Along with hot pink and oversize handbags, women's magazines are pushing a new trend this season: lesbianism. At least, that is the impression given by this article in this month's O Magazine (featured also today on CNN.com).
The article, entitled "Why Women Are Leaving Men For Other Women," deals with well, exactly what it sounds like it would deal with. While it's a great thing that a mainstream magazine like O is apparently making an effort to normalize same-sex relationships, it's hard not to feel a little weird about the way the author (Mary A. Fischer) treats lesbianism and sexual fluidity as a fun, sexy, new trend that is all the rage this season. (What's next? Flashy new mood rings that change color based on your gender identity?)
To be fair, the O article does seem to have its heart in the right place. It features several different same-sex couples (complete with precious photos) and interviews them about how they got together. Of course, all of the couples include at least one woman who formerly identified as heterosexual (and may still), and these women explain why it was that they chose to start batting for the other team, so to speak. For the most part, their reasoning stems from emotional fulfillment, and the fact that they weren't getting it from their male partners. Could it be that the hypermasculinization of American males is rendering them unfit for heterosexual relationships? Has our culture become so gendered that our only chance at happiness lies in homosexuality? These and many other questions arise when confronted with a so-called "phenomenon" like women leaving men to be with women, and the problem with the article is that it doesn't really ask them. For example, Fischer treats this as a new happening among women in the US, and doesn't touch on the fact that it is most likely that the desire among women to have homosexual relationships hasn't changed, the culture has. Being in a same-sex relationship is slightly less taboo now (for some people, in some areas of the country), so more people are doing it. It's not as though women who had never given a thought to homosexuality are suddenly changing their minds because Cynthia Nixon has a girlfriend, or because Katy Perry sang a song about kissing a girl. Why the shift in cultural acceptance? A better question to ask might be, Has there even been a shift in cultural acceptance? Of the 24 comments left on the O website, many of them are hateful. Says memymine, "It's perversion to what God intended and I feel sorry for the children." Rossjw adds, "Ok Oprah, as a black man I am disgusted by this story. Our community is failing and fallen behind because of I don't need a man mentallity that you foster." Sure, television shows cited in the article like The L Word and Work Out put lesbians into the mainstream, but it doesn't sound like everyone is quite as psyched about it as Oprah. To be fair, media exposure that normalizes homosexuality/bisexuality/polysexuality seems like a good thing, especially in the wake of Prop 8 and other such nonsense. Trivializing sexuality and suggesting that it is changing because of Lindsay Lohan's foray into the LGBTQA community, however, seems a bit silly. (This is not to say that this mass media coverage is a bad thing, just that it is not responsible for a perceived nationwide shift in female sexuality.) The article does at least point out that we know very little about female sexuality as compared to male sexuality from a scientific standpoint, and that many of the commonly held beliefs surrounding sexual orientation stem from scientific research conducted on exclusively male subjects. The studies that have been done more recently on women's sexual responses do show evidence of what O is coining, "sexual fluidity." (They cite the 2003 Northwestern study on this, among others.) Because of this fluidity, some women feel quite comfortable dating partners of more than one gender, without giving it much of a second thought. More than shine a light on a new "fashionable" sexuality, Fischer's piece shines a light on all of the problems we as a society are still struggling with when it comes to gender and sexuality issues. If we could back off a little bit from the gender norms and rigid classifications, it might not be such an issue that an 8-year old girl has a genderqueer stepparent (something touched upon in the article). If we didn't encourage men to be emotionally distant (and straight), we might see more of this sexual fluidity in men as well. And if we didn't insist upon everyone identifying as either a man or a woman to begin with (and saddling themselves with whatever that implies culturally), we might be able to get past all of this weird "trendiness" rhetoric and just see these same-sex couples as what they are: couples. What do you think?