As is well known, the entertainment industry acts as both a mirror and a creator/influencer of culture. By nature, it reflects, in broad strokes, the society it is meant to portray, but at the same time, it can wittingly or unwittingly influence popular culture, prompting viewers to adopt new clothes, mannerisms, or even social attitudes.
Glee, for example, following in the footsteps of shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, worked hard to reflect the most up-to-date facets of pop culture, including using pop hits from the same year and supplying ample snark commentary about things like Bravo and Lindsay Lohan. At the same time, Glee is also often credited with helping broaden U.S. society’s acceptance of homosexuality by exposing the show’s large viewership to the flamboyantly homosexual character of Kurt Hummel (and to a much lesser extent, Santana Lopez and Brittany Pierce).
When it comes to depictions of lesbians and bisexual women on screen, the entertainment industry’s track record of acting as a mirror is mixed. Some depictions are accurate, but many seem to have come from the minds of writers who never met a lesbian or bisexual woman in real life. The following list represents just some of these true and false depictions and how those depictions have influenced or failed to influence viewers.
1. False: Bisexual women are sex-crazy omnivores
In the movie The Haunting, Catherine Zeta Zones‘ bisexual character Theo purrs suggestively to Lili Taylor‘s mousey character Nell Vance—in response to whether she is afraid of commitment—”Well, my boyfriend thinks so, but my girlfriend doesn’t.” The scene summarizes well Hollywood’s historical approach to female bisexuality: bisexual women were portrayed as non-monogamous seductresses perpetually on the prowl for their next conquest. The idea of the sexually voracious, wanton vixen is probably half patriarchal fear of the power of female sexuality, half wish projection on the part of heterosexual males, and 100% harmful to the bisexual community.
It needs hardly be said that this caricatured image of the female bisexual is incongruent with real life (although of course there is always the occasional exception); the vast majority of bisexual women are monogamous. And yet, this depiction has left a lasting impression among heterosexual males that exoticizes and fetishizes female bisexuality, while many bisexual women have found lesbians are more inclined to view them as promiscuous and unfaithful.
Hollywood seems to have moved away from the “bisexual woman as vixen” trope since the mid-2000s and, instead, has a tendency to now portray bisexual women as mostly straight with a female ex lurking in the wings. Remember when Angela Montenegro on Bones had an ex/current girlfriend for a hot minute en route to getting back with her future husband, Hodges? Or when New Girl used Cece’s past with Reagan to make fiancé Schmidt jealous?
Equally frustrating, Hollywood has also dabbled with the trope of the “confused” lesbian—see Jules from The Kids are All Right, both of whom self-identify (mostly?) as lesbian but sleep with a guy—a trope that perpetuates the heterosexual misperception that lesbians are just “confused” and therefore act out by sleeping with men. Uuuuugh.