Seriously, Where Are all the Lesbians?

SIAN DOCKSEY follows up The Tab’s Fresher survey with a more serious look into why it’s so hard for women to be openly lesbian in Cambridge.

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The gap between the number of homosexual men and women at Cambridge is astonishing, and raises the question: is there something about the place that’s putting women off coming out? Although it’s said that as a general rule there are twice as many gay men as there are gay women, the results in a recent Tab survey show that the number of lesbians at Cambridge is disproportionately, even worryingly, few.  Cambridge is a hotspot of openness and acceptance of differing views from everything to religion, politics and the origins of the universe – on this topic, however, are we still in the dark ages?

She bangs, she bangs!

Everyone is familiar with the Big Gay Night Out – an orgazma of loud, flashy people dancing in strobe-lit clubs with dated Latino or mixed-up pop music in the background. It attracts the familiar crowd of fashionably dressed gay men, their giggling fag hags, dressed-up aged transvestites gloriously smoking on gold-tipped cigarettes in the background – the kind of night that makes less flamboyant homosexuals feel queasy, or at least, contemplate putting up an angry but witty facebook status before meeting their friends in the pub.

But what the hell – they’re FUN, in an overblown, ridiculous kind of way.  And they’re still very much male-dominated.  No offence meant to the people who take great pains to organize LBGT women’s events, but the familiar scenario for a lesbian night out is some quiet drinks with lots of people already in couples, talking quietly to each other or nuzzling on sofas.

Appealing to an alcohol-soaked, adrenaline-fuelled Cambridge fresher in a minidress looking for some fun? Not really.  Where is the female equivalent of the Adonian Society?  Where are the lesbians meeting up to get rowdy, shriek what lyrics they can remember to a Lady Gaga song across a dancefloor before picking up somebody’s phone number and walking home, heels in hand, barefoot at 5 o’clock in the morning?

Boys, boys, boys.

Despite the progressive admittance of women into Cambridge and the fact that whole subject areas have become largely female-dominated, undergraduates still find themselves in a culture and environment that has inherited a great tradition of 800 years of almost exclusively male achievement.

Apologies for the sweeping generalization, but it’s everywhere and it is true: dining halls, libraries and faculty buildings are stocked with portraits of – mostly – men.  Possibly even, the low proportion of homosexual women compared to homosexual men is due to there being far more gay men in Cambridge than elsewhere.  However, I think the number of men around has a deeper impact – in many ways, women in our culture still evaluate themselves according to how attractive, sexy or interesting a man finds them.

The L-word

The word “lesbian” is still used as a derogatory term in casual conversations – despite how offensive this is.  “Oh, she’s probably a lesbian.”  It’s not unfamiliar, is it? This is changing as real lesbians become more visible and stereotypes are broken, in television, in particular: the last series of Skins featured a lesbian couple who had none of the “butch/lipstick lesbian” labels, and Britain has finally caught up with the American series The L-word and is broadcasting a series about a group of lesbian friends, Lip Service, beginning next Tuesday.

I know a very confident, outgoing and charming woman who nonetheless still feels a deep pang of anxiety about slipping the words, “Oh yeah, I saw that with my girlfriend,” into a conversation with new friends, because of how she fears they will view her from then on.  Hopefully this will soon change. In the meantime, if you’re reading this, please make it easier for women to come out, and be sensitive about thoughtlessly bringing up negative lesbian stereotypes around people you’ve just met.

And if you don’t, and I overheard you, I’ll whip out my enormous strap-on and beat you to death with it.