The disparity in the treatment of male and female homosexual couples in inextricably linked to the patriarchal nature of our society—a truth that activists must recognize if they hope to ever enact change.
While the acceptance and visibility of LGBTQIA causes has increased in recent years, gender continues to play a significant role in the daily lives of same sex couples. According to a June 2013 Pew Research poll, about 25 percent of LGBTQIA adults said there was “a lot” of acceptance for lesbians in society while only 15 percent said the same about gay men.
The gender disparity between how accepted gays and lesbians feel by society comes down to an issue of cultural norms and gender expectations. The antiquated patriarchal cultural systems that modern western societies are built upon hypersexualize woman-on-woman relationships while shaming the male equivalent.
Men in our society are raised to value masculinity and manhood. A huge part of this perceived masculinity is being undoubtedly heterosexual. A woman can compliment another woman without it being interpreted as latent homosexuality. If a man tells another man he looks really cute that day, however—all hell breaks loose. Women can prance around, dancing on each other in the club without being accused of homosexuality. On the other hand, I would be hard-pressed to find a group of heterosexual men at the same club twerking on each other to the latest Juicy J track.
Male expression in our society is tightly regulated by a narrow definition of manhood and what it means to be a man. Gay men, by sheer virtue of being gay, do not fit that cultural stereotype of manhood and thus are shamed and demonized because of it. Insular ideas of what it means to be a man are at the forefront of the demonization of male homosexuals.
On the other hand, the needs and issues women face in patriarchal societies are often invisible in the face of more masculine concerns. The needs of men are put at the forefront while women must skulk in the back, awaiting their turn. The lack of concern for women’s issues in a male-dominated society may be responsible for the perceived greater acceptance of lesbians in society. Because women’s issues are not considered as important, females can fly under the radar, allowing them more freedom to express themselves.
According to research by UC-Davis psychology professor Gregory Herek, 38 percent of gay men reported being victims of theft, sexual/physical violence and vandalism because they were perceived as gay. Only about 13 percent of lesbians reported the same.
It is no secret that men have a soft spot, no pun intended, for two women doing the horizontal tango. Lesbians are often perceived as engaging in activities for the attention and benefit of men. Their relationships are not real, their sex is not real and their desires are not real. It is all perceived as an elaborate display meant to entice heterosexual men.
Meanwhile, gay men threaten the sexuality of heterosexual men. In a gay man’s gaze, heterosexual men lose their power as sexual aggressors. They become unwilling sexual objects, a new and disturbing territory. Unlike gay men, lesbians do not threaten a heterosexual man’s position in the sexual hierarchy. Lesbians are seen as a potential conquest for heterosexual men.
Homophobia, in straight men, is the fear that a gay man will treat him the exact same way that he treats women—and that is what is truly unsettling and disturbing.
Unfortunately, the patriarchal nature of our society only magnifies the disparity between female and males within the LGBTQIA community. Gay men will continue to be demonized for being an affront to stereotypical masculinity and manhood while lesbians will continue to be seen as sexual fantasies. Until gender norms are toppled and patriarchy dismantled, this will be the unfortunate and inconvenient truth. Those who fight for gay rights must open their eyes to the connection between gender norms and sexual freedom if they ever hope to change the way sexual minorities are treated in our society.