UCI Reinforcement of Lesbian Stereotypes in Showtimes The L Word Discussion


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Samira Gonzalez
Reinforcement of Lesbian Stereotypes in Showtime’s The L Word
Showtime’s queer, drama series The L Word, (2004-2009) since its debut has become
a staple and vital show within the LGBTQ+ community, specifically for those who
are a part of the lesbian or women loving women community. The series was
revolutionary during the time of its release, being the first its kind in bringing lesbian
representation to cable television. The L Word revolves around a group of lesbian and
bisexual friends who live in West Hollywood; it follows the group’s journey as they
navigate through their messy and intertwined relationships, both platonic and
romantic, that occur within the group as well as outside of it. The TV series is very
explicit in its queerness, aside from the main focus being the queer sexualities of the
characters, there is also a very clear depiction of, almost soft-core porn, lesbian sex.
Through the course of six seasons the series is thought to give audiences an insight on
the lives of queer women, bringing represtation to a group of people that historically
have been a “ghostly figure in visual culture,” (Moore 5). While the show became of
great importance to many viewers, specifically queer women, by helping them to
finally feel seen, the show was far from perfect in its depiction of queer women and
their queer relationships. Along with the show’s lesbian representation on cable TV
came exaggerated reinforcement of stereotypes such as toxic hook up culture and
limitations of monogamy/marriage between queer women. The L Word, although it
gives queer women agency in their freedom of sexual expression, it is also a detriment
to their community by enforcing toxic stereotypes that promotes homophobic
preconcieved ideas of queerness in women.
Diving deeper into the production and reception of The L Word gives people an
insight on the effects that the series had on audiences, specifically audiences within
the queer community. Candance Moore, in her article “Having It All Ways: The
Tourist, the Traveler, and the Local in ‘The L Word,’” states, “The L Word both
suggests altered standards of pleasure and problematizes the act of representing queer
realness,” (7). While the show provided the community of queer women with some
form of representation and pleasurable entertainment that demonstrated a sense of
overt and liberated sexual expression, it also gave audiences unrealistic and even
problematic expectations of queer relationships between queer women. Moore
continues by stating that “The L Word slowly works to acculturate its straight
viewership, allowing them to feel as if they are “discovering” authentic knowledge of
the exotic lesbian “other,” (Moore 5).
In the video posted on YouTube in 2014 by the channel Pillow Talk, which is
run by two queer women who also happen to be fans of the show, they talk about their
favorite and least favorite moments that occurred in the show. During the video they
state, that The L Word is “the most beloved and hated lesbian show of the decade,”
and the two go on to sarcastically say “if you havent watched The L Word, are you
even gay?” (Pillow Talk). These statements coming from fans who watched the show
as it was airing on cable television further supports that within the fandom there is a
recognition that the show is not an amazing show, but has become an important part
of the queer community. The two women also continue by sarcastically asking “How
do you even understand what being a lesbian is until you’ve watched The L Word?”
and proceeds to tell their viewers that they should click off their video and watch The
L Word if they have not already; later on towards the end of the video they make a
disclaimer saying, “don’t watch The L Word and think that is what real lesbian life is
like,” (Pillow Talk). Again there is a clear understanding that although the show has
been ingrained in queer women culture it does not reflect “real” queer women or their
“real” culture at all; regardless it remains as entertainment that has been put on a
pedistal not for their outstanding representation of queer women but for being the first
of its kind.
From the beginning of the show’s premiere audiences are thrown into the erocticism
of lesbianism. Season one’s pilot episode, very explicitly depicts lesbian sex, placing
viewers in a position as, what Moore likes to call it, a tourist. Viewers bear witness to
an explicit scene of sexual engagement between Shane, one of the show’s main
protagonists, and a random girl in Bette and Tina’s outdoor pool. The shots and angles
of the camera leave little work for the audience’s imagination, showing every bit of
skin possible. The show “begins it’s tour by ‘providing’ bodies queer by displaying
them engaged in queer sex acts,” which later on in the episode seems to recoil from a
libertating sexual expression of queer women to a heterosexual fetishization (Moore
6). While Shane’s pool hook up serves as revolutionary for queer representation on
cable television, Jenny’s peeping and retelling of the incident to her boyfreind Tim as
they both get off to it, forces lesbian sex back into an ereotic heterosexual fetish that
serves to bring pleasure to straight audiences. With instances like these the show’s
producers seem to “cash in on the fact that within heteronormativity, objectifying
lesbian sex is considered sexy,” (Moore 9). Thus taking away from the agency of
queer people and their repesentation, while simultaneously reverting to a homophobic
framing of lesbians being objects that are confined to a hetersexual fixation.
Although The L Word centers around a group of queer women, it does very little to
deal with problems that the queer community faces or even properly depicts
lesbianism in a more realistic way and instead adopts a heternormative gaze that
“perpetuates lesbianism itself as a limiting category,” (Lee, Meyer 246). From this
first instance of lesbian sex in the show followed by its fetishization by a staright
couple places queerness in women as an exotic commodity for hetersexaul viewers,
thus limiting their expression outside of already established stereotypes. Other
stereotypes being that lesbians are femine presenting bodies that engage with other
femine presenting bodies, excluding masculine presenting women or those who fall
somewhere in the middle. While Shane is slightly more masculine than the rest of the
women in the group of friends she still falls somewhere between a soft butch or even
chapstick lesbian which still allows her to keep some of her femininity. “These
images merely replace conventional representations that purport heteronormitivity and
homophobia, ultimately subjecting lesbian representation to a continued hegemonic
position in the landscape of television,” (Lee, Meyer 244).
“despite the gains in visibility and even in intimacy, the show offers little to no coping
mechanisms for the underlying problems of heterosexim and homophobia other than
avoidance,” (Lee, Meyer 235).
“Critics commented on the program’s inadequate engagement with political debates
relevant to the everyday lives of ‘real’ lesbians,” (Burns, Davies 180).
“Despite the gains made in visibility for lesbian characters on television, they are still,
more often than not portrayed in heterosexually oriented narrative and tailored almost
explicitly for a hetersexual audience,” (Lee, Meyer 236).
Works Cited
Burns, Kellie, and Cristyn Davies. “Producing Cosmopolitan Sexual Citizens on The L
Word.” Journal of Lesbian Studies, vol. 13, no. 2, Apr. 2009, pp. 174–188.
EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/10894160802695353.
Lee, Pei-Wen, and Michaela Meyer. “‘We All Have Feelings for Our Girlfriends:’
Progressive (?) Representations of Lesbian Lives on the The L Word.” Sexuality &
Culture, vol. 14, no. 3, Sept. 2010, pp. 234–250. EBSCOhost,
Moore, Candace. “Having It All Ways: The Tourist, the Traveler, and the Local in ‘The L
Word.’” Cinema Journal, vol. 46, no. 4, 2007, pp. 3–23.,
www.jstor.org/stable/30137717. Accessed 31 Oct. 2020.
“The L Word- Pillow Talk.” Youtube, uploaded by UnsolicitedProject, 3 Feb. 2014,

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