Once upon a time, women were considered the inferior sex whose acts are strictly defined by society. They were restricted to household chores, bearing and rearing children. Education for them was limited to the arts and homemaking. In politics and governance, they had no voice. They could not vote. In certain societies and cultures, females even go to the extreme of being considered as property belonging to their husbands. In a nutshell, female oppression was socially acceptable.
But over the years, women became aware of how society restricts their capacity, realizing that they could do more and be more. Little by little, they try to break-free of the societal chains that bind them. One by one, strong women emerged, unwilling to succumb to the inferior role that society has created for them. The feminists were born.
This paper seeks to determine whether or not The L Word, a breakthrough show about lesbians promotes the cause of feminists – Marxist feminist in particular.
Marxist Feminism Defined
Marxist feminism is defined as “a form of feminism which believes that women’s oppression is a symptom of a more fundamental form of oppression.” (Drislane) It further explained:
“In Frederick Engels’ writing, women’s oppression originated with the development of private property and of regulated family and marital relationships. Men’s control of economic resources develops with settled society and the development of separate spheres of life for the two sexes. In capitalist societies, women become segregated into the domestic sphere and men into the outer world of paid work. Economic and social inequality between the sexes is increased and women’s’ subordination in marriage, the family and in society in general is intensified. Engels assumed that socialist revolution, through which the means of production would become common property, would result in the development of equal access to paid work for both men and women and the consequent disappearance of gendered inequality between the sexes.” (Drislane)
By this definition, it can be seen that, while female oppression is caused by inequalities between men and women, said inequalities are ultimately brought about by capitalism. Therefore, men are not the enemies. It is the capitalist world that dictates that it is the men who is more capable for labor. In effect, it is the capitalism defined who men and women are, what they do and what masculine and feminine roles ought to be.
As such, it is the goal of the Marxist feminists to abolish or eradicate the social class distinctions by proving that the female class is as strong, intelligent and as competent as the male class with respect to labor. Hence, females started to endeavor in male dominated fields to prove that they are equally able individuals. However, because of their desire to do what men do, feminists in the early days may have been misunderstood and mistaken to be lesbians. (Koedt)
Lesbians are simply defined to be women who have sexual relations with women. However women seek to “equate their lesbianism with vanguard radical feminism since they rejected men and sex roles long before there even was a women’s liberation movement”. (Koedt)
While it cannot be denied that some feminists go to the extreme of not only wanting to do what a man can do, but they also want to be with women too, not all feminist are lesbians. However, for the purpose of carrying on the aspiration of Marxist feminist to obliterate the barrier between the female class and the male class, it must be shown that men are women are the same. To some extent, in the minds of a number of women, this would mean that they must be with women too. As such, it may be perceived that lesbians are the ultimate feminist.
A Progressive Show Needed for the Progressive Society
In 2004 Showtime started to broadcast the show The L Word (Chocano). The show was about the lives of six lesbian friends: Bette the art director who is in a relationship with Tina; Marina, the stunning and irresistible owner of the Planet, a favorite coffee shop; Alice the journalist; Dana, the tennis star; and Shane the chronic ‘womanizer’ in the bunch.
Anyone would agree that there are very few lesbians portrayed in the TV shows and movies. After the movie ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ created an impact on the movie industry as a breakthrough for the lesbian community, nothing ever came close. In The Ellen Degeneres Show, while the host is a popular lesbian icon, the show itself isn’t about lesbians.
In history, there was a point where lesbianism is considered to be socially unacceptable. Lesbians were considered as social outcasts who are morally corrupt and who must be avoided. They are even subject to discrimination and abuse. There are those who consider lesbianism as a psychological disease.
However, at present, society is more open-minded and understanding. It is starting to accept that lesbians are indeed a part of our society. They are beginning to be understood and treated as individuals with merely a different sexual preference. Not some mentally ill person as some people used to think.
But despite society’s acceptance to the presence of lesbians, lesbians continue to be minorities in the eyes of the media. As compared to homosexual males, they are significantly under-represented. The number of lesbians coming out are increasing, the society more understanding. Therefore, as members of the human race, they have the right to be equally represented in the media. Certainly, a show that showcases their lives is urgently needed.
In the midst of feel-good shows for women such as Sex and the City and its numerous spin-offs, a show that is about lesbian friends would be a breath of fresh air. Its concept would be definitely new and different. Hence, one would think that The L-Word addresses such under-representation of the lesbian community in media. This show is an attempt to enlighten society with respect to the lesbian community. The L Word would illustrate a lesbian’s way of life to help the world understand who they really are. In this way, the show would promote social acceptance and awareness with respect to the lesbian community.
Marxist feminism is more than just women playing men’s role. It refers more to the eradication of defined masculine and feminine roles. Its goal is for women to break free of the predetermine homemaker role and encourage them to participate in labor. This means that mothers not just limited to taking care of their children and wives are not restricted to merely attending to the household. They participate in their livelihood – a role that is exclusively for men.
However, looking at the relationship of Bette and Tina, it can be seen that The L Word miserably failed to promote the Marxist feminist cause. Bette is an art director who can be usually seen in a suit. She exudes power, aggression and determination. In the show, she represents the typical career woman. Her message: women, just like men, can climb the corporate ladder. However, looking closer, it can be seen that in her relationship with Tina, she is the ‘man of the house’ not only is she the one who is in a power suit, she is also the one that brings home the bacon. Tina on the other hand, represents the typical housewife. She quits her job to have a baby, to establish a family. She is normally submissive to Bette.
This is the exact situation that the Marxist feminist seeks to eradicate: man’s monopoly to labor. While Bette is obviously a woman, her attributes are definitely that of a typical masculine character. It can be easily distinguished her being the “husband” in the relationship, while Tina is the “wife”.
The promotion of the Marxist feminist cause cannot simply be satisfied by putting a woman to play a man’s role. It goes beyond the biological definitions of men and woman. Because what Marxist feminist try to fight against is the delineation of masculine and feminine roles. But looking at Bette and Tina, it would seem to me that the only difference between a heterosexual relationship and a lesbian relationship is the involvement of a penis. There is still one person who pursues a career and another who bears the child. Clearly, there still exist the masculine and feminine roles.
Being a breakthrough program, it seeks to challenge TV’s usual portrayal of masculinity and femininity. As such, one would expect to see non-traditional depiction of the male and female character, a new and complex amalgamation of masculinity and femininity. However, by looking at the rest of the characters, this affirms the conclusion that The L Word fails to promote the eradication of defined masculine and feminine roles.
Shane is the most masculine looking in the group. She completely avoids relationships and is into one night stands with different women. Her message: even women can be polygamous. However, does her character seem familiar? Looks like the typically macho-male image – something that has been already seen a number of times. Just like Tina, Shane is a man’s role played by a woman.
Alice on the other hand is the journalist. She represents the typical single woman: desperate enough to fall for someone who doesn’t treat her right. While it doubted that any feminist would want to relate to this character, this type of disposition is also very familiar. Remember Bridget Jones? The desperate single woman have been played quite often on screen, be it TV or in the movies.
With all these being considered, there is nothing new in the portrayals of masculinity and femininity in this show. Masculine characters are clearly defined and can be easily recognized except for the fact that they are being played by women. This is the same with the female characters.
Conventional Visual Stimulation
Not only does The L Word showcase the typical male and female roles, it also illustrates the typical female appearance. Interestingly all of the characters are conventionally attractive. Except for Tina who is pregnant, all of the five girls are skinny. They are all just beautiful. Are all lesbians this perfect and gorgeous? According to Constance Reeder: “lesbians, the kind who really do exist, are already screaming that tall, thin, impeccably clothed and coifed model-types are hardly representative of our community.”
In all fairness, there are a lot of eye-candy shows all around. Take for example, Sex and the City, Desperate Housewives, Cashmere Mafia and the likes. Clearly, eye-candy shows have the propensity to be successful. People like to see attractive persons on screen. Why then should The L Word be any different?
Unlike The L-Word, Sex and the City, Desperate Housewives and Cashmere Mafia are not breakthrough shows. They do not seek to represent a social minority class like the lesbian community. They do not attempt to make any social impact with their shows. While viewers can learn a thing or two in these shows, that is merely incidental. Because in essence, they are simply eye-candy shows that make the viewers feel good.
Unlike these shows, The L Word is more than just another feel-good show. It is a breakthrough show that showcases the lives of the members of the lesbian community. Such a show must be realistic and more or less accurate. Since it caters to lesbians for a change, lesbians in particular must be able to relate to the characters, to see the likeness of their selves on screen. Unfortunately, despite being a show about lesbians, because of the use of conventionally attractive women, lesbians still feel unrepresented. (Wolfe)
With respect to Marxist feminism, the fact that the show illustrates the conventionally attractive woman is again a deterrent to the advancement of their cause. The drive to eradicate predefined female role should not exclude the predefined female appearance. It would be ridiculous to conclude that while the typical female role is abolished, women must still look a certain way.
Affirming Ego and Satisfying Fantasies
While on the onset, one may think that The L Word caters to lesbians; such belief is not exactly true. Ironically, the first few lines in the first episode involves the line “let’s make a baby”, said by a woman to another woman. Now isn’t that just biologically impossible? Isn’t that a bit insensitive? The first line in a show supposedly created for lesbians involves a quick realization of what they can never do.
The aim to satisfy the male ego is further bolstered by the scene wherein Bette and Tina ‘honored’ the sperm. They were getting a little rough and Bette said they should be careful with the sperm. Not only should they be careful with it, they should honor it. While this dialogue may be intended as a joke, the sarcasm behind it is doubtful. Considering the difficulties Bette and Tina underwent to get that sperm, one would think that they really were serious in honoring the sperm.
In addition, there was this scene where Bette and Tina decide to have a three-way with a guy in the hopes of getting Tina pregnant. The guy attempts to wear a condom, but the ladies told him not to. He refused. Feeling deceived, he walks out on them. An average guy would prefer not to wear a condom because it limits their sensation during intercourse. This is the reason why there are ad campaigns encouraging guys to wear one to prevent transmissible disease, etc. So a guy who is allowed not to wear a condom during sexual intercourse with two beautiful ladies and yet walks away from it is simply unbelievable. (Reeder)
Now there is the unnecessary breast exposure. It’s not just on understandable circumstances like during intimate moments. They expose breast in scenes where it can be dispensable. For example, Jenny gets up from bed and walks toward the window, only wearing black stockings. The fact that she slept half naked to seduce her angered husband and she woke up that way is acceptable. But, she could have covered herself with a blanket. Or the scene could have involved only her bare back. But no, she had to turn around, return to the bed and process how Tim could’ve left her. That was almost three minutes of breasts on screen.
Plus, there are numerous sex scenes. While it is supposed to be a titillating program, this may cause a misinterpretation that there is nothing more to lesbianism than sex between two women. (Fairyington) Interestingly there was a line that attempted to explain the pleasure in the sexual act in a lesbian relationship. It goes: “They have the same equipment, so they know how to use it. How can any man compete with that?” While this line was said by a man obviously devoid of any understanding with the rudiments of homosexual relations, this was the only explanation presented. Albeit its inaccuracy, there was no attempt to correct it.
Evidently, there is more to lesbian relationship than sex and boobs. However, the show fails to present that. According to Reeder “the writers seem more intent on titillating men and assuaging the male ego than in portraying lesbians with dignity.”
The numerous sex scenes verify the once typical female role as sexual objects. This should be highly rejected by the Marxist feminist. Because women’s role as merely to satisfy the man’s sexual urges is the most offensive and oppressive view of women.
In sum, Marxist feminist believes that capitalism by attributing labor to men alone, consequently defined masculine and feminine roles. This classification of men being the subject of labor resulted to the subordination of women as men continuously controlled the livelihood. Thus, this creation of a well-defined masculine and feminine role in society ultimately resulted to female oppression.
In analyzing the alleged breakthrough show: The L Word, it is found that such show does nothing to promote Marxist feminism. On the contrary, it promotes quite the opposite idea and upholds the very principle that Marxist feminist strives to fight. The dynamics of the lesbian relationship between Bette and Tina sustains the masculine and feminine roles with respect to household: men works and women bear children. Despite the fact that both of them are female, the distinction of masculine versus feminine roles is well-defined. Also, the use of conventionally attractive individuals also affirms the idea that women, not only must they act in a certain manner; they must look a certain way, too. Lastly, the frequent breast exposures and sex scenes encourages society to see women as sexual objects – the worst of the female stereotype.
In addition, The L Word brings nothing new to impart to its audience. The overall appeal of the show attracts more male than female. The L Word miserably failed to achieve its purpose to promote social awareness of the lesbian community.
It is quite unfortunate that there is no other conclusion that can be derived but the fact that The L Word not only failed to promote the ideals of Marxist Feminist, but it is actually a travesty to the principles and ideologies of Marxist Feminism.
Reeder, C. (2004). The Skinny on the L Word, Off our Backs, retriever November 19, 2008, from http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3693/is_200401/ai_n9402431/pg_2?tag=artBody;col1
Tulchinsky, K. (2005) Drama queers: who knew that the hot new drama the L-Word featured a slew of Canadian actors, directors and crew members? And that the cafe where much of the drama unfolds. Is located in Vancouver, not LA?(Television Program Review) , Horizon Magazines, retrieved on November 18, 2008 from http://www.accessmylibrary.com/coms2/summary_0286-8510770_ITM
Chocano, C. (2004). ‘L Word’ puts some moves on estranged ‘sex’ watchers. Oakland Tribune. Retrieved on November 18, 2008 from http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4176/is_/ai_n9723229
Wolfe, S., Roripaugh L.A. (2006) The (In)visible Lesbians: Anxieties of Representation in The L Word. Reading The L Word, 43-54.
Moore, C., Schilt, K., (2006) Is She Man Enough? Female Masculinities on The L Word. Reading The L Word, 153-172
Drislane, R., Parkinson, G. Marxist Feminism. Online Dictionary of the Social Sciences. Retrieved on November 24, 2008 from http://bitbucket.icaap.org/dict.pl?term=MARXIST%20FEMINISM
Koedt, A. Lesbianism and Feminism. The CWLU Herstory Website Archive. Retrieved on November 19, 2008 from http://www.uic.edu/orgs/cwluherstory/CWLUArchive/lesbianfeminism.html
Fairyington, S.(2005). Dyke eye for the L Word girl. Advocate.com. Retrieved on November 24, 2008 from http://advocate.com/exclusive_detail.asp?id=02402