Fetishization or discrimination?

With 'lesbian' being the third most searched for on Pornhub in 2021, it's time to talk about the misogynistic roots of lesbian fetishization.

Neve Watson
24th February 2022
Image: @sharon-mccutcheon via Unsplash
Lesbian history is often erased when discussing LGBTQ+ history because it was never outlawed in England, as though this suggests that their struggles are not as significant as others within the community. Truthfully, whilst lesbianism is legal within England, this does not mean there isn’t an issue and thin line between discrimination and fetishization.

Pornhub’s Year in Review recorded ‘lesbian’ being the most searched for term in 2017, with it falling only slightly to the third most searched for in 2021. Also in 2017, 64% of the LGBTQ+ community in England experienced hate crimes, rising by 19% between March 2019 and March 2020. These simultaneous occurrences are baffling to me; how hate crimes can increase whilst porn searches continue to climb. I genuinely believe this is a power dynamic: you can publicly denounce a certain group of people and yet profit sexually. Whilst Pornhub didn’t disclose the viewer demographics, I have no doubt that men who watch and have pleasure in lesbian porn have roots in misogyny, whether this is a conscious awareness or not.

Image: @franquito4133 via Unsplash

Although legislation has been passed through government, it cannot be denied that there is still very far to go. I’m aware of how lucky I am in growing up and identifying as a lesbian throughout the late 2010s when most of the legislation had already been passed to decriminalise LGBTQ+ relationships, but people like to believe it’s further in the past than it is. My mum was eight years old when Section 28 was passed through Thatcher’s Government, banning the discussion and ‘promotion’ of LGBTQ+ teaching in schools, and was only repealed when I was turning two. That is insane in my eyes: that this anti-gay legislation was around both when my mum was growing up in the 90s and after she’d given birth to me.

My first relationship began when I was sixteen. Although my friends never made me feel excluded or different, I do think that there was added pressure with this being one of the few - if only - gay female relationships in my year group. I come from a small town, and I’d still argue that it suffers from a small-town mentality. I remember our hesitance in revealing our relationship. Of course, other factors impacted our choice too, and I was lucky that I had access to media that showed and normalised gay relationships. There was a risk in acting like a couple when walking the streets, in a town where everybody knows everybody, and your business is never just your own.

It was only in September 2020 that all secondary schools have been required by law to teach about LGBTQ+ relationships and sexual education. Again, this is insane to me. In an age where we seem to pride ourselves on being accepting, I had already left high school by the time it was legal to incorporate LGBTQ+ teachings in education.

I had already left high school by the time it was legal to incorporate LGBTQ+ teachings in education

I cannot deny that I am lucky to be growing up in the years that I am. People are more accepting, but we still have a long way to go. In a world where Florida is considering passing a ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill which shares similarities with Section 28, we need to tackle institutionalised prejudices and fetishization of the LGBTQ+ community.

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