There’s a trend I’ve noticed lately that seems to be getting worse. Or maybe my patience for it as a queer woman is just finally reaching a breaking point. Female pop stars from Beyoncé to Katy Perry are standing proud as feminists, while others like Lady Gaga and Miley Cyrus are coming out as queer. Mega positive. And yet many of these pop stars, while helping to give visibility and normalise these important topics, are at the same time shamelessly using queerness to give a “sexy edge” to their music videos and live shows.
Even when the music has nothing to do with queerness or sex.
Why do even our most progressive pop stars still treat queerness as a sexy accessory they can style themselves with as easily as a tight dress or an expensive car?
As I swiped up to see Dua Lipa and Miley Cyrus’s music video for “Prisoner”, their new single, I kicked back ready to see two of my favourite female pop stars slay. What came next was 3 minutes and 14 seconds of two of today’s most impressive women in pop music gyrating on top of each other looking lustfully at the camera’s gaze.
This isn’t new. It’s a scene I’ve seen from every pop star since the history of, well, ever. There’s even a name for it — queerbaiting.
But it feels different seeing it from pop stars who are pushing a woke narrative about feminism. And it especially feels different from pop stars like Miley Cyrus and Dua Lipa who do seem genuinely aware of today’s political climate and committed to making positive change.
Except for this glaring blind spot. And I found myself asking, why the fuck can’t we do better than this in 2020?
The issue I have isn’t with Dua Lipa and Miley Cyrus embracing queer sexuality in their music videos. Trust me, and I think I speak on behalf of the entire queer female community when I say I am here. for. that.
The thing I find so disappointing is that every time they lean in to almost kiss each other, they look back at the camera.
Women have been taught for decades that lesbian sexuality is for the pleasure of somebody else who’s watching. Historically, those people have been men.
There’s a reason ‘lesbian’ is consistently one of the most searched for terms on Pornhub.
While it may seem harmless to fantasize about girl-on-girl action, the fetishization of queer female sexuality stands directly in the way of queer female sexual discovery.
I experienced this first hand. The first time I ever kissed a girl I was falling for, a group of guys cheered for us as they walked by.
It was confusing, validating in a way that makes me feel uneasy in retrospect, and disorienting.
That first kiss, the beginning of my queer journey, was not just a kiss between me and the woman I was falling for. It became a performance, one that we hadn’t consented to.
We weren’t able to focus on our pleasure, what it meant for us. We were forced to focus on the group of men cheering us on. The group of men who had been taught our pleasure was not for us, but for them. And that we should be flattered by their attention.
They were taught this behavior by countless movies, porn, and music videos like “Prisoner”.
And I think it’s about time that female pop stars, especially queer ones like Miley Cyrus or those that openly call themselves feminists like Dua Lipa stop perpetuating it.
The logical counterargument is that both women have been in videos with men looking lustfully into the camera as well. True.
But the difference is that there are hundreds of music videos and films in which heterosexual sexuality is portrayed solely for each other’s pleasure, not just as a performance for others.
And with queer female sexuality, I can count the amount of music videos we have honestly portraying queer female sexuality in a way that’s just for us on two hands.
Kehlani’s “Honey” is another.
But for every one of these gorgeous examples, there are 10 videos from bigger stars with higher media reach like “Prisoner” that go back to pushing the same performative, outdated idea of what female queer sexuality looks like.
The reason I find this so disappointing is not because I think Miley Cyrus and Dua Lipa are full of shit. It’s precisely because I think they are not.
It’s because I think they are moving the conversation around feminism and queer representation in media forward in important ways, addressing this blind spot feels like a no-brainer.
It’s because I genuinely believe they can do better.