After years of having the dubious honor of being used mainly for shock and titillation value in commercials, lesbians and bisexual women have slowly begun to see some progress in the way advertisers represent us.
(For an excellent overview of the representation of all LGBT people in the commercial world, check out the exhaustive collection of print and video advertisements collected by GLAAD’s Advertising Media Program, formerly known as The Commercial Closet.)
If any single advertisement embodies the way in which lesbians have been most typically (and stereotypically) portrayed in commercials in the past decade, it would be Miller Lite’s 2003 "Catfight" commercial, in which a group of men dream up the perfect beer commercial.
Their vision is of two women fighting over whether or not Miller Lite is "less-filling" or "tastes great." What starts as verbal combat quickly devolves into clothes-shredding violence in a fountain, mud, and, finally, a vat of wet cement. The men determine that there’s only one way to end this amazing video. Can you guess what it is? Watch the video below to find out.
"Catfight" tries to have it both ways by simultaneously exploiting "lesbian" sexuality (everyone knows that real lesbians prefer lube wrestling), then cutting to the annoyed reaction of two female viewers who find the spectacle ridiculous. It’s as if Miller is telling us, "We know this is lame, but we’re doing in anyway, just for fun. We don’t really mean it, and, seriously, we get why we shouldn’t be doing it. But it’s still funny, right?"
Women wrestling in mud or water as a metaphor for lesbian sex does have its appeal, but not when it’s the only representation of queer women in TV ads. Fortunately, we’ve seen some definite progress in the number and diversity of commercials referencing or including queer women since the "Catfight" ad originally aired.
One of the most positive shifts has been the more frequent appearance of real-life lesbians in commercials. An out lesbian was one of the "faces" of Avon in the 2009 Superbowl commercials, and out comedian Ellen DeGeneres has starred in some of the most hilarious and memorable commercials ever produced by American Express. Rocker Melissa Etheridge and wife Tammy Lynn Etheridge have shilled for Cartier, and out actress Jane Lynch (Best in Show) is co-starring with Julia Louis-Dreyfus (The New Adventures of Old Christine) in a new slate of funny Healthy Choice commercials.
While its true that out lesbian athletes (most famously, Wimbledon champion Martina Navratilova) have lost out on millions in product endorsements over the years, progress has even begun to find its way into sports marketing, as evidenced by out former WNBA champ Sheryl Swoopes being the first female athlete to have a shoe named after her (Nike’s Air Swoopes).
In addition to commercials that star real-life lesbians, we’ve also seen a shift in those that portray lesbian and bisexual characters, be they women getting married to one another, picking each other up in bars, or hooking up in the increasingly gay-friendly skies.
In the first of a series of articles examining the representation of lesbians and bisexual women in commercials, AfterEllen.com takes a look at those that, for better or worse, bank on our images. Using Miller Lite’s notorious "Catfight" commercial as our inspiration (and just because it’s more fun than using a boring star-rating system), we’ve scored the commercials below on a scale of zero to five mud-wrestling lesbians for their ability to positively represent us and our lives. (The more mud-wrestling lesbians, the better!)
Commercial: "Inner Beauty" (USA)
Description: Out comedian Ellen DeGeneres gets easy, breezy and beautiful in a make-up commercial that embodies her humor and style.
Analysis: 2008 was a productive year for out comedian Ellen DeGeneres. She turned 50, married actress Portia de Rossi in a high-profile wedding, and became a spokesmodel for CoverGirl cosmetics. And she blasted archaic stereotypes about lesbianism, femininity and beauty with one simple little television ad for Simply Ageless Foundation. So maybe she did a few push ups between photographs at the ad campaign shoot. Perhaps she was just taking very literally CoverGirl’s claim that she captures the spirit of the make-up line by being "witty, wise, strong and simply age-defying."
Now if we can just get her wife, de Rossi, back into shampoo commercials. Her hair-flipping skills in the old ads for L’Oreal Nutra Vive were unparalleled, and, remember, she’s worth it!
Score: This stylish commercial celebrating the (inner and outer) beauty of arguably the most famous out lesbian in the world easily earns 5 out of 5 mud-wrestling lesbians.