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Special disclaimer for panels I was on:
1. I don't take much in the way of notes while I am paneling and I have a crap memory, so these notes will be even less complete than normal.
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Women Loving Women on TV
The 100, Arrow, Black Sails, Blindspot, Defiance, Empire, The Fosters, Jessica Jones, How to Get Away with Murder, Lost Girl, Orphan Black, Person of Interest, Pretty Little Liars, The Vampire Diaries, and The Walking Dead are just a few shows that have depicted major female characters as lesbian, bisexual, or otherwise romantically and/or sexually interested in other women in the past year. This trend is exciting, so let's dig in to how these shows are succeeding or failing at representation and what we want to see more of in the coming seasons.
M: E. Cabell Hankinson Gathman. Elizabeth Guzik, Renee I, Rosemary / Sophy(gurl)
#womenlovingwomen for twitter
[This was my last panel of the weekend and it was fun but I was also super loopy from lack of sleep and such. I totally accidentally did some comedy about mashing up How to Get Away with Murder and How I Met Your Mother, for example.]
The hashtag for this panel is fantastic (woot for actively participating audience members at a Monday morning panel!!) so check it out for way more than I'll have to say about it.
Cabell started us off asking about positive portrayals. I got excited and listed a bunch more than I was supposed to because I can't help myself. For the record my recs here were:
* Person of Interest (includes a woc! both mentally ill in the "scarybad" ways but get to be heroes! wasn't planned but the actresses had chemistry so they went for it! [sidenote: since this panel happened, they did kill one of the queer women off tho],
* The Fosters (centered on a mixed race lesbian couple! work thru real life couple issues!),
* How to Get Away With Murder (WOC lead of show is bi!),
* UnREAL (character on Bachelor-like shows realizes she is gay and in love with her best friend!), and
* Younger (comedy on TVLand with a 40yo lesbian having a relationship with a 20yo bisexual woman and their differing language uses/cultures!).
From here my notes/remembrances are not going to be in any kind of order but other stuff we covered included....
When asked about women of color representation I re-mentioned some of the shows in the above list, and then added that Empire has some examples that they don't treat very well, and Pretty Little Liars is a show that's super mixed - one of the lead characters is a lesbian woman of color but they don't give her steady love interests in the same way they do her straight counterparts. [Sidenote: PLL also does the "evil secretly trans" trope so huge trigger warnings for that. Ugh I am so ANGRY with this show]
Orange is the New Black brought up as good representation of poc & trans queer representation. (but apparently some problems with the main character?) Everyone loves Laverne Cox!
We talked a bunch about the "dead lesbian" and "bury your gays" trope and how this has been an especially bad year for it. On the one hand, we're getting lots more representation - on the other hand, they all keep getting killed off, often in horrific and tropey ways that perpetuate negative stereotypes such as the tragic queer.
I expounded some specifically about The 100 and what happened to Lexa and how that got the fandom riled up and taking action - see: http://lgbtfansdeservebetter.com/ for some of the organization that came out of it. Some showrunners (mostly Canadian) have come up with and signed "The Lexa Pledge" which outlines some promises about better representation. So far it's just a small handful of showrunners from shows like Saving Hope, Rookie Blue, and Lost Girl.
We talked about how a lot of these deaths this year have come out of shows where "anyone can die", but when you look at who actually does die - it's more often than not women, queer people, and people of color.
Another example of this is The Walking Dead, which has had a grand total of 3 women-loving-women characters and has killed 2 of them off - both of which were love interests for the third.
What makes queer characters worse is when:
* it's the only or one of only a few queer characters in the story to begin with
* the straight characters aren't dying at the same rates
* the death of the queer character is directly related to their being queer or being in a relationship with someone of the same gender
* the death of the queer character is primarily done to further the plot of a straight character
* the queer character is killed off violently, and often accidentally (misfires/meant to shoot someone else) which makes the death even more meaningless
Elizabeth talked about a specific episode of Cold Case that dealt with the murder of a queer woman well, and Cabell talked about that show in general handling these kinds of things well because they examine the ways in which people from marginalized communities were killed and why their murders took so long to be solved.
Elizabeth talked about the lack of different bodies being represented with queer women on TV. We only get to see the really femme pretty skinny types, but there is such diversity they could be showing. Cabell linked this to real life studies about medical institutions focusing on getting lesbians to lose weight because, idk, reasons. Ugh.
Elizabeth also talked about being into genre fiction, but how it often lets her down so she has to go elsewhere for representation. She talked some about Call the Midwife as having good rep.
An audience member brought up Glee as an example of a show not intending to go a certain way, but the fans driving it with Brit and Santana getting together - one of few shows with a happy ending for the queer women. Cabell added that Glee does not do well on representing male bisexuality. Renee talked about how the theater communities and structures allow for more room for groundbreaking stories and since Glee caught a lot of that audience, it helped push some of the way forward.
I believe this discussion came about in response to how we can achieve getting more/better representation and so I also added in that even negative social media responses can help a show (it shows that people are watching!) - so if you love a show but want it to do better - keep tweeting about it. But conversely, if you want a show just to go away, maybe stop talking about it.
There was some discussion around fandoms where you can get easily misled into thinking there is representation on the show due to fic and vids, but the show doesn't really have much. An example given was Merlin - the advice was to watch vids and read fic, but don't watch the show.
Of course, Joss Whedon came up and Cabell noted that he has a degree in gender and women studies, so he has no excuse for getting it so wrong so much of the time.
In good news department, the new Xena reboot is going to be explicitly queer!
We talked about how Lost Girl had (mostly) good representation of the bisexual female lead character (although she is way sexualized - she's literally a bisexual sex demon so....). She gets to be sexual with all kind of characters - male and female, and also has loving relationships with both a man and a woman. We panelists mostly found her main female love interest very boring, but at least they got a happy ending! (Tamsin, another wlw - did not fare so well however)
Some discussion of Netflix series Sens8 - it does some queer representation really well, but falls down on race issues and also has a lot of consent issues.
We talked a lot about bisexual representation specifically. Some examples:
* Bisexual characters never get to use the "B" word - often saying they prefer not to label themselves. This is totally valid for real life individuals, of course (my POV currently being not knowing what my orientation is beyond not monosexual/romantic), but when none of the characters on TV are choosing to label themselves, then that is a problem for representation.
* An audience member brought up iZombie and how when Liv eats the brains of people who are attracted to women, she will also be attracted to them. But there is the possibility for Liv to be actually bi because the brains only bring out things in the zombies who eat them - it doesn't make them do stuff they wouldn't otherwise do. [Personal aside: this show is super SUPER inconsistent on this stuff and what the brains actually do/don't do, so take this with a massive grain of salt.]
* The disappearing bisexual trope of when a character who is bi ends up in a relationship (usually with a male) and then their bisexuality is never mentioned again. Angela in Bones is one example mentioned.
I talked about having discussions about this in The 100 fandom with a fellow bisexual fan. I'm fine with shipping Clarke (who is canonically bi) with male characters, but if she ends up in a long-term relationship with one, well they better make at least occasional reference to it in the show. My friend was upset because this seemed to be perpetuating the idea of bisexuals in real life having to prove their sexuality/identity and I was like - no, there is a difference. In real life, you don't have to prove it, but if it's not at least occasionally brought up in fictional characters then it's just not real representation because of the straight-as-default assumption. We need to be reminded of it in our media so it doesn't disappear on us and stop being representation.
We talked about how we need more queer women in the writer's rooms and as showrunners. I quoted a list of only seven out queer female showrunners, and Cabell added an eighth - but think about how much programming we have now. That's not nearly enough.
We brought up the two autostraddle articles comparing the number of women-loving-women characters from 1976 (when there was first representation of this kind at all) to today that have died (the list is currently at 156 - with 16 of them being from 2016 so far - and the article needs updating) to the number that have gotten happy endings (just 29).
Wynonna Earp was brought up as a tentative hopefully going to be good representation new show. Lots of giggling about how the lesbian character's name is "Haught" - pronounced "hot" and how the female character coming into her sexual awakening keeps saying things like "she's hot" in a dreamy voice. [Sidenote: the show is officially going there! WOOP! It wasn't queerbaiting!]
And that's all I got! I also apologize for not noting enough who was saying what from the panel - my notes get so jumbled when I even attempt them from the panel myself. Please add to this!!
Also, I have lots of feels and info on this topic, so come at me! I will talk about it all day. lol