It’s no secret that the majority of feminist hot topics, research, and forums are heteronormative. As Audre Lorde in her speech, “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House”, put it best:
“As women, we have been taught either to ignore our differences, or to view them as causes for separation and suspicion rather than as forces for change. Without community there is no liberation, only the most vulnerable and temporary armistice between an individual and her oppression. But community must not mean a shedding of our differences, nor the pathetic pretense that these differences do not exist.”
Lorde brings up the point that in order to truly reach our true potential as a movement, white, cisnormative, heteronormative feminists must acknowledge marginalized communities, specifically lesbians, trans people, people of color, and disabled people. Acknowledging these groups of people means we must realize that– obviously– not everyone grows up the same way, has the same experience through life. Even when it comes to researching archetypes and tropes, they’re centered around heterosexual women and the expectation of marriage, children, and to live a quiet, non-disruptive life.
The lesbian experience is honestly a very isolating, burdensome one. You spend your adolescence knowing you’re different, but you can’t put your finger on it yet. Most if not all lesbians spend their youth trying to overcompensate for their “differentness”. And while you can draw comparisons between the prejudice that heterosexual women face, there’s a specific and devastating kind of prejudice that lesbians go through, besides the obvious lesbiphobia. It’s tainted in a toxic combination of erasure and fetishization– being left out of most social situations, yet your presence is only felt when some weird pervert is asking you to kiss your girlfriend in front of him for his pleasure.
In Annis Pratt’s Archetypal Patterns in Women’s Fiction, a book on the common tropes of women’s literature, a great number of the tropes are about escaping a male centered world, yet despite the freedom of men, it lacks sapphic representation. Sapphic representation meaning love between women, sex between women, something that a lot of heterosexual feminist literature lacks. That’s not to say that all lesbian relationships are healthy, but the inclusion would be a necessary breath of fresh air for the genre.
However, not all aspects of sapphic erasure results in negativity– being seen as the “odd one out”, a strange woman who doesn’t abide by patriarchal standards– it can end in something beautiful. The various trials and tribulations of a young sapphic woman often starts out painfully, being constantly faced with obstacles and setbacks such as being expected to keep up with peers and trying to get boyfriends and boys who just can’t seem to understand rejection. Fortunately, in most cases, as the young sapphic grows, they eventually grow into their own. Their trials have ended in full bloom. All their hard work has paid off and they’ve learned that being “odd” is a good thing; for the most part, it builds a strong character.
The inclusion of these stories is detrimental to not only the feminist narrative, but to the literary narrative as a whole. The publishing industry is severely lacking on lesbian representation, and it’s only in the past couple years that they’ve started publishing sapphic stories (by sapphic authors!) en masse, instead of just through indie companies. It’s a huge problem that can’t go unnoticed, since a large amount of young queer women feel isolated and often turn to popular media like movies, television, and books to escape into. Literature can transport the reader to countless places, real or fictional, dark or fantastical, and yet the lack of lesbian representation in them tends to make a reader doubt the validity of their identity.
The simple solution to this problem is to fix the lack-of-diversity problem in modern media. As Audre Lorde also states in The Master’s Tools:
Women of today are still being called upon to stretch across the gap of male ignorance and to educate men as to our existence and our needs. This is an old and primary tool of all oppressors to keep the oppressed occupied with the master’s concerns. Now we hear that it is the task of women of Color to educate white women — in the face of tremendous resistance — as to our existence, our differences, our relative roles in our joint survival. This is a diversion of energies and a tragic repetition of racist patriarchal thought.
By switching a few words around, this can be applied to heterosexual society as a whole, but in this context, it’s for heterosexual feminism. Lesbians and sapphic women should not have to stoop down and teach you how to treat us like we’re a worthy cause to fight for. Like we’re not some trendy commodity. Like we’re normal people. We should not have to beg for proper representation in the media. We shouldn’t have to beg for scraps. Our young members of the community should not have to face potential ostracization from everyone due to their identity. We need inclusion– not only in the media, and literary tropes, but in the overall feminist movement.