Professor Helen Woodruffe-Burton
Professor Helen Woodruffe-Burton

As former professional boxer Nicola Adams prepares to make television history this weekend in Strictly Come Dancing’s first ever same-sex pairing, an Edge Hill academic explains why this milestone is so significant for LGBTQ+ culture. 

Helen Woodruffe-Burton is Director of Edge Hill’s Business School and a Professor of Marketing. Prof Woodruffe-Burton, who herself identifies as a high femme lesbian, has published several articles and book chapters on LGBTQ+ issues relating to identity, careers, and wellbeing in the workplace.  

She believes that Nicola’s performance on one of the nation’s most popular TV shows signifies a shift in the mainstream media’s portrayal of lesbians, particularly of those who identify as butch or masculine-presenting.  

She said: “Representation is important and one of the many interesting aspects about the choice of Nicola Adams is that she is not a feminine lesbian, but rather very masculine-presenting. 

“Many portrayals of lesbian couples on television often show two women who both look ‘girly’ and feminine. Masculine-presenting and butch-identified lesbians both remain very under-represented in mainstream media and that’s why it will be so powerful to see Nicola representing a community that often goes unnoticed.” 

The two-time Olympic boxing champion has been paired with professional dancer Katya Jones and previously revealed that she only agreed to do the show if she could be paired with a woman. In an interview, Nicola said: “This is 2020. We have to move with the times.” 

This sentiment is echoed by Prof Woodruffe-Burton, who added:

“I think it’s incredibly exciting for young lesbians who may be tomboyish or more masculine-identified themselves to see a role model that they can relate to on TV. In previous programmes that have depicted lesbians, such as The L Word, the characters were mostly very glamorous and there were few if any more butch roles. Whereas more recently we have seen Suranne Jones’ portrayal of Anne Lister in Gentleman Jack, which was a runaway hit in spite of her being unashamedly masculine, both in her manner and attire. 

“Perceptions have shifted a lot in the past two decades and to have this representation on prime-time television is massive. That’s not to say that there has been no negative or homophobic backlash in response, but more importantly, it demonstrates the progress achieved by the LGBTQ+ community in the fight for equal representation.” 

If you would like to find out more about the Edge Hill Student Union’s LGBTQ+ Society and the range of support it offers, click here.  

Edge Hill University’s Business School offers students an environment to grow and develop, enriched by partnerships with some of the world’s leading universities, with key national, regional and local businesses, and major professional bodies across its degree subjects. For more information about Professor Woodruffe-Burton’s work and the variety of courses available at the Business School, please visit our website.