Shailene Woodley and Biphobic Reporting

This morning I was searching for news about the Fault In Our Stars (you know, the book where John Green manipulates everyone into thinking he’s a good writer by writing about something that is emotionally triggering for literally everyone? Yeah, that one.) and I came across this article. When I saw the title Shailene Woodley Admits to Being Bisexual I was pretty excited. It’s always a huge leap forward whenever a prolific actor or actress (well, prolific in the teenage community at least) feels comfortable enough to come out to the world. You never would’ve seen this in my mom’s day–and with all the homophobia in this country, it’s still pretty rare now. But the more I read the article, the more disgusted I became.

The first issue I had was the use of the word “admits” in the title, which is also used frequently throughout the article. This word has such a negative connotation. Saying that someone has “admitted” to something automatically implies that the person in question is confessing to some sort of wrongdoing. In our heteronormative society, no one can simply be gay or bi or ace or pan. It always has to be a huge confession or admittance, since we just assume everyone is straight unless they outright state otherwise.

The next part of the article that I took issue with was both subtly biphobic and aggressively misogynistic. According to the article, “Like famous British model Cara Delevingne and “Fast & The Furious” actress Michele Rodriguez, Shailene Woodley joins the list of hot bisexual women.”

Okay, I was not aware of the fact that we were keeping a fucking list, though that’s mostly beside the point. My main issue with this is that Woodley is being compared to and grouped with these women simply because of their sexualities. This article would have us believe that Woodley is now defined by her sexuality and appearance just as much as she is by her acting ability. This is so misogynistic and it’s making me sick. Now Woodley isn’t just hot–she’s a hot bi chick! She, like a lot of women in our culture, has been objectified and reduced to nothing but one purpose: sex. While it’s subtle, this is perpetuating the straight male fantasy of two attractive women having sex in front of him for his enjoyment. (and maybe, he’ll even get to join in! Oh boy, oh boy!)

In our culture, it is far more accepted for a woman to be bisexual than it is for her to be lesbian, and it’s far more accepted for a woman to be bi than it is for a man to be anything but straight. Because, as I’m sure you know, girl-on-girl action is hot, whereas guy-on-guy is just icky.

Give me a fucking break, okay? This article is bullshit, pure and simple.

The last section of the relatively short article that made me want to un-have my lunch was the phrase “fans of “Divergent” are hoping Woodley leans more on dating men given they just can’t fawn over the pairing between her and Theo James on and off screen.” [emphasis mine]

Seriously, are you kidding me?! I’m a fan of Divergent, but I’m certainly not hoping that Woodley “leans more on dating men,” I’m simply hoping that she embraces who she is and gets minimal shit for it. Although, I guess I’m in the minority here.

This is a perfect example of this idea that fans think an actor’s character in fiction somehow bleeds through the fourth wall and into the real world. Seriously, Woodley doesn’t have to date her costar for their onscreen romance to be believable–her sexuality does not in any way inhibit her acting ability.

(((Another slighty-related example of this would be the writers of Supernatural actively pandering to the slash fic fandom, despite having almost no LGBTQ inclusion. But since I haven’t seen much since the early seasons, I’ll refer you over to Fangs for the Fantasy on this one.)))

I feel like I have to apologize for this post being barely coherent, but god, I am just so mad. If you think you can stomach it, read the article for yourself and try your hardest not to throw your computer out a window.

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2 comments

  1. The thing that always galls me is that the media is all gung ho to jump all over a celebrity revealing their sexuality and, of course, they’re gonna sensationalize the fact that other notable actresses – who happen to be hotties – are bisexual as well. Being the media, they put a bad spin on this, one that always leaves a bad taste in my mouth as a bisexual because, like you said, they make it seem like the person coming out is admitting to some wrongdoing and giving bisexuals who aren’t famous and still coming to grips with their sexuality a lot of wrong impressions about being bi.

    Whenever I see that someone famous has come out, I think it’s good that they can do that (and not get their heads handed to them like regular folks would) but I don’t read much into whatever the media’s saying about it. It’s not as if the now-out celeb is going to lose their job, be blackballed by their family, you know, the stuff normal people have to face when deciding to come out. Sure, the celeb will explain why they came out – and this is good but, on the whole, I don’t see how this really helps other bisexuals.

    Thanks for sharing this and I don’t blame you for being mad ’cause it doesn’t make me happy either.

    1. I can’t remember where (I believe it was the fabulous Womanist Musings but I can’t be entirely sure) but I once read something along the lines of “We praise athletes and actors for coming out, and ask why everyone doesn’t just come out. And in saying this, we are erasing and ignoring the possible repercussions that a person could face if coming out to their family or the world at large.” [again, not even close to an exact quote, since it was a while since I read the article] When an actor or actress comes out, of course the media is going to sensationalize it. Since our societal default is heterosexual, we see it as something amazing and absolutely out-of-the-ordinary when someone we assumed was straight alerts us to the fact that they aren’t.

      And you can find a lot of people on YouTube and the internet and the media who will tell you that coming out was the best decision they ever made. And or some people, it most certainly was. And I think we as a culture need stories like that—we need a little hope every once in a while. But we cannot erase or ignore the stories about a young gay boy who was badly beat by his peers, or a bisexual girl who committed suicide. We cannot ignore the fact that coming out may not always be the best choice for everyone.

      When the media engages in such blatant biphobia (can someone tell me if that’s an actual word? I sort of just made it up off the top of my head), all of that hatred gets internalized. And hatred sticks with us a lot longer than the hopeful stories—that’s just the way we’re built. We have evolved so that bad and potentially dangerous memories last far longer than the good ones, and careless reporting like this is so incredibly harmful.

      And I think you’re right that one actor or athlete or celebrity coming out doesn’t help bisexuals in general. It’s certainly not going to change anyone’s opinions overnight. But when we consider that it’s all part of a giant cultural shift taking place, I simply can’t help but feel heartened. As a fairly young person who is still figuring everything out, I find it to be incredibly exciting when I hear about someone prolific who feels safe enough to be “out.” Because it makes me think that maybe, hopefully, someday everyone will be comfortable enough to be out.

      Thank you very much for your comment and your thoughts.

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