Friday, March 9, 2012

Slate's strong bisexual women are nothing of the sort

Lost Girl's Anna Silk and Ksenia Solo. Source.

A mere four days after I wrote a piece chastising Entertainment Weekly's Ken Tucker for reinforcing homosexual stereotypes and perpetuating the "no bisexuals" trope, Slate decided to up the ante with an analysis of a new trend: strong bisexual women on TV. (The article discusses three characters, which is apparently enough to constitute a "trend" these days. It's similar to the incest "trend" that was the talk of the TV world at the end of last year, which also consisted of... three whole examples.)

At first glance, these characters - Kalinda from The Good Wife, April from the new Showtime series House of Lies, and Bo, the protagonist of a Syfy show called Lost Girl, which is apparently a thing that exists - seem to call into question the "no bisexuals" trope. After all, these three women are tough characters who are open about their attraction to both men and women. This seems like an indication that even the most staid and old-fashioned TV networks - The Good Wife is on CBS, for god's sake! - are starting to recognize and legitimize the existence of bisexuality. Right?

Not so much. The article's starts out promisingly enough by talking about Kalinda (Archie Panjabi), who "doesn't identify as bisexual - or accept any other label, for that matter," and whose sexual preferences are "just one aspect of the air of mystery that surrounds her." The description is slightly in danger of crossing into femme fatale territory, but it generally makes Kalinda's bisexuality sound like a thoughtful character choice, rather than a ploy designed to titillate and increase ratings. Which is more than can be said for the other two characters. Here's the article's description of Bo:
She grew up believing herself to be a killer kisser - literally - so you can imagine the relief when she learns she isn't human. Instead, she's a supernatural seductress known as succubus, part of the Fae, who are divided into two clans, light and dark.
Even ignoring the sub-True Blood mythology at play here, the fact that this supposed "strong bisexual woman" is a literal succubus - as in, a demon who seduces people in order to kill them - is extremely worrisome.

The bisexual succubus, however, has nothing on the article's third example, April. Apparently, for this character, "being bisexual is mostly about being hot and uninhibited," and rather than presenting the character's sexuality as any sort of legitimate sexual preference, "her 'soft spot for cute girls' is played as a turn-on." That's not respectful treatment of a non-standard sexuality. It's a porn set-up.

I'm not against this type of bisexual fantasy scenario per se. There's nothing wrong with hot people hooking up just for the sake of hot people hooking up. The problem, however, is that these are the only representations of bisexuality that we're getting. (Apparently, the "no bisexuals" rule now applies to everyone except hot chicks.) And the notion that bisexuality does not exist, that it's just a ploy used by women who want to show everyone how uninhibited they are, and that this type of sexual experimentation is morally damaging, is alive and well, as Gawker's new "resident therapist" and unmitigated ass, Anonymous, demonstrated in a recent column.

When asked whether he (or she, but I'm going with he on this one) thinks bisexuality is a myth, he starts off reasonably enough, saying that he has treated people who have "an equal, almost unbiased emotional and physical attraction for both sexes, so I think it can exist," it all goes downhill from there. First, Anonymous insults any woman who has experimented with bisexuality by implying that all bisexual experimentation is just an attempt to by sexy:
Bisexuality has become among women has become a perpetuation of the fucked up standards our society holds for what is desirable and edgy. A drunken make-out with another girl in college does not denote bisexuality. That is what females have ingested as what a man wants; a sexually expressive girl who is not afraid to get wild and to give a big fuck you to society.
While this is probably true for some women who engage in "drunken make-outs" with other women, it is also incredibly insulting to women who are actually confused and experimenting with their sexuality, which can be a very painful experience. (In an earlier question in the same column, Anonymous describes in detail and with obvious empathy a young, male patient's long, tentative, painful coming-out process, which involved assessing the young man's sexuality on a "continuum" and not "pigeonholing" his preferences into a specific category. Apparently, however, only men deserve that type of kind, compassionate treatment.)

It gets worse. When asked if women who experiment sexually are more prone to self-destruction, Anonymous answers with "a resounding yes," and goes to say that "women who experiment have, in my experience, faced higher levels of guilt and a lack of identity as their lives begin to settle down." Aside from demonstrating a complete lack of self-awareness on the author's part - I am forced to wonder if he would be willing to say things like this were he not protected by anonymity - this comment illustrates the type of thinking that lurks under the bisexual temptress stereotype that defines Bo and April. When Slate equates a "strong bisexual woman" with a succubus and a male fantasy, there is some seriously skewed thinking going on.

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