October 13, 2011
Our Responsibility to Lesbian Role Models In the Global Lesbian Community
By Blue Sleighty
The lack of lesbian role models available for the youth of the global lesbian community is worrisome. Lesbians are mostly invisible even though there are hundreds of talented, intelligent and noteworthy women in the world who happen to also be lesbians. Most of the heterosexual community is not the slightest bit interested in noteworthy lesbians, the lesbian community, lesbian youth, or their need for positive role models to identify with. It is, therefore, up to our global community to take the responsibility of providing information to our youth.
Were you to ask the average person to name all of the living lesbians that they could think of who would make good role models for lesbian youth, you would get roughly the same answer from everyone that you asked. They would name some of these women:
Ellen De Generes, Rosie O’Donnell, Wanda Sykes, Queen Latifa, Melissa Etheridge, Sara Gilbert, Meredith Baxter, Margaret Cho, Alicia Hailey, Martina Navratilova, Billy Jean King, and . . . well- that’s about all that would come to the average person’s mind.
Why do we not know about other great women who are lesbians? It’s really all about marketing, or, more correctly NOT marketing. Lesbians do not market themselves well enough. The women listed in the above paragraph are marketed to you with a vengeance. These women have big money behind them, and some have OPRAH behind them which is instant success.
If we do not take it upon ourselves to make information available to our youth in an appropriate manner, they will never have role models to look up to, aspire to, or emulate. We must make it our responsibility to educate LGBT youth.
In this age of the power of the internet it is possible to market availability of information to huge numbers of youth groups on the many social networking communities, YouTube, blogs, websites and more. However, if we are not creating content and getting the information out there- nothing will ever change.
The trick to successful marketing is to reach an interested audience. It’s a man’s world and men only like women that fit their ideal, whether that woman is straight or lesbian. It takes a long time to get past that wall. Men initially feel that if there is no possibility of sex with a woman then there is no point for further conversation. Men prefer women who do not mind being objectified. It takes marketing a very talented, powerful woman or an interesting and non offensive gay man to get a heterosexual male’s attention. It is a waste of money to market lesbians to people who are not interested. Most women who refuse to be objectified (most lesbians prefer not to be objectified) are met with irritation from men and from objectified women and are ultimately rejected. It rocks the boat. It’s a long hard road to acceptance. So why bother? Why leave our need for exposure up to the media powers that be who market to the wrong target audience and create public outrage instead of acceptance and interest? With the internet and all of the interest in independent artists, writers, film makers, musicians and all media produced by indies, women can market themselves and choose their target audience.
Although there have been gay men on television for a much longer time than we have had lesbian television characters- were any of these characters taken seriously? I think they were treated like a dirty joke. Actually- I think they are still treated like they are ridiculous, dirty jokes. Like something that straight men can use to measure their masculinity by or worse.
How many out and proud male talk show hosts do we have? Not many. Only one comes to mind. Anderson Cooper. Cooper, a Vanderbilt, comes from a family of influence and historic notoriety. Anderson Cooper graduated from Yale and has led a wonderfully fascinating life and has had an enviable career. He appeals to a very broad audience and certainly has the credentials to win the respect of most. But he is uniquely unique. We have some gay radio talk show hosts. Anderson Cooper is the only gay television talk show host in the United States and maybe the world that can compete on any level with Rosie O’Donnell and Ellen DeGeneres.
Thanks largely to Oprah (at least in the U.S. for creating interest in the first place), Ellen DeGeneres and Rosie O’Donnell- a few lesbians are becoming more visible and more acceptable. As these women and their presence on television allow the world to see that they are strong, intelligent women with a lot to offer and that their lives are pretty normal except for ‘that one little thing’, the general population is now learning that there is more to a lesbian than her sexual orientation.
Still, in the heterosexual world lesbians that were not on a porn video titillating the sexual fantasies of mainstream male society have largely been considered to be bitches, women’s libbers, ugly, or in some way physically defective women who could never get a man and had to settle for women. How do we change these perceptions? Visibility takes marketing and marketing takes hard work, time and money. And I can tell you this we will have to do it ourselves.
This is an important time in history. For the first time in the history of the U.S. we can have widely loved and accepted out and proud gay and lesbian role models. Our children can now have gay men and lesbians that they can look up to and be proud of as soon as we take it upon ourselves to put the information out there.
Why is it that Rosie O’Donnell is very visible while other lesbians remain invisible? She is MARKETED to you. Of course- if she were a bad product it wouldn’t make much difference- but Rosie is a quality human. Rosie has many things going for her. She is a genuinely talented woman who has worked very hard. She is smart. She gives her all. She gives big to philanthropic causes. She has great connections (which she EARNED). She is able to be confrontational about controversial issues and still come across as nice. Women- both lesbian and straight- are behind her. She is a mom. She says things that many women think but would never actually say and does things that women wish they could do (like taking her children to work and allowing her employees to do the same). Because Rosie has women behind her, she does not have to look like a super model. Women are happy with her best. And she definitely gives us her best. Rosie is a wonderful role model. And- she has Oprah!
Ellen DeGeneres who is also extremely talented and massively appealing in her own right has also been touched by the finger of Oprah, which if one is blessed with it- can’t be denied as a contributing factor to anyone’s success. DeGeneres, too, is worthy. She is talented, intelligent, hard working, and marketed to you in big doses. The world loves Ellen and even accepts her occasional negative publicity with a grain of salt. Another very good role model who is a lesbian.
While the world is now sitting poised for wide acceptance of lesbians and will not only tolerate but welcome and enjoy the talents of many noteworthy lesbians, and possibly celebrate them as role models and great talents and / or influential people, it is up to the individual to market themselves. Remind us that you are out there. And it is up to ALL OF US to spread the word to the world.
We do not have to look for Rosie O’Donnell or Ellen DeGeneres. They are in front of our faces every day. And we love them! We love Wanda Sykes, Jodie Foster, Queen Latifa, Melissa Etheridge, Meredith Baxter, Sara Gilbert and the few others that are in the news and always marketed to us.
Now is definitely the time for homosexual people to show the world what they can do. Because for the first time- we are being judged differently. Most people will look at our work first and our sexual orientation as an added note of interest instead of a reason to shut us out in disgust.
My Secret Obsession