation would be ripe with negative stereotypes. Luckily things are changing now. In fact the media has been in a process of change for quite some time. It’s an age of acceptance. Not everywhere and certainly not by everyone, but a lot more than previously. Slowly but surely representation for the LGBTQ community is increasing. The need for representation can’t be overlooked. Everyone should be able to see themselves on television, yet for a long time that hasn’t been possible. Too often television has been too white, too straight, and too male. Now don’t get me wrong, straight white males should be able to see themselves on television but shouldn’t everyone else get the same opportunity? Why, in 2015, do we still allow one specific group to dominate our screens? Aren’t we all bored of it yet? I know I am. It’s time to make the change. Life offers an eclectic mix of people, with different appearances, different genders, and different sexualities. Television needs to mirror this diversity.
The past few years have been undeniably great for feminism. With so many high profile celebrities joining the feminist conversation, some of the stigma that has long surrounded the word has been removed. Stand out moments like Emma Watson’s “He for She” talk at the headquarters of the UN and Beyoncé’s sampling of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TEDx talk in her song Flawless have helped open the doors to mainstream culture for feminism. However, while this is a great win for the fight for equality, it’s just not enough. Mainstream feminism is often too oversimplified. Many people’s own personal view of feminism doesn’t do as much as it could to ensure that it’s a fully inclusionary movement. Which, for a concept that aims for equality, is ridiculous. It’s time we started being more actively aware of how important feminism is for everyone, including people of colour, the transgender community, and the queer community.
This idea of an oversimplified version of feminism runs over to television. There is a popular version of feminism that we often see on television that we can look at as the middle class, white woman feminism. It has been called the Liz Lemon of feminism. That is to say, the version of feminism that is often too self-serving, and too focussed on a specific set of problems that only affect one demographic of women. However, feminism needs to be intersectional to allow it to benefit everyone. By showing feminist characters on television that help advocate and support the LGBTQ community, a role model is offered for real women. People are more likely to support a cause if they see their favourite characters doing the same.
The popularity of television shows such as Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black have done a great deal to remove the stigma around queer characters, proving not only that these type of shows can be successful but that they can become mainstream hits. Yet something must be said about one of the best shows for representation being set in a prison. Of course, there are some more positive instances of queer representation. ABC Family is making waves with its drama The Fosters that follows an interracial lesbian couple raising a family of adopted children. Showing this type of non-traditional family operating so successfully is the type of representation that has the ability to inform and change people’s views.
Teen shows are often slightly more liberal when it comes to sexuality with shows such as ABC Family’s Pretty Little Liars and MTV’s Faking It becoming popular in that demographic. This is possibly when representation is most important as this is the age when a lot of people are figuring out who they are. Yet children’s TV shows are woefully heteronormative. From a young age kids are being set up with the harmful idea that everyone is straight. If children were taught about these differences from a young age, perhaps sexuality would finally start to become less of an issue.
One area of television that seems to be doing surprisingly well with representation is sci-fi. BBC America’s Orphan Black, a show about female clones, includes multiple queer characters in main roles and a transgender man in a recurring role. Another sci-fi show, Lost Girl, succeeds in not only LGBTQ representation but in its portrayal of female sexuality as a whole.
Yet despite the positive instances of representation, there are still major issues. Queer characters are often poorly characterised and follow classic TV tropes, while being forced into character arcs about their sexualities. These stories are important but they shouldn’t be the only ones that are told. We need less stories that are about people being defined by their sexualities, and more stories about people who just happen to not be straight, without that becoming the point of the story.
There are some shows however that are hitting representation on the nail. The CW’s hit The 100 is set in a post-apocalyptic future world where gender, sexuality, and race are non-issues. This gives them the unique opportunity to tell stories more freely, without the constraints of today’s society. The characters on the show aren’t phased by such things as homosexuality, so why should we be? What’s great about The 100 is that they’re not wasting this opportunity. They didn’t just throw in a token gay character in a secondary or tertiary storyline; they made their protagonist bisexual. Yet it’s just one facet of who the character is. It’s one element of a well written, complex character that goes a long way in providing positive representation for queer women.
More shows need to make the bold move. While it’s clear that representation has improved, it’s not enough. We’re a long way from what we deserve. A long way from representation for everyone. It’s time we all step up and start making this happen. Showrunners need to take a more active approach to creating well written queer characters. As viewers we need to be less accepting of the slightest bit of representation and more vocal about the desperate need for more. If television offered more characters that questioned their views on sexuality instead of a Yes or No situation then we might see a gradual incline towards progression.
Esther Nassaris is a Media and Communication student and freelance writer who currently blogs at https://tvforfeminists.wordpress.com/