Lesbians on TV: fewer ponytails please!
The May edition of Diva dropped through my letterbox last week, its front cover advertising a subject close to my heart: Lesbians on TV. Even the obligatory picture is there of (Brookside characters) Beth Jordache and Margaret Clemence kissing. Diva's round-up of key lesbian TV moments over the last 40 years tells us that "Theses have been written on the significance of that kiss between Beth and Margaret." Indeed they have. I believe I contributed a thesis of my own.Are we really still so obsessed with that kiss from 1994? It seems so. My take on that kiss continues to be a popular draw to my website, and yes, I reproduce the picture there too. I'm sure most ignore the words and come in search of immediate visual pleasures. But sometimes it is also important to stand back and to analyse the TV storylines and representations.
Last month, the BBC was criticised by Stonewall for its mainly negative or virtually non-existent representation of lesbians and gay men. Read the report, Tuned Out: the BBC's portrayal of lesbian and gay people. While there have been a few sneers at Stonewall for its fairly simplistic methodology - monitoring 168 hours of peak time TV on BBC One and BBC Two - the issues being challenged here are significant in highlighting wider attitudes and assumptions about lesbian and gay identities, both on- and off-screen. During the 168 hours monitored, lesbians were referred to in positive and non-stereotyped ways for just one minute and 10 seconds.
Of course, Diva reminds us that BBC One and Two are not the only channels - and being lesbians we're very good at understanding that. My favourite portrayals in recent months were accessed on DVD, but had their original airing on TV: Sugar Rush (Channel 4) and The L Word (Living TV). The dykey viewing options must be improving for I didn't even watch Sugar Rush first time round and it hadn't crossed my mind that I might wish to invest in a satellite TV package in order to keep up with the latest season of The L Word - well, not until I watched all 4 DVDs of the first season in a weekend's sitting. I'm now desperately looking forward to the DVD of Season 2, but managing to keep myself in check by having purchased a copy of Reading the L Word: Outing Contemporary Television. It's cheaper than a subscription to Sky!
Above all, the measure of how much my relationship with lesbians on TV has changed since 1994 is this: nothing could encourage me to watch Eastenders, not even the chance of viewing another lesbian soap snog.
Like Stonewall, who found little evidence of a broad portrayal of lesbian and gay lives, my disillusionment with lesbians on TV has much to do with my bugbear that lesbian portrayals on TV almost inevitably involve ponytails. That there are lesbians with long hair in this world has not passed me by. But quite frankly, a lot of it on TV is unnecessary and gets in the way of my viewing pleasure. Once in a while it would be good to receive the affirmation that short-haired lesbians do exist - and that short-haired lesbians can be considered attractive.
So I will be conducting my own media watch: monitoring the construction of compulsory femininity in lesbian portrayals on TV. The BBC may be pleased to learn this isn't restricted to them. Please join in.