The Camp Vamp: Katrina Fox

Commentary on GLBTIQ issues, social justice and some of life's quirks.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Stereotypes

Judi Dench's portrayal of Barbara in the film Notes on a Scandal is sending lesbians everywhere into a tizz. It tells the story of a sexually repressed old spinster dyke (Barbara) who is determined to create a 'special friendship' with Sheba, a young, beautiful and straight co-worker (Cate Blanchett) at the school where they both teach. When Barbara finds out that Sheba is having an affair with one of her students, a 15-year-old boy, she manipulates the situation to her advantage.

While acknowledging the excellent performances by Dench and Blanchett, as well as high production values, most dykes have issues with the fact that, as LOTL reviewer Belinda Hazelton put it: "Once again we have a mainstream film featuring a (very closeted) lesbian character who is psychotic, bitter and friendless." Well, I'm going to go against the pack and say that I loved Notes on a Scandal.

Stereotypes are not all bad. I know I've moaned about growing up with The Killing of Sister George (in which Beryl Reid portrays a sad, ugly old dyke desperate to retain her sado-masochistic relationship with a young, pretty Susannah York but ends up alone), as my only model for lesbianism, but the film is 40 years old. When I watched it in the 1980s, there was still a dearth of lesbian role models, but since then, there's been a plethora of films portraying dykes in a positive light. From attractive high-school cheerleaders to ordinary girls-next-door to lesbian couples doing the baby thing, we have been featured in all our diverse glory in both independent and mainstream films as well as TV shows. This year's Oscars were a veritable showcase of lesbian icons: Ellen Degeneres posed with her girlfriend Portia de Rossi and hosted the ceremony, and Melissa Etheridge thanked her wife when she collected her award. Rosie O'Donnell is a host on a major US talk show and Showtime has commissioned four series to date of dyke soap opera, The L Word. Women-loving-women have never been so popular.

So, is the occasional portrayal of a lesbian as an obsessive old battleaxe who conspires to seduce a young heterosexual woman away from her husband and two young children by whatever means necessary and who writes down her devious ploys and outlandish fantasies in a diary really so bad? I don't think so. Call me twisted if you want, but I like Barbara. I get her. I see elements of myself in her. Anyone who has felt the tumultuous emotions of desire for a straight woman and jealousy of her male partner must surely understand why Barbara sends a wreath to the fiancé of a former teacher she's captivated with – I mean, what else would you do?

Personally I think Barbara should be celebrated and put on a pedestal with the likes of self-improvement guru, Anthony Robbins. Write down your goals, then devise a strategy for reaching them, he preaches … which is exactly what Barbara does. And she loves cats. Notes to lesbians: Go see this film. Watch and learn.

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