Friday, April 25, 2014

Lesbian Feminist Fantasy: The L Word

Shane: Queer Performance

            The fluidity of gender expression allows one to follow their true desires, unshackled by the repressed societal binary, submitting to one’s inner plurality of identities. Erving Goffman explains that our identity is not a linear, fixed progression, and instead represents a multiplicity of representations; we all lead multiple roles within our daily life, and we express them in different ways. As an example of queer performance and ideology within television, as well as diving into a world of lesbian feminism in theory and action, The L Word portrays an array of personalities and identities, a stunning display of fluid sexualities, as well an unusual representation of androgyny on a primetime series.
The audience is immersed in a seemingly realistic portrayal of the lives of a group of Lesbian/Queer/Transgendered/Bisexual/Straight/Fluid women in Los Angeles. In many ways the series is comparable to many other drama series, both daytime and primetime, as the characters switch between romantic partners, cope with death and disease, experience financial and employment issues, struggle with both conceiving and raising a child, and the like of. However, the deportation from the average drama series lies within the diversity of sexualities and gender expressions from the female characters on The L Word. Never before has there been a more positive, and enlightening representation of female characters, far from the 1950’s housewife portrayal of powerless, submissive, soft spoken, and unrealistic women. This series proves that lesbianism is not a mere act of french-kissing your best friend at the bar to impress a boy, as well as celebrating the female orgasm as something society does not need to be afraid or ashamed of.

            The value of the numerous sexual scenes, which is shown in almost every episode, goes beyond simply the pornographic and sexual satisfaction of its viewers. This is a liberating move, pleasing for Third Wave Feminists everywhere, as the personal becomes the political within the spotlight of the television. The viewers of the series are able to see that a woman’s sexual desires and personal pleasure is a perfectly normal and a healthy part of life and relationships. These scenes go beyond the standard missionary position of intercourse, and plays upon multiple forms of expression and fore play, which is counter to the traditional portrayal of Puritan-esque sex being a functional tool for procreation. In one instance within Season 2, Alice, the bisexual of the group, enjoys a brief period of sexual encounters with a ‘Vampire Lesbian’, which included her being shackled to the ceiling, unable to move her hands, and subject to the sexual exploration of her vampire lover. The value in displaying these unique forms of sexual identity and expression, is for the audience to be exposed to a variety of sexual encounters that oppose the heteronormative view of intercourse, and prove that those who venture outside of the norm are not crazed sexual deviants, but everyday members of a productive society who may very well share the cubical next to you at work.
  Women are shown in this series to enjoy having more than one sexual partner at a time, especially in regards to Shane, who counters the traditional gender binary and the rigid expectations of femininity. As an opposition to the traditional ‘slutshaming’ of female sexuality and promiscuity, Shane embraces her identity as one who’s not to be tied down to one person, fluidly moving between women, whenever her whim desires. To further illustrate this, within Alice’s apartment, there’s a dry-erase board with all of the main characters names, and lines are drawn to link the women to each other, as well as other women who they have been romantically involved with. This visually creates the image of sexual fluidity, and further explains that the people they’ve slept with can be linked to essentially the rest of the world. This notion goes beyond sexual orientation and gender, and complicates matters by suggesting the fact that desire is not linked to our sexual orientation, but instead comes from an intrinsic feeling that doesn’t fit into neat categories, such as gay or straight.

This positions the belief of queer performance theory, in which one often ‘performs’ a multiplicity of actions and mannerisms, which counter the traditional feminine or masculine standards. Shane, for instance, embraces an androgynous persona. She doesn’t fit into either masculine or feminine ideals, but instead blurs these fine lines. She can be seen wearing skinny jeans, being a traditionally more feminine approach to pants, as well as a masculine-looking blazer, and a plain masculine-contouring T- Shirt. She seems to often be emotionally repressed, as well as aggressive, being commonly masculine associated traits. However, she works as a hairdresser, which is categorized as a very feminine position, and adds another dimension that complicates the heteronormative categorical system:

“The politics of difference that emerged in response to this critique distinguishes between Woman- the unitary and illusory subject, characterized by a set of qualities largely derived from white “middle-class” experiences- and women, the concrete historical beings who find themselves caught up in gendered relations…” (Kath 17)

            Our physical appearance, as well as our mannerisms, are all calculated in order to ‘police’ one’s gender, as a result of one’s performance being mainstream or not. Shane is an outlier in this regard, and thus questions our typical belief of what exactly being a woman is, and what qualifies as a legitimate feminine performance. As discussed by Kath, these markers are more complex than being based solely off biological gender, but are often influenced by racial distinguishers as well. The realization that these gender performances are completely socially constructed, gives in to the theory of countering the mainstream normative, and embracing the ideals of the queer performance theory, much like Shane represents.
The beauty of the L Word relates to the fact that it makes its viewers question everything they may have believed was true and standard, and muddies the waters of heteronormative standards. Whether you’re gay, straight, transgendered, republican, or a practicing atheist- this series will tug your emotions, and give you a sense of community with the characters, as well as a better understanding of one’s self.

 Shane, in all her glory.

Works Cited

Goffman, Erving. The presentation of self in everyday life. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1959. Print.
Weston, Kath. “Do clothes make the woman?: Gender, performance theory, and lesbian eroticism.” Genders 17 (1993): 1-21

1 comment:

  1. Well written post! I've never seen this show before but I'm very intriqued and excited to watch it. I thought you quote from Goffman really hit home "identity is not a linear, fixed progression, and instead represents a multiplicity of representations; we all lead multiple roles within our daily life, and we express them in different ways" I agree that it is very important by depicting the idea of sexual fluidity, and fighting against stereotypes and our constant need to feel as though we have to label someone strictly by their sexual orientation--rather "it's an intrinsic feeling that doesn’t fit into neat categories, such as gay or straight." Great post!


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