Hyper-Sexual Stereotypes About Bisexual Women Continue to Erase the Abuse Bisexual Women Experience
In the Amber Heard and Johnny Depp defamation case, one of the allegations that Heard has made against her ex-husband is his jealousy and paranoia over her bisexuality. She alleges that his paranoia and insecurity was part of what made him violent.
The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS), which was sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), shared findings that “bisexual women experience higher levels of intimate partner violence than lesbian or heterosexual women. Over their lifetimes, 61% of bisexual women reported being raped, assaulted or stalked by an intimate partner, compared to 44% of lesbian women and 35% of heterosexual women. In contrast to lesbian and heterosexual women, bisexual women also report higher levels of severe violence, such as being choked or slammed into something hard.”
One of the explanations for this high amount was said to be connected to assumptions about bisexual infidelity. Bisexuality, while more normalized now, has been treated as a joke and a symbolic implication of deviousness in a lot of media. In the rigid binary of straight or gay, being seen as bisexual has been used as shorthand for being confused. Then, if we weren’t “confused,” we were hyper-sexualized vixens. Three prominent pop culture examples of this are Drew Barrymore as Ivy in Poison Ivy, Blake Lively as Emily in A Simply Favor, and Sharon Stone as Catherine Tramell in Basic Instinct.
Ivy, in the film, is a teenage femme fatale (already strike one) who seduces her friend Sylvie and Sylvie’s father in order to make the family she doesn’t have. She is willing to murder and manipulate everyone around her. We are supposed to see Ivy as dangerous and her sexual promiscuity to be a sign of how dangerous she is.
Catherine Tramell is this character adultified, a murderer who plays the police departments and unlocks the worst parts of Detective Nick Curran (Michael Douglas). We see Nick turning off his small remaining morality and transforming into a violent rapist, wrapped around Catherine’s finger. Catherine uses her sexuality for power, and just like with Ivy, we see her attraction to women explicitly; it is there for titillation.
That’s the other part of this era of bisexual femme fatales: the male gaze—the lingering shots meant to appeal to the male audience. This is not to say that queer women can’t be turned on or enjoy them, but the lens is aggressively male. Another example of this is the erotic thriller Wild Things, where we have two scenes of Neve Campbell and Denise Richards making out, and then later participating in a threesome with a male character.
A Simple Favor is not as bad, because I think the tone allows Blake Lively to be treated as a genuinely smart and engaging character, rather than just a male gaze femme fatale. However, even the kiss between Emily and Stephanie (Anna Kendrick) has a layer of manipulation to it. Plus, Emily herself might be a softer version of this trope, but the seamless ability to seduce and manipulate men and women is key to all of them.
It doesn’t help that all these women are young, most of the time blonde with dark-haired foils, and beautiful, and that is used to illustrate what great liars they are. Male bisexuality is not only less portrayed in media, but often, when it is, lying and sexual violence are often depicted alongside it. Things have slowly gotten better, but even so, these stereotypes linger. They are embedded in the way we have been framed by the media, and continue to be used to erase our experiences of violence and erasure.
And the sad thing for me as just someone who enjoys villains is that a part of me truly enjoys the way in which characters like Emily and Catherine are able to manipulate seemingly more powerful people. I just wish that their sexuality wasn’t such a coded part of their villainy, because even when we might hope society has outgrown seeing bisexual women as inherently devious, that stereotype comes back into the mainstream. Yet, the violence bisexual people face will still be largely ignored.
(featured image: Lionsgate, TriStar Pictures, and New Line Cinema)
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