Ordinarily, photos of sweet lady kisses would send me into paroxysms of joy, and straight to Twitter to express this, however, this particular one has set me to thinking. For Urban Outfitters does not have a sterling record when it comes to supporting gay rights; a t-shirt stating ‘I Support Same-Sex Marriage’ was pulled from their shelves in the US in late-2008, and its CEO, Richard Hayne has donated thousands of dollars to anti-gay Republican politicians, namely the charmingly homophobic Rick Santorum. Moreover, the company has faced accusations of racial stereotyping, copyright violation and plagiarism. This shady background is at odds with the young, alternative, independent, seemingly liberal clientèle and staff of the company, yet they continue to shop and work there, in spite of the fact that Urban Outfitters sell an image of themselves which is completely at odds with the reality.
However, putting aside the myriad other contradictions encompassed by Urban Outfitters, I would like to focus on this; what is a company with a record on gay rights such as theirs doing publishing a photo of two ladies kissing in one of its catalogues? On the surface, it could be understood as an attempt to appease liberal shoppers, and to express a company’s evolving viewpoint on gay issues. After all, the dearly misguided, and misleadingly moniker-ed über-conservative action group One Million Moms have got their knickers well and truly in a twist about it, and yet there remains a nagging feeling of discontent about the whole thing.
Whilst the women in the photo itself are a clear departure from the usual straight “busty beauties” used in male-orientated advertising to titillate the viewer, they are still feminine models, and therefore still subject to the fetishist, voyeuristic male gaze that the heteronormative masculine/feminine binary demands. Of course, in terms of lesbian-centric diversity, the depiction of a femme couple is a welcome rejection of the idea that only butches are real lesbians; however, we do not occupy a solely lesbian world, and so the visual signifiers depicted in the photo would suggest that these two women are kissing for a heterosexual audience. Indeed, whilst the models may not be the typical titillating ladies used to attract the male gaze, they may well be the equivalent for male shoppers of Urban Outfitters! Moreover, the kiss itself isn’t exactly passionate; not to cast aspersions on the acting talent of the models, but I’m not entirely convinced that this is a true depiction of lesbian lust.
Finally, and perhaps most tellingly, usually when One Million Moms announce a boycott of a company, there is an instant outpouring of support of that company, and a statement by the company expressing their continued commitment to supporting equality, and yet, let us listen to the silence from the public and Urban Outfitters both. One possibly lesbionic photo does not an expression of supporting equal rights make, and Urban Outfitters thus far have failed to make me, or it seems the general public*, think that including a lady kiss in their most recent catalogue is anything more than a cheap attempt at titillation. Sadly.
*The noted fundy crazies of One Million Moms excepted.