ilona the pest

insecurity + narcissism = awesome!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

reality tv: subverting the gender binary

my new favorite reality tv program is A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila. it's less hilarious than its immediate predecessors (Flavor of Love, Rock of Love), because it has a reasonably intelligent and sane (and hot) girl as the starring bachelorette, rather than an over-the-hill rock star. it's always going to be more interesting to watch a girl, rather than a guy, choosing among potential mates, 'cause you know she's not going to simply choose the hottest/sluttiest person; rather, personality, charm, and sincere emotional connection are all going to be essential elements in her selection.

but i digress. the real reason i am obsessed with this show is that it's the first girl-girl dating show i've ever seen on tv. just as good maybe is that it's the first bisexual dating show -- true, more mainstream-acceptable in some ways, but also potentially more radical, in showcasing the range of sexual and emotional attraction that exists outside the rigid straight-gay binary.

beyond that, i love the way the show challenges the gender stereotypes of the audience and the contestants, especially the dudes. almost every episode features some activity that requires the straight, macho guys to do something they view as girly or gay, from eating a bull's penis & balls, to wearing girls' underwear, to getting waxed, to getting spanked and tied up by tila in a dungeon. i'm sure it's meant to be entertaining television viewing, but i think it's fascinating that tila puts these guys through this "torture" week after week, requiring them to prove how gender-subversive they are willing to be in order to win her affection. it's not just a fear-factor-type gross-out challenge (although that might be what the frat-boy audience sees): i think she's actually looking for someone who's comfortable playing with the strict binary rules of gender and sexuality. maybe she's even a little bit of a domme, but i can't tell for sure. either way, she helps show the audience that a guy who's comfortable enough to break those rules is going to be way more secure, smart, and fun than someone who's so uptight that he won't even experiment with letting go of his male-hetero-dominant privilege.

but my absolute favorite transgressive element of the show is that a hot butch lesbian ("dani" the firefighter) is becoming a serious contender for the leading lady's attention. this is the first time i've ever seen a butch woman represented in popular culture as a attractive, sexual figure, who's serious competition to the more gender-conforming guys and lipstick lesbians she's up against. most masculine lesbians that we do see are portrayed as sexless, genderless figures only acceptable as comic relief, like rosie o'donnell and ellen. i guess there's shane on The L Word, but she's not really all that butch -- she's more androgynous, with all that eye makeup -- and anyway The L Word is aimed at a queer, liberal, already-in-the-know audience. A Shot at Love seems designed for a heterosexual, middle-America, frat-boy audience hoping to catch some hot, wild girl-on-girl action, and it's teaching them (and tila, who, like so many newly-queer women, previously only fancied other girly girls) that butch dykes are a whole new type of threat. it's about time butches get the respect they are due as objects of sexual attraction -- the best of both worlds, as it were.

of course, i just want tila to be happy and find the person she connects with the most, but i'm rooting for the butch to get the girl, because that would be the ultimate culmination of the show's transgressive potential. and 'cause she's hot.


  • At 11:27 AM, Blogger t-dawg said…

    i accidentally came across tila on the web the other day when i was trying to figure out what the acronym TILA stood for (truth in lending act). oops.

  • At 2:51 PM, Blogger Unknown said…

    I haven't watched the episodes in full, but I saw one where the girls chose "heaven" and got all dressed in white and went to hang with Tila and all the girls were wearing totally skimpy lingerie outfits, except Dani was wearing like, white/cream linen pants and a long sleeved similar type shirt. Airy, light, but not skimpy/porno/sexy like the other girls, and I wondered - did they ask the girls what they wanted to wear? Did they all choose these outfits? Or did they dress the "butch" girl differently than the others as a matter of course? Did Dani refuse the skimpy outfit when everyone else accepted, or did they (producers/wardrobe, whoever) not even try to have her wear it? It just struck me as strange. I guess part of it was me wondering whether all the other girls really preferred to wear such skimpy outfits rather than the comfy and not so revealing "butch" wear.


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