Like many people of my generation, I spend way too much time online. It’s ridiculous.
My mum jokes that the only way I could be on social media more is if my iPhone was superglued to my hand. Social media is addictive. It’s designed to be.
Countless many people waste endless hours of our lives lurking online, just waiting for that sweet hit of dopamine when we get those likes, shares, and clicks. On top of the time we lose, there’s the stress that comes with compulsively checking in. And there’s the exhaustion of never-ending arguments.
In the digital world, we’re exposed to exactly the same patterns of discrimination and prejudice that the physical world contains. But online abuse doesn’t stop when you close your front door or get into bed for the night. And lesbians are very often made into targets of online abuse.
Here’s the thing: people need to stop comparing lesbians to men. The stereotype that lesbians aren’t ‘proper’ women has long been used to justify harm done to us, whether it’s conversion therapy or corrective rape. And now it has found a new lease of life online.
We’re stereotyped as masculine meanies, women without feelings. And so people treat us without compassion, failing to recognize that lesbians are just as vulnerable to harm as anybody else. Even self-described feminists are falling back on the same heterosexist logic that sees loving women as masculine behavior, and women who don’t prioritize building lives with men as ‘unnatural’.
People compare lesbians to men as a quick, easy way to shut us down. And it’s effective because the comparison carries the weight of this world’s sexist, homophobic history.
When lesbians are compared to men, it makes me think of the times another child would hurl a racial slur at me in the playground. There was no retaliation. There was no possible comeback. Nothing at all. No matter what I said in response, I’d still know that at least some of the other kids thought of me as less than them – less than human – because of what I was.
We’re not women because we live outside of the feminine gender role. And the ‘other’ makes an easy scapegoat. Dehumanising lesbians is easier, I suppose, than acknowledging that living your feminist politics can be really challenging. But still, the comparison a horrifying bit of misogyny. So much of the abuse sent to lesbians suggests that the only authentic way to be a woman is to exist as a sexist stereotype.
Straight and queer feminists both have a habit of boxing lesbians into the role of villain because our lives are different to theirs. It’s ironic, because feminists have fought for centuries to free women from male dominance. Feminists have pushed for women to be able to live as more than the secondary characters in a man’s story. And now feminists are punishing lesbians for living lives centered around women.
I am tired of seeing lesbians singled out for abuse on social media, again and again. Especially the lesbians who are working class or of color. We are doubly pathologized for our anger – seen as less than woman, less than human. It’s endless lesbophobia.
I think the online abuse happens because our lives scare the women who live their lives in proximity to convention. Lesbians tend to be less invested in the status quo because it doesn’t reward us the way it rewards women who partner with men. And so we’re less likely to go along with the respectability politics that cover up sexism, homophobia, and other forms of discrimination.
Radical honesty takes us closer to the truth, but can also take us further away from the comfort of familiar lies. And lesbian feminists, in my experience, have radical honesty down to a fine art. Like always, it’s easier to shoot the messenger than take her words on board.
Thinking about ways of living as a woman that are less tied to the feminine gender role can be intimidating. Those possibilities are exciting for women, but they’re also scary – the way change often is. And admitting to yourself the ways you are invested in heteropatriarchy, how it might hurt to let them go, is a big challenge. In the feminist movement, we all have to ask ourselves difficult questions.
But the answer is never targeting lesbians for online abuse. And it’s definitely not comparing lesbians to men.