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We are not your porn

The first time I danced with my girlfriend at a frat party it look less than a minute for us to get interrupted. Soaked in entitlement, beer and sweat, a drunk frat boy slid his hand onto the small of my back and leaned in to say “Damn you two are so hot. Can we kiss?”

Since then, I count myself lucky to come out of a frat party without having been harassed. Although it is rare, every once in a while I go home on a Saturday night feeling respected. Most of the time, however, I enter a frat party with the understanding that I will be fetishized, sexualized and even violated.

Sexual harassment of women, especially on college campuses, is by no means an uncommon phenomenon. Over 55 percent of women in the U.S. have experienced street harassment at least once in their lives. Luckily feminist organizations and anti-harassment campaigns have played major roles in normalizing the condemnation of sexual harassment, both on the street and elsewhere. While men certainly still catcall women with little to no repercussions, in communities such as Stanford there is now a general recognition of the sexist nature of the practice.

But what about when a man interrupts a female couple kissing in an attempt to join in? By and large, efforts to curb sexual harassment have targeted interactions between heterosexual individuals. Despite the fact that the verbal harassment rate for LGBT individuals is approximately 20 percent higher than for their straight counterparts, queer women are often not recognized as victims of sexual harassment. The consequence? Harassment of queer women is brushed off as a natural byproduct of sexual curiosity.

Over the past few decades, homophobia against queer women has changed dramatically. While queerphobic violence, slurs, and other explicit forms of discrimination continue to plague the lives of queer women, they now also face extreme sexualization. This sexualization is evidenced by the titillation of men by ‘girl on girl’ action. It’s no surprise that in the US Pornhub’s most frequently searched term is ‘lesbian.’ Unfortunately, the flawed nature of queer female representation is not constrained to the porn industry. TV shows such as ‘Faking It’ that portray lesbian relationships as mere attention seeking strategies are no better. Rather than affirming the legitimacy of queer female relationships, this type of representation depicts the population as hypersexual and highly superficial.

Thus, while queer women may be significantly less stigmatized nowadays than they have been in the past, it stems from an increased sexualization of the identity rather than an increased respect for it. As a result, queer women across the country have been rendered unable to be intimate in public without facing violating and invasive remarks from people (namely men) who have taken to fetishizing the community.

This absence of respect is precisely what leads to the harassment that my girlfriend and I, along with many other queer female couples, face on campus. Men lining up to watch us dance, asking to dance with us, even to kiss us, has become the norm.  And while unwanted attention is certainly preferable to outright violence or homophobic slurs, this complete disregard of our personal boundaries should not be trivialized. In fact, the harassment of women has tangible consequences. Women who have been harassed often undergo ‘self-objectification,’ a process by which they internalize the sexism they have experienced. Sadly, self-objectification produces high rates of shame and body insecurity and is consequently linked to the onset of eating disorders, anxiety and depression.

Although queer women are certainly not the sole bearers of these consequences, they are uniquely prone to experiencing them. Unlike their straight counterparts, queer women are subject to ramifications of ‘minority stress.’ In effect, due to their status as a stigmatized minority, queer women have an increased susceptibility to the physical and mental consequences associated with harassment. Despite the severity of these consequences, ending the sexual harassment of queer women, especially on college campuses, remains to be prioritized.

Instead, queer women are treated as public porn: no more than entertainment for others. But we are not your porn. And treating us as such is neither natural nor harmless. So the next time you see a queer female couple at a party, on the street or in a park, understand that their intimacy is not an invitation. Their affection is not yours to enjoy. And their autonomy is not yours to take.


Contact Elena Marchetti-Bowick at elenamb ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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