At times, however, it has not been enough for the images of the heterosexist narrative to denigrate lesbian sexuality as impotent in order to convey to women that their sexual place was one of silence, receptivity, and response to the desires of men. When it has been necessary in the social discourse to convey the extreme undesirability of women’s sexual agency, the image of the evil, dangerous, or shameful lesbian is evoked. In this version, which is most prevalent in current popular fiction and cinema and pre-1975 psychological literature (of course, we could call that fiction, too), lesbians are commonly older, often unattractive, masculine-appearing women who are stem, heavy-set, cruel, and lacking in social graces. These women can be found seducing and ruining innocent, feminine (read: het­erosexual) younger women, tearing them away from the men who are their true and most appropriate sexual choices. Such lesbians are defined as ra­pacious, obsessed, and consumed with sex; their feelings for women are always and only sexual; there is no affection, love, or loyalty between women in this narrative. Or, they are lovely to look at (for instance, the Catherine Deneuve vampire lesbian character in The Hunger) but are ex­posed as truly ugly at the core (as does her character when it reverts to its true self).

These lesbians, like the Sharon Stone character in the film Basic Instinct are “killer dykes,” dangerous to all who touch them. They are drunk or drugged when they have sex, and feelings of emptiness pervade their existence, like Sister George in the eponymous The killing of.. . These are characters who are entirely unsympathetic, lacking in common decency in their daily lives. Like the Deneuve character, they will prey on anyone, exploit any relationship and vulnerable person to meet their goals of sexual satisfaction, going so far as to commit murder repeatedly.

These images teach that lesbians can only loathe themselves and their sexuality, which in this narrative is their central defining characteristic. The inferences of these images, as of the impotent lesbian, also transcend the immediate and specific to convey information to women in general about the stigmatized and degraded nature of women’s sexual agency. Women who are sexually powerful and who initiate and assert their desires become transformed in these texts into women who are “butch,” masculine, dangerous, emasculating, and ugly, unless and until, like the Stone char­acter, or Pussy Galore, the lesbian character in the James Bond films, they are “tamed,” overpowered by a man. Psychoanalyst and feminist Elizabeth Young-Bruehl (1995), addressing the topic of women’s homophobias (which here is equivalent to heterosexism), writes of two women, hetero­sexual in orientation and identity, whose rejection of their own power and criticism of their own bodies reflects these heterosexist messages:

C. (one of the clients) worries that she is unattractive to men—too tall, too heavy—and when she expresses this anxiety she says she is afraid she looks “dykey.” So she has assimilated to standards for ap­pearance that are sexist and to the culturally available idea that les­bians are substandard. (1995, p. 10)

Young-Bruehl’s analysis, similar to my own, is that these images of the shameful, stigmatized lesbian can become aspects of any woman’s strug­gle with her sexual self. I interpret the woman who worries that she is too much sexually—too demanding, too large, too powerful, too much taking the initiative—as reacting to heterosexism in the social construction of women’s sexuality. And the message to the woman who is stereotypically beautiful and sexually agentic is even more devastating; these women are deadly, vampiric, not truly sexually beautiful because they have chosen agency.

These images communicate to women, lesbian and otherwise, that if we must be sexual in the absence of a man, we should do so in fear and in shame, and in hiding, because our sexuality is too disgusting and perverse to be flaunted, that the flaunting itself is perverse unless done passively for male pleasure. It is interesting to note that images of the whore as a sex­ually agentic woman overlap with those of the killer dyke (Delacoste & Alexander, 1987; Pheterson, 1986, 1987) in what Pheterson refers to as the “social consequences of unchastity” (1987, p. 215). The woman who wants sex, goes after it straightforwardly, is unashamed, is also constructed as a sexual predator (for instance, the Demi Moore character in Backlash, who becomes a dangerous sexual harasser when turned down, or the Glenn Close character in Fatal Attraction, who stalks her victim and his family).