Friday, November 14, 2008

"Look, dude! Lesbians!"

By Elizabeth Winkler

Why do (most) guys drool over the sight of two women making out, while girls remain completely indifferent to the same sight in men? Straight women don’t watch lesbian sex, gay men don’t watch straight (or lesbian) sex, lesbians don’t watch straight sex: what is it about ‘lesbians’ – real or performative – that captivates male sexual fantasy, and what are the implications of such a captivation?

Most immediately, it seems that the pleasure men derive from watching lesbians emphasizes the extent to which women generally are rendered the object of the male gaze. The objectified woman functions as the site of male entertainment, and the otherness of lesbian sexuality to the realm of the real (heterosexuality) only makes the staged-ness of female sexuality more explicit. The fantastic show provided by the gawked-at lesbians can thus be said to simply serve as a heightened instance of the theatrical lens through which women are all too often viewed.

But there is also something notably voyeuristic in this particular instance of the male gaze, whether the men are watching lesbians from across the eating club or on their favorite porn website. Admittedly, porn by its nature is voyeuristic, but the voyeurism of lesbian sex is entirely distinct from whatever voyeurism laces the viewing of heterosexual porn: unlike heterosexual sex, lesbian sex is an act in which a man can never engage; it is this precise element – his displacement from the act – that defines lesbian sexual activity, seemingly rendering male displacement the root of his fascination and pleasure. Because he cannot take part in it, he watches it, and in watching it transforms it into an act that no longer exists for the women’s pleasure but for his own. (Think, for instance, how often straight women make-out just to please male on-lookers.)

Arguably, of course, a man can engage in lesbian sex: this would be when it becomes a ‘three-some.’ But again, this form of sexual activity only serves to underscore female inferiority to male sexual pleasure. 1) 3-ways are almost exclusively constituted as 2 women, 1 man; rarely, 2 men, 1 woman, and when that is the case, one must go out of the way to explain to it as such – an exception to the rule. 2) When a man engages in sex with two women, there is no sense of reciprocity in the relationship but instead a master-servant dynamic: the women – especially as depicted in porn – become his sex slaves.

Finally, the male desire to watch lesbian sex subverts the potential subversion of heterosexuality that is female homosexuality; the power these women wield in renouncing sexual desire for men is re-appropriated by men when they claim pleasure in viewing such an act. On some subliminal level, can this in part account for their need to claim pleasure in viewing lesbians? Can the fact that lesbian sex is transformed into their source of pleasure (rather than the lesbians’) be understood as the male attempt to not be excluded from this form of sexual activity?


At November 15, 2008 at 9:22 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

There are too many generalizations here to even number. Why do feminists insist on speaking about sex in terms of female individuality (every woman is different; every woman has the right to sexual choice), and then continually refer to sex so monolithically? All--or at least "most"--lesbian sex is like x; all/most heterosexual male experience watching said sex is like y. And more importantly, why does anyone--much less a feminist (!)--have any right to decide what is and is not appropriate consensual sexual behavior? Keep government and religion out of the bedrooms, right?! Well, how about keep the lit crit theorists out of there as well?!

At November 15, 2008 at 11:07 AM , Anonymous Chloe Angyal said...

Except that it's not really the bedroom that Elizabeth's talking about. It's pornography, which despite private consumption is incredibly public: it's widely available and practically mainstream in its presence in popular culture. Just because it's about sex doesn't mean we can't talk analytically about it. Especially if, like pornography, it's a segment of popular culture that overwhelming privileges male desire and male pleasure and objectifies women.

At November 16, 2008 at 11:50 AM , Blogger mikki said...

I think it is fairly wrong to say most women are turned off by two dudes getting it on. Try reading some fan fiction, for one thing.


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