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August 5, 2014 11:04 AM   Subscribe

Recently I overheard a man say at a yoga class, "Yeah, well, you get two women together and it's like bitch central." I could have told him he only needed one, in fact, and that would be me, but it also made me realize how much people diminish and poo-poo the real power and strength of female friendship, especially between women, which is either supposed to descend into some kind of male lesbian love scene porn fantasy or be dismissed as meaningless or be re-written as a story of competition.

Here's the truth: friendships between women are often the deepest and most profound love stories, but they are often discussed as if they are ancillary, "bonus" relationships to the truly important ones. Women's friendships outlast jobs, parents, husbands, boyfriends, lovers, and sometimes children.
Transformation and Transcendence: The Power of Female Friendship, an essay by Emily Rapp (previously).
posted by divined by radio (53 comments total) 50 users marked this as a favorite

 
I asked for help and I got it. My friends stood with me in the middle of the scary, sky-howling road I was on, knowing they couldn’t take away the pain of the experience, but promising to be there when I emerged on the other side of the grief tunnel when my child would be gone. I feel them, every day, standing there as I stumble through the blissful, heart-breaking hours with my son whose brain and body fail him a little bit more each day.

That was lovely. Thank you for sharing. I remember reading other pieces by her about her son, I think.
posted by aka burlap at 11:13 AM on August 5


As a (pre-Internet) Army Brat my friendships were uprooted every few years growing up, so it's been only in adulthood that I've gotten to experience the joy of long-lasting friendships. They take work to form and maintain but community is so worth it.

That essay reminds me of the book Friendships Don't Just Happen -- which (ignore the cheesy title!) is a positive, nuanced, *meaty* exploration of the types of friendships women have with one another and how they are formed, strengthened, broken and repaired.
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 11:34 AM on August 5 [4 favorites]


When I was followed home and jumped in a dark street, none of my female friends said, "but you're okay, it's not like you were really attacked."

I know at least 5 women I could call - for anything - at 3 in the morning.

I still haven't had a job that's lasted as long as my longest friendships with women.

I also wish that more men had the kind of deep, nurturing friendships that many women seem to have.
posted by Occam's Aftershave at 11:52 AM on August 5 [6 favorites]


Who exactly as a cultural group is diminishing relationships between women? It's men who have to abide by a social contract that says that there can be, for instance, almost no platonic touching among male friends.

It has always seemed to me that female friendships were, from a cultural standpoint, considered to be stronger, more meaningful, and more robust than purely male friendships.

This is why men suffer more than women when they go through a breakup -- men are expected to rely less on their friends for emotional support and thus their significant other is often their only emotional resource since these kinds of close relationships between men are frowned upon by general society.

I'm a cis-male who's frequently jealous of the kinds of friendships that my female friends have with their female friends that are totally inaccessible to me as an American cis-male without violating serious cultural rules, which only flies very occasionally. This means that I literally am only able to maintain this kind of close bond with maybe one or two very dear male friends who are willing to look beyond the cultural roles and have a loving platonic relationship and not just "be bros".

I can't possibly imagine that my experience is singular and unique. Most straight American men probably just repress any desire for a loving platonic relationship and settle at "bros" and rely on their lovers for a deeper connection, consciously or not.
posted by unknownmosquito at 11:55 AM on August 5 [25 favorites]


And that's without getting into the effect of the dearth of deep platonic friendships on the male psyche combined with the cultural disdain for men expressing their emotions, on the male suicide rate in America.
posted by unknownmosquito at 11:56 AM on August 5 [2 favorites]


Not totally off topic: Broad City is a great show and a realistic portrayal of a deep female friendship. My partner said its the only thing she misses about being in a relationship.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 11:59 AM on August 5 [3 favorites]


I've only had one friendship like this, and I haven't always been worthy of it. I don't envy her the journey she's on, but I envy her the friendships she has.

I can't possibly imagine that my experience is singular and unique. Most straight American men probably just repress any desire for a loving platonic relationship and settle at "bros" and rely on their lovers for a deeper connection, consciously or not.

Yes. When I hear about widowers who get remarried quickly or die soon after their wives, I've always assumed this is why.

The flip side of this is that while it's bad for the men, it's a terrible burden for their wives, being someone's whole emotional world. It breeds resentment and depression, especially after the men retire and are always home or always following the wife around because they have nothing else to do. Meanwhile, she craves a little solitude or time with her outside friends and interests, but has to fight his complaining and clinging to get any.

Patriarchy: still shitty for everyone's soul.
posted by emjaybee at 12:01 PM on August 5 [50 favorites]


It is not an exaggeration to say that I would not have survived – that I will not survive — without my women friends.

a-fucking-men.
posted by desjardins at 12:11 PM on August 5 [1 favorite]


uh, excuse the unintentional pun.
posted by desjardins at 12:11 PM on August 5 [16 favorites]


It's an interesting read, but I'm skeptical of her thesis criticism. Sex and the City was one of the most watched and acclaimed series in recent years, and the show is (eventually) primarily about friendship between women. Men are a prop. And rather contrary to Rapp, one of the criticisms I heard most often leveled by women at Sex and the City was that watching the show exacerbated their insecurity about not being a member of a close-knit group of "girlfriends."
posted by cribcage at 12:17 PM on August 5 [7 favorites]


That was a beautiful piece. Thank you for posting it.
posted by jillithd at 12:19 PM on August 5


This article as a whole is a really beautiful paean to specifically female friendships. Thanks for posting it.

it also made me realize how much people diminish and poo-poo the real power and strength of female friendship, especially between women, which is either supposed to descend into some kind of male lesbian love scene porn fantasy or be dismissed as meaningless or be re-written as a story of competition. Here’s the truth: friendships between women are often the deepest and most profound love stories, but they are often discussed as if they are ancillary, “bonus” relationships to the truly important ones. Women’s friendships outlast jobs, parents, husbands, boyfriends, lovers, and sometimes children.

I would go a step farther, personally, and say that the above passage is a terrific elucidation of the frustration I have with the way deep friendships are undervalued, period. Some of my closest friends have been with men...these friendships are also "supposed to" descend into porn or romantic fantasies, re-written as stories of competition, and most of all, are considered ancillary.
posted by desuetude at 12:23 PM on August 5 [7 favorites]


That seems like an odd criticism to her claim that, "friendships between women... are often discussed as if they are ancillary, “bonus” relationships to the truly important ones". I mean Sex and the City is one example from a decade ago and doesn't contradict her claim (she said often, not always and forever).
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 12:23 PM on August 5


Years ago while I was in the emergency room all night on some blind, booming machine which I supposed was breathing for me, friends never let go of my hands, always one on each side. Before I came home from that extended stay, two had gone to my house, moved my bed into a lovely east room they had painted the most delectable butter yellow color and hung my favorite pictures so I would have a more accessible place to recuperate. I'm sitting in that room today, missing one friend who spends half the year on the West Coast these days. With others I play WWF and chat and we meet or indulge in late night phone calls when something needs hashing. All are friends I made after age fifty and I don't think I could live without them.

This is not just about women; it is absolutely marvelous that men are remarking about the absence of this kind of deep connection in their own lives because they are socialized to avoid it with other men. Patriarchy cheats us all.
posted by Anitanola at 12:30 PM on August 5 [16 favorites]


For most of my 20s I was one of those women who would declare that they "just don't like other women", because they were too stupid or girly or boring or whatever. Most of my friends were men. In my 30s I realized that my attitude was patriarchal nonsense and now I am so blessed to have a number of wonderful friendships with other women in my life. Particularly as someone who is childless, I am delighted that I will get to grow old with these ladies.

This is a really lovely piece. Thanks for posting it.
posted by jess at 12:33 PM on August 5 [2 favorites]


It's a lovely essay, but I feel like any kind of blanket ode to "female ____" like this needs some sort of #notallwomen disclaimer. As an INTP-y, XX-genotyped person, I've been more often than not confused, frustrated and exhausted by the expectation of successive female friends that enjoying each other's company will naturally graduate to some sort of intense relation of "support, salvation, transformation," etc. I feel like I've disappointed and/or offended nearly every female friend I ever had by pretty much wanting to keep things on the affectionate-but-intermittent, beer-and-a-movie level, and I deeply envy the various males in my life who seem to be able to maintain that level of moderate engagement without losing the friendship altogether. It certainly doesn't help to read articles implying that a real woman would totally enjoy that kind of ultra-deep platonic enmeshment, because that's what Female Friendship is inherently about. Or that anybody who's not down with it is somehow a tool of the patriarchy.
posted by Bardolph at 12:33 PM on August 5 [35 favorites]


I've always wondered about where that 'women hate each other' trope comes from. Is it people who only know women from TV? (Watch Parks & Recreation instead--that's a lot closer to real life.) Are the women who say that serious? Do they really not have female friends? Do they just assume it's impossible so they never get to know other girls or women?

Some of the fiercest, most passionate friendships are between little girls. There is no love so terrifyingly obsessive and insular as little girls who are best friends.

And people trash on teenaged girls all the time, as though they're uniformly mean and fickle and fighting over boys. Is that all they see? Because when you're a teenaged girl, other teenaged girls are the only people who really have your back no matter what. They're the ones who are there when someone's boyfriend is being controlling or abusive, when someone's pregnant and doesn't want to be, and they're the ones who'll give you the shirt off their back to tie around your waist when you bleed through your pants.

And who hasn't seen two old ladies goofing around and acting ridiculous out in public? Those old ladies take care of each other after their kids and husbands and everyone else is gone.

Are people not seeing this at all, or are they misconstruing what they do see?

I kind of feel sorry for people who think women hate each other. They're missing so much.
posted by ernielundquist at 12:35 PM on August 5 [16 favorites]


Who exactly as a cultural group is diminishing relationships between women?

Men, mostly.

I can't even tell you how many times I've had to bite my tongue when a man is moved to insinuate or outright state that my close, loving friendship with another woman must be a front for lesbianism/bisexuality (I'm straight) or some kind of slow-burning, long-running competition over male affection. Do many men really believe that women with close female friendships spend all of our time together lounging around in our adorable matching underwear sets, eating low-fat yogurt and braiding each other's flowing tresses in between makeout sessions and fights about boys? Because it sure seems like it.

I'm 32, I've had a superlatively singular best friend for a dozen years -- we have giant matching tattoos with tons of plans to get more, is our kind of speed -- and we are still so totally, utterly, and completely devoted to each other that people feel the need to accuse us of being closeted or in a perpetual [:twitch:] "cat fight." When bestie and I lived together, almost every dude that one of us brought home would try to get us to fuck or at least get naked together in front of him. It was staggering! We were not exactly living in a nunnery -- we still refer to our mutual residence as 'The Den of Sin' -- so the wink-wink-nudge-nudge refrain of, "C'mon, isn't that what best friends are for?" is one we are very familiar with. So I knew her then-boyfriend, now-husband/father of her child would be Forever The One when he called and asked me for permission to propose to her. It's so refreshing to know that a man wants us to stay as tightly-knit as we've always been instead of trying to put a wedge between us because he thinks our relationship somehow detracts from theirs.

We both still get shit for saying we have a best friend, but we're not sure which other terms could pass muster... Soulmate? Favorite person? We do use those, and we also call each other "wife," but "best friend" is what resonates. My friendships with men are very meaningful and long-lasting but my friendships with women are nestled deep in my blood, breath, and bones. I don't know any other way to put it.

Women! I love you, individually, collectively, culturally, forever. I owe you everything. Thank you.
posted by divined by radio at 12:51 PM on August 5 [26 favorites]


I think Bardolph has a good point; it's definitely not true that all women have, or possibly want, these kinds of friendships. I certainly don't think that men are incapable of them, either. Or that it can't cross genders.

It's possible that a lot of women do form these kinds of intense relationships for the same reasons that soldiers form close bonds; like soldiers, women are stuck in a war and are likely to have to deal with trauma. I have been told that siblings with crappy or abusive parents often form very tight bonds for the same reason.

This doesn't mean it's not beautiful when it happens, but it's possible that really intense relationships can be an outgrowth of women not being able to trust men in a sexist system, and banding together with other women who are battling the same kinds of oppression, disappointment and threats.
posted by emjaybee at 12:51 PM on August 5 [1 favorite]


>Do many men really believe that women with close female friendships spend all of our time together lounging around in our adorable matching underwear sets, eating low-fat yogurt and braiding each other's flowing tresses in between makeout sessions and fights about boys? Because it sure seems like it.

Only douchebags, of which there are many, and compounded with confirmation bias .. well .. I can see how you'd have that experience.

But this isn't some sort of conspiracy against womenkind. There are just as many asshole guys who make these kinds of sweeping judgements about the opposite sex as there are asshole women who make sweeping judgements against men.

I've certainly never heard my sister catch shit for having a female best friend, and growing up she had a very close friendship with another girl (which, if she'd been a guy, we'd call a "bromance" because those relationships are so rare, but since she's a girl it's just a "best friend") and that friendship always got support from our parents and friends, and I was always jealous of it growing up.

Now it's the same. Maybe I just hang out with decent people, but I've really never seen a woman catch real shit for being close friends with other women.
posted by unknownmosquito at 1:02 PM on August 5 [1 favorite]


Interesting to read all the comments about men not being allowed to have deep friendships with other men. In my experience, it's just the opposite - the blatantly patriarchal male friends and relatives in my life would insist that friendship with women is impossible; a la When Harry Met Sally.
posted by mrbigmuscles at 1:07 PM on August 5


There's an acknowledged cultural thing about male friendships: bros before hos. (hoes? ho's?) Does that exist for female friendships? There's a ton of pop culture about how men are expected, required, to put their male friendships above and beyond everything and everyone else; the pop culture about women's friendships tend to center more around competition or how the husband and kids come first.

Is all this true for actual friendships as experienced by real people? Mostly not, no, of course.
posted by rtha at 1:08 PM on August 5 [1 favorite]


Maybe I just hang out with decent people, but I've really never seen a woman catch real shit for being close friends with other women.

I bet you've never seen anyone get catcalled, either!
posted by desjardins at 1:09 PM on August 5 [8 favorites]


Actually no, I've witnessed catcalls. The difference here is that said catcalling douchebag isn't my friend and is just some rando asshole on the street.

Someone giving a female friend shit for being friends with other women? We're probably actually having a social interaction, which means they know either me or the people I know, and get filtered by the social network.
posted by unknownmosquito at 1:16 PM on August 5


But this isn't some sort of conspiracy against womenkind.

Conspiracy? Confirmation bias? That's funny. If you really don't think that male privilege has afforded you any kind of insulation from the myriad ways in which women are routinely -- and, indeed, culturally -- denigrated just for existing, then ignorance sure must be bliss. I gave you my testimony, which comes from 32 years of lived experience as a woman, and you dismissed it out of hand with an accusation of confirmation bias and a declaration that you have not observed your sister being treated the same way, game set match. This precise brand of dismissal happens to a whole lot of women every day, in every way, everywhere. But it doesn't happen to you. I wonder why that is... or maybe it's just confirmation bias?

There are just as many asshole guys who make these kinds of sweeping judgements about the opposite sex as there are asshole women who make sweeping judgements against men.

This is terribly, regrettably, laughably untrue.

Maybe I just hang out with decent people, but I've really never seen a woman catch real shit for being close friends with other women.

Or maybe it's because you're a man? The whole "I'm not a woman, but I KNOW a woman, and SHE says..." thing is deeply unflattering.
posted by divined by radio at 1:20 PM on August 5 [18 favorites]


Societally the focus has always been so much more so on men, what men think, what men value, etc. that how women could otherwise relate to the world is generally diminished. A woman just doesn't really get to be simply a person in the world the way a man can be - unmarked.

I mean, there's a reason that the being "one of the guys" thing is so powerful a trope for some women - what is valuable is what the men like, not what other women like (or what you are told, societally, as a woman to like) - and the rebellion is that you're better than that, that you see what men are & what men like is what's valuable - so you have real value in the world (like a man does) by rejecting women & women's things.

I would add to that the rollercoaster of teenage years - as a girl grows, how she relates to boys becomes front & center in a way that is so much more consuming than how boys are taught to relate to girls (as sex objects, mostly) - that even in rejecting this, still acknowledges how consuming the example is.

So many of the stories/books/movies we're fed as teenagers are about boyfriends & love. We are implicitly taught we should view other women as competition for male attention, that our friendships aren't as important as the boys/men we attract & partner off with, and about how we can best make ourselves appealing to what men want from us (physically & emotionally) - how we need to work on that, continually.

Even as adults we're implicitly expected to put our needs, our careers, our friendships second to our partners & families (and considered incomplete without a partner/children). We are considered reliant on men in a way I just don't think is the same when you flip the genders (I am not saying men are not reliant on women but it is in quite different ways - as providers of sex, childbearing, housework, emotional care - it's not the same). It does not strike me as incorrect that female friendships are not valued for what they truly can be through this lens.
posted by flex at 1:25 PM on August 5 [16 favorites]


Someone giving a female friend shit for being friends with other women?

Its not 'being friends with other women' that is threatening and dismissed as a disguise for homosexual desire--its two women having a very close and intimate bond that is being denigrated. You are probably falling victim to confirmation bias by reflecting on all homosocial amicable relationships between women, not the close and deep bond that the author is talking about.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 1:27 PM on August 5 [2 favorites]


Maybe I just hang out with decent people, but I've really never seen a woman catch real shit for being close friends with other women.

Please do not deny a common lived experience (of women, in this case) because you have not personally witnessed it.
posted by jess at 1:32 PM on August 5 [17 favorites]


I can't even tell you how many times I've had to bite my tongue when a man is moved to insinuate or outright state that my close, loving friendship with another woman must be a front for lesbianism/bisexuality

Conversely, I can't tell you how many times people have insisted that the women I've dated are just my "really good friends" because that's what they want to believe.
posted by bile and syntax at 1:33 PM on August 5 [2 favorites]


I've been more often than not confused, frustrated and exhausted by the expectation of successive female friends that enjoying each other's company will naturally graduate to some sort of intense relation of "support, salvation, transformation," etc. I feel like I've disappointed and/or offended nearly every female friend I ever had by pretty much wanting to keep things on the affectionate-but-intermittent, beer-and-a-movie level, and I deeply envy the various males in my life who seem to be able to maintain that level of moderate engagement without losing the friendship altogether.

I don't know any women who entered into friendships with me with the express purpose of creating a supportive, salvation-providing, transformative relationship, although I suppose this has happened over time. I have a couple of friends that I've been friends with for 30 years. We met in college and have seen each other through all the ups and downs that occur over 30 years. We've seen each other through drunken frat parties, broken hearts, career highs and lows, health issues, pregnancy, pregnancy scares, parent deaths, chldren, blond highlights, etc.

If my friend finds a lump, I'm going to be there, not wish her the best and send a get-well card with instructions to call me when she's back on her feet. Everyone needs someone to lean on when things are tough and to celebrate with when things are great. Most of the time, our friendship is dinner and a movie, catching up on gossip or talking hair and nails. But it's also more than that.
posted by shoesietart at 1:51 PM on August 5 [1 favorite]


Bardolph: "It certainly doesn't help to read articles implying that a real woman would totally enjoy that kind of ultra-deep platonic enmeshment, because that's what Female Friendship is inherently about."

I know what you mean, but I don't think that you're #notallwomen if your version of Meaningful Female Friendship is different version than this -- my relationship experiences don't quite jibe with hers either, but I take hers as an example, not the ne plus ultra. You need what you need from relationships, and you're not doing it wrong by valuing something different than ultra-deep platonic enmeshment in your relationships with women.
posted by desuetude at 2:06 PM on August 5 [1 favorite]


Many years after reading it, I still think of this passage from Mary Cantwell's essay, "Lawless Friendship":
We employed a different vocabulary, my friend who will never grow old and I. It started small -- we met, literally, as babies -- and over the years grew to encompass the pleasures and pains of a lifetime. Today I can scarcely bear the terrible singularity of my memories. Now no one but I knows what it was to be chased around a bandstand on an autumn afternoon by two little boys bent on kissing us. No one but I remembers our scary trip along Fifth Avenue on a snowy December day, Ruthie determined to drive me to my wedding and I certain she'd get us killed en route. No one but I remembers how at midnight after lobster dinners we would surreptitiously hurl the empty shells into the harbor. Returning them, we intoned, "to the deep whence they come." Yes, I remember. Sometimes I even laugh. But I laugh alone and, oh, the difference to me.
posted by MonkeyToes at 2:09 PM on August 5 [13 favorites]


> I think Bardolph has a good point; it's definitely not true that all women have, or possibly want, these kinds of friendships. I certainly don't think that men are incapable of them, either. Or that it can't cross genders.

Sure, friendships are usually founded on common experiences and perspectives, and gender is a big one. So women do bond over woman things a lot of the time, but women also bond over other human experiences as well.

I have had the same best friend for about 35 years now (!!!) and our friendship doesn't look a lot like those, at least superficially.

We're not usually openly demonstrative the way many women's friendships are. We play dozens with each other and have gross out competitions and we goof around a lot, so it's not like intense social interaction all the time or anything. We do, however, trust and depend on each other in ways that we don't anyone else. We are each others' emergency contacts, we've always been authorized to pick each others' kids up at school, we take care of each other when we're sick or injured, and if either of us ends up stranded a hundred miles from home at 3AM, literally or figuratively, the other one is going to go pick her up.

We don't hug or say we love each other, except in extreme circumstances, but when those extreme circumstances happen, we can depend on it.

We have our own unique friendship, and it looks nothing like people--especially men--interpret it.

When we were younger, especially, we did have people assume we were lesbians (and there were weird racial overtones to it usually, because gross people are gross). That accusation even came up in court during her divorce. We've always had people assume we were being passive aggressive or competitive and that we secretly hated each other. It seems like someone is always trying to pigeonhole us into some media-based model, and none of them fit. And they all seem informed by the male gaze somehow, placing themselves in some fundamentally central role, where women base their relationships on competition for men's attention. We've never fought over a man or men or anything like that at all. That would be ridiculous.

So no, not all women's friendships look like the ones in that article, at least superficially. And I know some men have relationships like that too. But there are a lot of people out there who will claim that women are never really friends at all, and you'd have to not be paying attention to real people at all to think that.
posted by ernielundquist at 2:37 PM on August 5 [1 favorite]


There's an acknowledged cultural thing about male friendships: bros before hos. (hoes? ho's?) Does that exist for female friendships?

Hoes before bros.
Uteruses before duderuses.
Ovaries before brovaries.


(I heard this on Parks and Rec. Thanks, Leslie Knope!)
posted by zoetrope at 2:50 PM on August 5


I am sure this isn't on purpose, but some of the above comments might have a tone like being seen as lesbians or bisexuals is a bad thing. Yes, having a meaningful relationship be misunderstood or misconstrued can be frustrating and insulting - for both sexual and non-sexual relationships! So I'm just putting it out there that lesbian and bisexual relationships are NOT bad things. Skeevy pervs who have no business in your personal business are bad things.

I'm sure someone much more eloquent than I could word this better. :/
posted by jillithd at 2:52 PM on August 5 [2 favorites]


Sisters before Misters is perhaps the best female "bros before hos" analogue.
posted by HowardLuckGossage at 3:09 PM on August 5 [5 favorites]


I think the more common cliche flips the other way actually, that a woman will drop her girlfriends when she starts dating a new man. "Mister before sisters," I suppose.
posted by cribcage at 3:21 PM on August 5


chicks before dicks!
posted by desjardins at 3:23 PM on August 5 [2 favorites]


jillithd, I don't think it was intended that way at all. It's that some men can't conceive of an intimate friendship without sex, so if two women are really close, they must be lesbians or bisexuals. There is certainly nothing wrong with lesbian or bisexual relationships. There is something wrong with reducing women's activities to sex and using that reduction as a titillation or as an insult. In my case, I was accused by a male partner of cheating on him with a woman, just because the woman and I were friends. (It was not true.)
posted by desjardins at 3:28 PM on August 5 [1 favorite]


fleshy clits before dangly bits?
posted by Strass at 3:29 PM on August 5 [2 favorites]


I'm a double gold-star gay so I'm not really sure that clits are fleshy, but it makes the rhyme work better

More productively, my two best friends in the entire world are both women and no man has ever made a comparable dent next to the unending abyss that represents the depth and breadth of thoughts, comfort, and love we share with each other.
posted by Strass at 3:31 PM on August 5


i'm not certain anatomical features are the best route to go to define gender in these slogans
posted by p3on at 3:35 PM on August 5 [3 favorites]


As a guy, who doesn't really have a close connection or experience with the demeaning of female relationships, I guess I have nothing to say about that.

Anyone should be allowed to have deep friendships with anyone, regardless of gender. That includes friendships across genders. I also don't see anything wrong with two female best friends that are both lesbians that have never been sexually into each other. Sexual orientation is just a quantifier that helps identify who you probably wouldn't marry/have sex with.
posted by halifix at 3:38 PM on August 5


Fuck cliches and anatomical specificities; my best friends are brilliant, loving, full-round human beings.
posted by Anitanola at 3:39 PM on August 5 [2 favorites]


Oh, I don't think being a lesbian is a bad thing. I just think it's creepy that men assume that close female friends must be having sex with each other. It's as though some men are unable to conceive of anyone being platonic friends with women, even gay men and straight women.

It's coming from the same assumption as the friendzone concept comes. Men are valued for their friendship, but women are only valued for sex.

A while back, I had to explain to a lesbian friend that no, "everyone" does not "love boobies." She honestly believed that even people who aren't attracted to women were really into looking at and possibly playing with boobs and looking at a bunch of boring pictures of sexy ladies.
posted by ernielundquist at 4:09 PM on August 5 [1 favorite]


The disintegration and breakdown of deep friendships between women can also be just as painful as the breakdown of sexual relationships, too - a fact which generally isn't recognised.

And yeah, friendships come in all forms and manifest in different ways. Sometimes there is hugging and hand-holding and confession, and sometimes there is practical action, and sometimes there is talk, and sometimes there is just presence. One of my best female friends and I have never hugged, and in fact I'm struggling to remember any time we've even touched - yet emotionally she has been one of my utmost strengths in difficult times. One size never fits all.
posted by andraste at 4:11 PM on August 5 [4 favorites]


>Conversely, I can't tell you how many times people have insisted that the women I've dated are just my "really good friends" because that's what they want to believe.

Ugh, I'm so sorry you have to endure that. My parents call my brother's husband his "really good friend" and it makes me want to burn the world down. Trying to create some kind of distance by using an arm's length term like "friend" where "girl/boyfriend" or "husband" should suffice makes it seem like they think that as long as they don't go full Westboro Baptist, whatever precise wording they use to express themselves doesn't qualify as hateful. But casually expressed bigotry is still bigotry.

>There is something wrong with reducing women's activities to sex and using that reduction as a titillation or as an insult.

>I just think it's creepy that men assume that close female friends must be having sex with each other. It's as though some men are unable to conceive of anyone being platonic friends with women, even gay men and straight women.

Yes! There's this inextricable, undeniable undercurrent of titillation to our whole dang existence, all bound up in the fact that women are treated as the sex class (IBTP), like we're the embodiment of sex itself, and thus everything we do is inherently sexualized, even when all we're doing is sitting around watching Maury and eating takeout with our bestie. I get to do this in 42 days and I am overwhelmingly excited.

We can't 'just' hang out with our best friend(s), male or female, because we're women, and while the presence of one woman clearly indicates that something sexy must be going on, the presence of TWO women... does that mean... double sexy?! Whoa. I'm one of those short-hair-no-makeup-no-bra-zero-shame types, but I can attest that women can and do still get treated like Representatives of Sex even if we fail miserably at performing traditional femininity. It's a bummer.

On a much happier note, everyone who loves reading about close friendships and especially close friendships between women should read this incredible memoir by Gail Caldwell: Let's Take the Long Way Home.
posted by divined by radio at 4:51 PM on August 5 [2 favorites]


the presence of TWO women... does that mean... double sexy?!

Ann Patchett, from “The Love Between the Two Women is Not Normal”:
[Truth & Beauty'] is my own story, the story of Lucy and me meeting in college, becoming friends in graduate school, and trying to find our way in the world as writers. Lucy, who had lost part of her jaw to cancer at the age of 9, had endured years of chemotherapy and radiation. She had 38 reconstructive surgeries over the course of her lifetime. She was a spectacular person, brilliant and difficult, demanding and talented. She was capable of great love and tenderness, as well as great suffering. She was my best friend for 17 years. After her death, at the age of 39, I wrote a book about us. I wrote it as a way to memorialize her and mourn her, and as a way of keeping her own important memoir, Autobiography of a Face, alive, even as I had not been able to keep her alive. This was a story of a Herculean effort to endure hardship, and to be a friend. ...

In an article published in the Anderson Independent-Mail, headlined “Protesters: Little beauty in ‘Truth and Beauty,” Charmaine Smith writes, “In the book, there is an implied lesbian relationship between Ms. Patchett and Ms. Grealy.” The article goes on to quote Amanda See, a 17-year-old Clemson freshman who joined in the protest. “The friendship and the love portrayed in the book are not exemplary,” Ms. See said. “The love between the two women is not normal.”* Ms. Smith had finally come out and said the thing that no one else had the nerve to mention: Lucy and I must have been having sex with each other. That was the only possible explanation for our loyalty, love, and devotion. Sex was the payoff for a difficult relationship, and without sex the whole thing made no sense.

posted by MonkeyToes at 5:30 PM on August 5 [8 favorites]


I certainly buy everything in this thread about men being dismissive of female friendship but

I also wish that more men had the kind of deep, nurturing friendships that many women seem to have.

it's not remotely my experience of male friendship that it's less than that - deep and supportive relationships can take different forms.
posted by atoxyl at 5:33 PM on August 5 [2 favorites]


Oh. That's what has been depressing me about these comments. I'm not familiar with people feeling sorry for me, not because I'm a bigot that doesn't/does realize it, but because... I'm probably not having the deep friendships that I should have?

I definitely see harmful stereotypes of both genders in media everywhere, but I guess I have the charitable outlook in that those which actively seek self-improvement on their privilege and biases would be able to overcome them in personal relations. Even people that don't really do so seem to reflect much often have relations with people outside their comfort zone, after all.
posted by halifix at 6:22 PM on August 5


I'm so jealous of relationships like this. I think I will make someone a great girlfriend some day, when the right girl comes along...
posted by bleep at 8:08 PM on August 5 [2 favorites]


It's a lovely essay, but I feel like any kind of blanket ode to "female ____" like this needs some sort of #notallwomen disclaimer.

So, I kind of feel this too and I'm grateful someone brought it up. I actually spent some time after reading the post and the thread literally thinking to myself, "I wonder what my parents did wrong that I am so bad at being female?" and "Maybe I was socialized in a male way and that's why things like this feel totally foreign to me."

I mean, I was Daddy's Little Scientist and my parents strongly valued things like independence, intellect, and ambition over social skills and forming close relationships, but I don't think it's entirely right to say they raised me in a masculine way. After all, plenty of women value those things too and they aren't mutually exclusive with more typically feminine traits like empathy, friendship, etc.

I'm relatively certain I'm a cisgendered woman, but I don't have friendships like this and never have (outside my close relationship with my sister, which is also influenced by familial bonds). I'm not sure I'd even know how to have them. I relate much more to the typically male thing mentioned upthread where my partner is my best friend.

For a long time I thought I had a big problem that was maybe internalized sexism, and then I thought maybe I was just socialized poorly, and then I thought maybe I wasn't taught these typically female behaviors and values, and now I think it might just be who I am. So yeah, #notallwomen, I guess.
posted by annekate at 9:16 AM on August 6 [2 favorites]


Roxane Gay, from "How to Be Friends With Another Woman":
1. Abandon the cultural myth that all female friendships must be toxic, bitchy or competitive. This myth is like heels and purses — pretty but designed to SLOW women down.

1A. This is not to say women aren't bitches or toxic or competitive sometimes but rather to say that these are not defining characteristics of female friendship, especially as you get older.
...
4. If you are the kind of woman who says, "I'm mostly friends with guys," and act like you're proud of that, like that makes you closer to being a man or something, and less of a woman as if a woman is a bad thing, see Item 3. It's okay if most of your friends are guys but if you champion this as a commentary on the nature of female friendships, well, soul search a little.

4A. If you feel like it's hard to be friends with women consider that maybe women aren't the problem. Maybe it's just you.

4B. I used to be this kind of woman. I'm sorry.
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:36 PM on August 7 [6 favorites]


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