Lesbian tokenism is a plague on advertising. It alienates the audience that advertisers are trying to connect with and in turn moves forward hurtful stereotypes of lesbians. When I was researching this topic, I dug into dozens of ads that were said to be progressive or celebrated for including lesbians, and what I found was a disappointment as well as a reminder that none of these were memorable to me.
Pop culture doesn’t serve us well and this is a key part of the problem. Most mass movies and TV shows have been infected with tropes and cliches since the inception of mass media. Lesbians are hyper-sexualized in a heterosexual gaze, placed into categories like butch or lesbian, and generally removed from a position of respect in society. We are often seen as lusting after a man’s girlfriend or plagued by loneliness. And, lesbians end up dead just at the moment when they find happiness or when they get rejected. It is no wonder why lesbians cling to a positive portrayal of lesbians like they found a unicorn laden in gold and diamonds.
I am not going to quote for your stats of the buying power of lesbians, or the household income, or anything that makes you feel comfortable with including this audience in your advertising. It no longer needs justification. Do I spend any money? Yes. Diversity means to show everyone, so show lesbians without needing generic stats.
We bring value to campaigns because we are waiting for someone to show us, us. As a group of people, we are craving representation to the point when we see it, we share it across the web, message it to friends, and probably will edit it in together a supercut of all our favourite lesbian portrayals. We reward brands and content creators for getting it right in how lesbians are shown living our lives.
How do you get it right? First, don’t show us to appeal to traditional conservative people. Easing the backlash from close-minded people is not going to serve our community well. Playing it safe doesn’t work because we have been craving representation in mass media for decades.
Second, be brave. When the Hallmark Channel pulled the Zola advertisement in 2019 in reaction to a backlash from conservative groups, there was a ripple effect that heterosexual people don’t realize. It told every young woman that being a lesbian will get you exiled and that you don’t deserve to be seen. We need more bravery. I look to the bravery of two Nigerian filmmakers who are facing the prospect of imprisonment for releasing a movie focused on a lesbian relationship.
Third, show all women. We want to see lesbians from all races, backgrounds, and demographics. Cast like the world is, and not how it makes people comfortable.
If you want to know how to connect with Lesbians in the world – write to me firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s have a conversation.