Every so often, a television show goes on air that defies all social norms. The next show to present this shock value is ABC Family’s hit show Pretty Little Liars. With over three million viewers worldwide, this cult phenomenon’s outstanding audience allows it to be an influential show. An interesting aspect of Pretty Little Liars is that it introduces the issue of lesbianism in our modern society. The show follows one of the main characters named Emily Fields, played by Shay Mitchell, and her struggles with being an Asian-American lesbian who has to deal with coming out, getting acceptance, and being in an interracial relationship. In aiming to connect it with the articles by Barbara Smith and Paula Gunn Allen, I analyzed that Pretty Little Liars goes against all preconceived notions of homosexuality in the media and displays how we as a society are becoming more accepting of homosexuality and different races than ever before.
Pretty Little Liars is about Emily and her four best friends, who deal with the murder of their friend Alison. These girls are on a mission to find Alison’s murderer while being tormented by “A,” an unknown character that constantly invades their privacy by sending harassing text messages and hacking their internet accounts. While this is the bigger picture, a smaller aspect of the show is how Emily deals with her sexuality. Emily is portrayed as being “manlier” than the other female characters by being the sporty competitive swimmer with a low maintenance appearance. Although the portrayal of lesbians in the media is to be masculine, Emily’s character is not exaggerated to be a “butch” type of lesbian. She still acts like a girl, wears make-up, and assimilates well with her heterosexual peers. In doing so, Pretty Little Liars aims to promote the acceptance of homosexuality instead of highlighting its distinction from heterosexuality.
Emily’s coming out process was not as big of a deal as it would have been in other television shows. The show displays Emily’s underlying attraction to females from the very beginning, and brings it to light when she meets Maya, her neighbor. Once Emily realizes her attraction to Maya, she decides to come out to her family and friends, most of who accepts her whole-heartedly. According to Allen’s article “Lesbians in American Indian Cultures,” the modern lesbian is seen as different from other citizens of society. This is not the case with Emily, who is shown to be as normal as possible despite her sexuality. Pretty Little Liars goes against normal views and tries to pass off homosexuality as something that is commonplace.
Not only does Pretty Little Liars try to normalize homosexuality, it also presents the intersectionality of race and sexuality. While everyone accepted Emily, it took a bit of convincing for her parents to fully accept their daughter’s newfound sexuality. Emily’s Asian descent forces her to deal with her culture’s strict view on homosexuality. Asian cultures strongly believe in heteronormativity and creating future generations in their families, which is not an option for homosexuals. Emily struggles to convince her hesitant parents to accept her, especially her mother, who refuses to believe her daughter is a lesbian because she expected grandchildren in the future. Eventually, Emily’s parents cared more about her well-being and accepted her new sexuality.
Going with the intersections of race and sexuality, Pretty Little Liars also goes one step further and creates an interracial lesbian couple. Emily is Asian American, while Maya is African American. In Smith’s article “Homophobia, Why Bring It Up?,” it is mentioned that homosexuality is considered a “white” problem with which the majority of other races do not associate. Again, Pretty Little Liars goes against this view and integrates an interracial relationship along with homosexuality, which influences viewers to be accepting of both.
In conclusion, Pretty Little Liars goes against society’s views by creating a show that portrays homosexuality as something that is normal. By integrating race and sexuality into a show that deems it as customary while breaking all preconceived notions of lesbians and their position in our modern society, it is apparent that the media and our society is slowly becoming more accepting of homosexuality and its intersection with race. The articles by Smith and Allen both convey the view that lesbians of ethnicities other than Caucasian are essentially invisible in society, and Pretty Little Liars goes against these claims. I believe this show portrays where our society is gradually heading: seamlessly assimilating homosexuals and straying from our heteronormative views.
Allen, Paula Gunn. “Lesbians in American Indian Cultures” from The Sacred Hoop: Recovering the Feminine in American Indian Traditions. Beacon Press, 1992.
King, Marlene. Pretty Little Liars. ABC Family. Television.
Smith, Barbara. “Homophobia, Why Bring It Up?” from The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader. ed Henry Ablelove et al