In men’s professional sports, there is all of one openly gay player currently active, and his coming out is sure to make headlines for weeks—and yet, when professional female athletes come out, it’s treated as something of a non-event and largely ignored. Most news stories regarding the Boy Scouts focus on their continuing ban on gay scouts and leaders, but the Girl Scouts quietly support girls of all kinds, no matter their orientation; even girls who happen to be biologically male are welcome.
This could be chalked up to how male-focused society in general is, but studies have shown that tolerance of lesbians tends to be higher than that of gay men, and lesbians are less likely to be targeted for violence because of their sexuality.
One of University of California, Davis researcher Gregory Herek’s studies found that 38 percent of gay men had been victims of theft, vandalism, or violence—sexual or otherwise—because of their perceived orientation, while only 13 percent of lesbians reported the same.
An unrelated study in England found that LGBT teenagers are nearly twice as likely to be bullied as straight classmates. However, in young adulthood, while lesbians and straight women faced about the same amount of harassment, young gay men were nearly four times more likely to experience it than their straight colleagues.
Bisexual fiction writer Tasha Campbell told 429Magazine, “lesbian sex/relationships are often seen as not real sex because a penis is not involved. This is where men get the idea that lesbians who use dildos aren’t really lesbians, or that two lesbians want to have sex with a man as well. It’s the idea that [the]penis matters most.”
Another reason for this disparity is societal expectations; men are “supposed” to act a certain way, and anything hinting at being especially close to another man is likely to be noticed and mocked. In contrast, women can be physically affectionate, to a point, with each other without attracting negative attention, and are able to dress as they please with much more freedom. Women who present themselves as more traditionally masculine than most may still be hassled for looking like “dykes,” but are still far less likely to be outright threatened than a man wearing a skirt.
It might seem illogical to think of female invisibility as a good thing, but it does mean that women who don’t match what society expects of them can fly under the radar. In contrast, despite the existence of male privilege—or, perhaps, because of it—what is expected of a man is very narrowly defined, which means that many are denied the right to decide for themselves what defines them.