The importance of women’s friendships

I’ve long been surprised when I hear women say that they don’t have women friends, they don’t like women and they simply find men to be better friends. In my life, friendships with women have been and are immensely valuable. Today I am thinking on the importance of women’s friendships.

In my experience, building close connections with fellow women is an immensely powerful feminist act. Communicating, laughing, growing stronger with each other is a form of resistance. It is a strengthening of bonds between women where patriarchy has sought to keep us apart, rivals, without coherent community. In forming such connections there’s a centring of women’s wishes and concerns. That is, it’s about women valuing women, a rare emotional space in which we aren’t considered less than (that is, if all parties are doing friendship right!) or centring men.

In friendship, we hold ourselves accountable to each other in ways we don’t when we’re just interacting with someone on a casual basis. We’re uniquely invested in overcoming problems, making things work. I think about how useful that particular accountability can be when it’s present in political work. In doing activism, we need to rely on each other, we need to be able to communicate our needs and trust they’ll be met. I think about how movements such as feminism by and large centre a particular kind (white, straight, middle class…) of woman’s experience, how more marginalised voices come to the fore often only after a great deal of pressure, and how frustrating that is. It’s partly because particular kinds of women do not feel sufficiently accountable to other kinds. This is not to say that activists should be friends, or that that’s even possible or desirable under all circumstances. Rather I’m thinking that the kindness and compassion we employ in dealing with our friends can also well be applied in interacting with fellow social justice activists, particularly in acknowledging and working with the intersections of oppressions.

And women’s friendships centre women’s experiences. No one’s going to think you ridiculous for being scared to walk home alone at night. Women can support each other in these patriarchy-shaped elements of our lives; it’s a means of having one’s feelings and experiences confirmed and legitimised where we are usually told they aren’t valid, didn’t quite happen like that, it’s just you. And of course in hanging out with women there’s an escape from many of the manners of interacting as prescribed by patriarchy, as any woman who has to put up with the likes of being interrupted constantly by men will know.

Now, I recognise that there’s not a place for friendships with fellow women in every woman’s life. I’m not saying it’s wrong to have lots of men friends (I think that’s fantastic) or that having them means you don’t like women (that’d be silly and, you know, assuming there aren’t any other genders). Sometimes, where a woman has mostly or exclusively men friends, she says it’s because she doesn’t like women. That is where I see a component of misogyny, because we are told that women are silly, uninteresting, that it’s better to be in with the blokes. That sort of thing is far from being free of its context, patriarchal influence and all.

For me personally, women have been the ones I’ve relied on and shaped myself through interacting with. They’ve been of immense support in a scary world in which I’ve found it most difficult to trust men. Coming from that perspective, it has been very important to me to have these strong connections. My friendships with women have been a site of foundational change and goodness.

If I may finish with a quote, I’m finding a connection with what Audre Lorde said in “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House”:

For women, the need and desire to nurture each other is not pathological but redemptive, and it is within that knowledge that our real power is rediscovered. It is this real connection which is so feared by a patriarchal world. Only within a patriarchal structure is maternity the only social power open to women.

[Cross-posted at Zero at the Bone]

83 comments for “The importance of women’s friendships

  1. Butterflywings
    January 19, 2010 at 5:52 pm

    Beautiful post. I so agree. Thanks.

  2. WB
    January 19, 2010 at 6:03 pm

    Excellent post. I have often said that I can’t live without female friends, but I would be able to live without men for the rest of my life. Lorde’s quote hit the nail on the head about the redemption in female relationships. There is something so emotionally and spiritually satisfying about friendships with other women.

    It’s been my experience though that so many other women center their lives around men and drop their female friends at the drop of a hat. So I’ve therefore become a bit more guarded and have less women who I would consider to be my very close friends. But I always yearn for more connections with other females.

    Over the years I have also become guarded because most of the people who have deeply hurt me in my life have been other women. It’s not the sexist men in the workplace nor asshole male lovers who have hurt me the most, but other women who have either turned on me or who have done everything in their power to be petty in the workplace and make it difficult for other women. I think that this kind of “woman’s inhumanity to woman” is sometimes what causes people like me to sometimes keep a safe distance from many other women, especially in the workplace.

  3. January 19, 2010 at 6:19 pm

    I agree with you but defend women like me who have often found it hard to trust either sex. My mother was often less than loving and often used what we told her against us later even if we had told her something in confidence. She fought openly with our father and it created a great deal of estrangement between them, me, and my siblings. I say this to make a point. A lot of women don’t know why they prefer to have only male friends or to be friendless in general. I pretty much have lots of acquaintances but can count on one hand the women I would call true trustworthy friends (less when it comes to men). I don’t trust women because I learned early on that those that you think you can trust most sometimes back stab you and use your words against you. It seems sad and it is sometimes but it’s taught me to really protect myself and rely on myself rather than to hope or expect someone else is going to do that for me. I know why I don’t trust and I learned that over many years. Only now that I am well into my 30’s am I finally loosening up and really trying to make true bonding friendships with other women. I mostly have had male friends (they were mostly gay) and the few female friends I have had overtime seemed to never last. I always got the same vibe, as I do now around other women… like I am not particularly in their circle/clique. Even at work I feel this way in committees made up of mostly women. I always feel like an outsider. Perhaps it was the lack of inclusion I felt from my mother early on that continues to be pervasive in my friendships today.

  4. prairielily
    January 19, 2010 at 6:43 pm

    Truthfully, I actually DO bond with men more easily. I’m not sure why. I think I’m just more shy around women because I don’t have stereotypically “female” interests and I wait to see what they’re interested in before I open up. But my deeper, more enduring friendships are with women. I absolutely value that, and I would never say that I “don’t get along with women.”

  5. January 19, 2010 at 6:44 pm

    There’s one thing in this post that I want to thank you for- it’s all great, but one thing stood out to me. Thank you for distinguishing between One Of The Dudes (patent pending) and women who just happen to have more male friends and get on with it. I have found that a few women who don’t consider themselves feminist see women with male friends as odd, and that some (far from all, thankfully!) feminists see it as misogyny, where that is only the case for those who say women are less fun. As a gamer who also works in a male-dominated industry, I have more male friends because I interact with more men. It’s so refreshing to see somebody who sets that apart from the kind of people who make comments about women being boring… I used to be one of those people actually, because of my experience of high school, but luckily I’m not like that now (I hope).

    And of course, since I don’t have so many, my friendships with other women are even more precious. The things you have described about friendships between women are things that I recognise about my friends- you’ve put that into words in a way I find hard. So thanks for that too :)

  6. January 19, 2010 at 6:56 pm

    Thanks for your comments so far, everyone. I hope you continue to have, or soon find, friendships that work for you, if you’re inclined to be a friend-having sort!

  7. Shelley
    January 19, 2010 at 7:31 pm

    This post is beautiful. I really appreciate it.

    Female voices as powerful has come to the forefront for me lately, especially because of the first chapter in bell hooks’ Talking Back. At this point, I have two GREAT women friends that I could not do without. There is nothing like being able to call another mom, someone I trust, to discuss the realities/stresses of parenthood and family life. “it’s a means of having one’s feelings and experiences confirmed and legitimised where we are usually told they aren’t valid, didn’t quite happen like that, it’s just you.” Well said.

  8. laura
    January 19, 2010 at 7:32 pm

    I have had trouble maintaining friendships with women. There are a variety of reasons for this, but one of them that has been on my mind lately, is that I find that when a friend gets a new significant other, my female friends will become less “available” to hang out, whereas my male friends will still have time for me. Of course this is patriarchy-shaped (women needing to put more work into a relationship, etc.), but it also seems to be the opposite of experiences portrayed where the opposite-sex friend will get shut out over envy or suspiciousness, real or anticipated. I have lucked out in that most of my male friend’s S.O.s have not felt “threatened” by me or whatever, and instead I usually get along quite well with them.

    Whereas with female friends, I find there is just not as much hanging out going on. When it does happen it is great, but frequency is a big shaper of someone’s involvement in my life. Similarly, even outside of S.O.s, I find that some of my female friends will prioritize other female friends over me, to the point where I rarely see them while other female friends of theirs see them much more often. It is frustrating and I don’t know if it is something I am doing, something institutional based on the amount of labour women need to put in to various aspects of their lives, but it has made me hesitant about developing my friendships with women beyond a certain point, knowing the connection will be that much harder to sustain.


  9. Alex
    January 19, 2010 at 8:02 pm

    I actually feel like it’s pretty feminist to reach out and build friendships with men, since society likes to “teach” them to buy into all sorts of weird misconceptions about women as a gender. Showing them that women aren’t ‘all the same’ is a good thing–my male friends and acquaintances have always seemed appreciative when I don’t judge or misinterpret them, and can maintain a bond beyond the standard Hollywood stereotypes.

    Honestly, I don’t usually bond well with women because many of the women I’ve met seem to have fallen to stereotypical behavior that I find kind of off-putting, and really don’t relate to. I suspect it’s because I’ve primarily lived in more conservative areas with ingrained “gender roles”, but I just can’t bond with someone over boy talk and makeup and shopping. It’s not in my nature…and while I’m definitely aware there are plenty of women who feel the same way as me, unfortunately I haven’t met an abundance of them in my life (off the internet, that is). Whereas, most of the men I’ve met can talk about sci fi and comic books and movies and video games, which is right up my alley, or just shoot the shit without waxing poetic about prince charming.

    …not that there’s anything wrong with women who want to wax poetic about Prince Charming or Manolo Blahniks (sp??) or Cosmo, or what have you. It’s just not for me. And until I meet more women who share that, I think I’ll continue to be “one of the boys”.

  10. January 19, 2010 at 9:09 pm

    Count me in with ‘more male friendships’ bunch. I, too, have no time for much of the gameplaying that so many women seen to rely on. I wish I had more female friends IRL, particularly now that I’m a mom. Or that my bloggy pals lived closer…

  11. Naamah
    January 19, 2010 at 9:28 pm

    Much in agreement here. For many years I had no female friends; the ones I had drifted away one by one. I couldn’t make new female friends easily; everyone my age was (and still is) busy having children, not something I have any interest in, and I find even being around children unpleasant and upsetting due to sensory-input issues. Many also just sort of abandoned everything of their own when they got married, which is a disturbing thing to see.

    When I finally managed to make a female adult friend in my very late 20’s, it was like gaining a sister. Closer than a friend, someone I love as much as I love my husband, but in a way I had never imagined I would ever actually experience. It was extraordinary finding a person I was not romantically inclined toward, but would nevertheless risk my life for. It was extraordinary finding another human being I could trust, when before there was only myself and my husband. And the fact that we are both women is a great comfort to both of us, when we need to discuss certain things. There are things we never have to say, because it’s understood. It’s a relief.

    Likewise, joining a bellydance troupe and being accepted by those women was a very healing experience. Much of my bullying as a teenager came from groups of other girls, and this persisted into my young adulthood. Experiencing acceptance from other women was revelatory. It was something I had never known before. Hearing their stories — without kids or husband present, which changes the vibe considerably — allowed me to see what adult women are really like. Without having HAD that experience, I would not be a feminist now.

    It can be really hard to find sympathetic women, if one lives in certain places (like here, in the Bible Belt) where gender roles are still quite rigid, and someone who bucks the norm is very much considered a black sheep, if she is considered at all. It’s worth making the effort, though. And the internet is a wonderful tool that allows one to transcend one’s location in the physical world to connect with others.

    There was a time when I preferred the company of men, and to a certain extent I still do — men don’t as often talk about babies and losing weight like they were the most awesome things ever, and obligatory, and women around here are very much with the cooking and so on, which I don’t enjoy — but that was because it was easier to find men here who shared my interests, and I didn’t often want to spend the effort trying to get to know women when they usually wound up being the sorts of people who don’t interest me as friends.

    Now that I’m older, there are more women out there like me in my own age group. I don’t have to go to men to be able to talk about the things I like and have a good chance of avoiding talk about things that bore me stiff. And suddenly, all my friends, good friends, are women.

  12. Julie
    January 19, 2010 at 11:17 pm

    Ever since I went back to college I have met and made friends with some of the most awesome women I could imagine- these are friendships I absolutely can’t imagine not having in my life. In fact tomorrow we have a girls night planned- swimming laps and then sundaes at Friendly’s. The funny thing is to that I never would have imagined we’d become this close because we are all so different- there’s me who lives in jeans and t-shirts with no make-up, my friend M. who looks like a fashion model, my friend S. who falls somewhere in between, etc…. but no matter what we’ve always been there for each other when it mattered the most. I just couldn’t imagine not having these kind of relationships in my life.

  13. January 19, 2010 at 11:19 pm

    I always liked the idea of having women friends, of the BFF sort. Unfortunately, I have had a hard time making women friends, or keeping the ones I make, because I went most of my life with undiagnosed Asperger’s. And because I can’t bond with other women over children or a big-deal career or postgraduate education, I get snubbed a lot. I just get the feeling that most women don’t really like me, or think I’m “one of them.” Women are expected to be these aces of the social fabric who anticipate everyone’s needs without having to be told, and I am terrible at that. The friends I do have seem to think I have a lot to offer, so I don’t think I’m an ogre or anything; I just don’t know the Secret Entie Gurl Handshake, or whatever it is I’m supposed to do to get women to want me in their social lives. (And yes, I’m open to suggestions about it.)

  14. Unree
    January 20, 2010 at 12:27 am

    Meowser, as I’ve said before on more than one board I think you are awesome–so I hesitate to disagree with you: but I know many women with children or a big-deal career or postgraduate education (well, most of them HAD that education and aren’t living through it today) who complain about their social isolation. I think not having enough quantity or quality of friendship is a problem for many women of all stations and categories. Maybe for men too.

    My own experience has varied. When I’ve shared opinions with large numbers of people around me, or worked on some big common pursuit, friends have been abundant, and when I’ve dissented from some widely held belief or haven’t had a project to share, I’ve been lonely. Not sure which is cause and which effect, though.

    FWIW, the sociologist Robert Putnam writes that ages 40-60 tend to be the most socially isolated years in an American life. So if you can hang in there it’s likely to get better….

  15. January 20, 2010 at 1:00 am

    I totally relate and feel very happy to see this post. I’ve written about it a lot. It makes me feel a little less *alone*, for lack of a less cheesy term.

    It’s seriously a process for me to try to relate to women again. It feels weird and bad to say that, but I just don’t know how anymore. Bah.

    Thanks for this post!

  16. nico
    January 20, 2010 at 1:04 am

    I’d just like to chime in to say that I loved this post, but it was kind of heartbreaking for me. The reason is something others have commented on here: many women centre their lives around romantic relationships with men, and drop their women friends as soon as a viable man enters the picture.
    I’ve been hurt by this a few times, and it actually makes me very emotional to even talk about it – women who I thought were my truest friends disappearing from my lives when they became involved in a long term relationship.
    To this day I don’t understand it. Falling in love is wonderful, it’s true, but I don’t see why it has to be one or the other…
    It’s gotten to the point that I’m not sure I even WANT to open my heart to another female best friend who is only using me to kill time before she finds a husband or serious boyfriend. No wonder so few women have close friendships with each other, when they so clearly prioritize men.

  17. Mish's biggest fan
    January 20, 2010 at 2:44 am


    If you think women play more games, you are a MISOGYNIST or maybe there is something wrong with YOU. Maybe you play games but project that onto other women.

    Whether women bullied us in high school or we had bad relationships with our mothers should NOT reflect on every other woman out there.

    Anyway sucks to be you if you think women’s friendships are worse than men’s friendships if you’re a woman.

  18. Beppie
    January 20, 2010 at 4:57 am

    I agree completely. I think that women being friends with each other and genuinely supporting each other is one of the most powerful feminist acts that there is.

    I used to believe that men made better friends than women. But then I realised that I was actually holding women to a far higher standard than men — there were things women would do that I would not forgive, when I would easily overlook the same or worse in men.

  19. Beppie
    January 20, 2010 at 4:59 am

    (And just to be clear, I’m only talking about my own experience here — I’m not trying to make assumptions or statements about other women who might make friends with men more easily.)

  20. January 20, 2010 at 6:09 am

    Lovely post.
    I relate to C.’s comment up there – my mother was far less trustworthy and reliable than my father and over the years I’ve had periods where it was harder for me to confide in and trust women than men. For some reason this was especially true at work or in work-like situations, so I’ve always worked better with male colleagues (not always easy since I work in a female-dominated field.) As I’ve gained more self knowledge I’ve found it easier to circumvent these kneejerk judgements though.
    My close female friendships are so precious to me, especially now that I’m a wife and mother. I completely agree Chally that there is something redemptive about them. With my two best feminist friends, in particular, I feel safe and valued in ways that can be hard to find in the kyriarchal world at large. More than that, I feel as if our friendship enlivens the parts of me that are not wife or mother – not patriarchally defined – and our friendship exists above and beyond those labels.
    I have also come to value the friendship of other mothers, even those who don’t necessarily identify as closely with some of my ideals or interests (like feminism.) There is a comaraderie to be found in our shared experiences which makes everything so much easier.

  21. Lyndsay
    January 20, 2010 at 8:43 am

    “many women centre their lives around romantic relationships with men, and drop their women friends as soon as a viable man enters the picture.”

    To me, that’s why it’s feminist to have and keep women friends. I have family members who as far as I can tell have no women friends and I hope I never get to that point. They have even lived in the same area their whole life. Can you imagine if everyone stopped having friends when they started marriage or a family? That sounds isolating.

  22. January 20, 2010 at 10:51 am

    This is such an interesting conversation that I think I will have to add to on my own blog later.

    I’ve had one strong friendship with a woman my entire life but virtually no other close friendships. Typically, the women I’ve attempted to get close to have had very different values from mine (theirs have been more traditional, perhaps), which has prevented me from feeling a certain kind of kinship.

    As I’ve gotten older, however, I’ve really yearned for those friendships, and have found a few…but the kicker is that they have tended to not be American women. I don’t know what it is, honestly. I wish I could put a finger on it.

  23. Beth
    January 20, 2010 at 11:00 am

    Mish’s biggest fan….chill out. I think people here have described their reasons for friendship quite articulately and sensitively, and there’s nothing “wrong with them” if they have a hard time relating to women. It’s not a competition. People are allowed to get along with whoever they get along with.

  24. Alara Rogers
    January 20, 2010 at 11:41 am

    I had difficulty making female friends until I became involved in writing fanfic. The average active science fiction fan (ie, goes to clubs and conventions, identifies as a fan) is male, but the average active science fiction fanfic writer is female. So my RL clubs and social life were dominated by male friends, and I was often the only woman or one of only two women, but on the internet my friends are mostly female… and my relationship with RL friends is usually much more superficial than with my internet friends, in part because… well… they’re male.

    See, I don’t trust men particularly. *I* have had the opposite experience of the “women friends dump you when they get a boyfriend”, where I had male friends dump me when *I* got a boyfriend… making it clear that they were only hanging out with me because they were hoping to be my boyfriend. I also don’t find that men perceive the world the way I do; most women don’t either, but most of the people who do are women. And I think that most men have very superficial friendships where they don’t talk about anything important; they just hang out and have fun together. Which is great, until you need a close confidante. I have “male” friendships with men (ie, we joke with each other, we hang out, they might help me with tasks like buying drywall and moving furniture) and “female” friendships with women (we talk about how we feel about things. Also, we write stories for each other. :-))

  25. Ergo
    January 20, 2010 at 11:45 am

    I can relate to Alex’s post pretty well. In every community I have lived in, I’ve met more men who took me seriously as a peer/co-worker/friend, didn’t buy into rape culture, weren’t scared to be seen hanging around with women, etc., than I have met women who haven’t bought into female socialization and stereotypical behavior. Hence, I have always had more male friends than female friends.

    Female socialization goes even deeper than shoes and boys, though. Even in progressive communities, women still tend to hold conventional learned behaviors and ways of dealing with people, like being passive aggressive, apologizing a lot, gossiping, crying, self-effacement, being “cute”, etc. I find that kind of behavior to be intolerable and boring most of the time. Additionally, I am quite socially inept in a loud, brash, and awkward way, and I prefer to be around people where that’s more tolerated. The women that I have known tend to have very intricate invisible social rules (with corresponding dirty looks when they are breached), and that’s been true since childhood. I value and cherish all the women I know who haven’t bought into all this*. Perhaps when we smash the patriarchy things won’t be so one sided.

    *One advantage that I can think of that these female friends, cis and trans alike, generally have over my male friends: they are quicker to acknowledge sexism and discrimination on a societal level. Comes with the territory.

  26. Ergo
    January 20, 2010 at 11:51 am

    Actually, now that I think about it, the way I socialize with my friends across the board is pretty gender neutral–my friends themselves just tend to be more male than female. We talk about our shared interests (music, cooking, politics, comic books, sex, our jobs), crack jokes, work on projects together, and play games.

  27. roses
    January 20, 2010 at 12:14 pm

    I’m kind of distressed to see so many comments here talking about all the reasons not to have women friends.

    I love this post, and I love my women friends (and we do talk about men sometimes but we rarely talk about shoes, they’re not at all into game playing and nor am I, and if we do tend to sometimes get sucked into falling in love, we usually resurface a few months later and start making an effort again and the friendship is none the worse for wear).

  28. emjaybee
    January 20, 2010 at 12:23 pm

    I have a hard time with friends period; currently I have two female friends from college I would consider “close” but we are separated by geography. Female friends in the past have broken my heart badly; maybe I expect more of them than male friends, but I have had some truly awful experiences that have made it hard for me to trust or reach out to women.

    I have many male friends, but we are not super-close; we do things for each other but have taken a long time to share much about ourselves (well, they have anyway). Mostly because men are trained not to.

    I have some excellent female *online* friends, but they all seem to live on the coasts or in other states and well, that limits how much you can interact.

    I think gender roles do have a lot to do with it. I am straight but hate gender-performance and being overly femme (just not me) and almost every woman I know personally really thinks this stuff is important. My disinterest creates a problem for them, and I become uncomfortable myself. In groups of women, I end up odd-woman-out.

    Whereas hanging with men is less…fraught. I am not expected to perform my gender to the same extent. It is not so much “one of the boys” as “not having to be girly.”

  29. Sheelzebub
    January 20, 2010 at 12:28 pm

    Roses, ITA.

  30. preying mantis
    January 20, 2010 at 1:22 pm

    “I’m kind of distressed to see so many comments here talking about all the reasons not to have women friends.”

    I’ve been reading a lot of the comments not as why one shouldn’t have female friends, but as obstacles to developing and keeping female friends. Patriarchal behavior patterns make it difficult to form and/or maintain intrafemale friendships. Even if you, personally, buck them, if none of the other women in your life are–or if they are, but not in ways particularly conducive to being your friend–you’re still running into those same problems.

  31. katherine
    January 20, 2010 at 1:32 pm

    I’ve generally always had a difficult time maintaining close friendships with either gender, outside of my relationship with my sister. Thankfully at this point in my life I have a wonderful group of women, and the occasional man, who I knit with once a week. (Yes yes, I know “knitting is gendered women’s work blah blah”). It’s a group of about 6 of the most feminist minded, honest, intelligent, talented, witty people I’ve ever met. At this point, I can’t even imagine not having those types of connections with women.

  32. January 20, 2010 at 2:33 pm

    Sorry, off topic but… Katherine, knitting isn’t gendered women’s work, knitting is AWESOME.


    Also, I totally agree with those who have said that being a feminist amongst women who stick to traditional gender roles isn’t helpful for making female friends. I grew up in a rural area with the expectation that after school we would all get married (maybe) and have kids (definitely) as soon as possible, and was referred to as ‘the crazy feminist’ on a few occasions, so it’s nice to know I’m not alone.

  33. Sheelzebub
    January 20, 2010 at 2:54 pm

    I dunno. I’m friends with a lot of women who display “gendered” behavior and/or who stick to traditional gender roles, but we are still friends. They’ve never made me feel awful for being who I am, or ever made any disparaging remarks about my life, and I hope I’ve never done it to them, either. We joke that we live vicariously through each other, though. We tell each other about what’s going on in our lives, kvetch about the stuff that gets up our noses, dish on shows like Lost, swap recipes (OK, yeah, I do like to cook), swap books, rib each other, go on walks, etc. As long as they don’t dis me for being who I am, I don’t see what the problem is.

    As far as “women who get married/go into relationships drop their friends,” men have done this as well–and their friends call them “pussy whipped.” I figure that if someone gets married, their life changes. They aren’t single anymore. I don’t take it personally if a newly-married friend (or a friend who had children) isn’t as available to hang out. Sometimes we don’t have as much in common anymore, but again, I’ve seen that with guy friends who get married and/or have kids. Shrug.

    As far as gossiping goes–you know, MEN do this too, but it’s never called that when men do it. A lot of men are really passive-aggressive as well.

    I think we do hold women to a higher standard.

  34. January 20, 2010 at 4:25 pm

    I tend to have more male than female friends, mostly because I hang out with my stepfather and his friends, talking philosophy and science and that kind of thing. I don’t tend to get along with people my own age very well – not in meatspace, anyway, and an awful lot of the women my age have just entered the babymaking phase. I am childfree, and though I don’t begrudge anyone else’s wish to procreate, I get rather jumpy around small children, and my personal space expands.
    Also, I find that the women I encounter tend to talk about their dissatisfaction with their bodies a lot, which exasperates me, because most of them are perfectly good-looking, and when I say words to this effect they always say something about the fact that I’m thin and therefore can have no say. (This is an actual conversation I had yesterday, with two of my college friends.) It infuriates and bores me.

    Incidentally, though, the references to ‘gendered’ behaviour as a bad thing are baffling me as well. Why is it bad to be gendered? I’m a woman. I know I’m a woman. I wear jewellery and dresses and I do needlework that I’m proud of. I have long hair and boobs. I’m a woman, this is my gender and I’m happy in it. I sure as hell don’t see why the ideal ought to be ‘neutral’.
    Why be ashamed of being womanly, if it makes you feel good?

  35. Alex
    January 20, 2010 at 5:46 pm

    I don’t think anyone said they were ashamed of being womanly (unless I missed that somewhere?)–just that some of us don’t relate to women who are attracted to and enjoy more “expected” activities and behaviors. It DOESN’T make me feel good to wear jewelry or dresses–quite the opposite in fact–so, I don’t. I’m much more comfortable wearing jeans and sneakers and roughhousing with my pets and husband. And I realize a lot of women can’t relate to that, either. Different strokes for different folks.

  36. Alex
    January 20, 2010 at 5:49 pm

    PS: I like the phrase “my personal space expands”.

  37. RD
    January 20, 2010 at 6:01 pm

    RE: “men not able to connect.” This made me think of a really wonderful connection with a male friend of mine who I love and adore (we connected as sex workers, abuse survivors, and queers). He and I had just met (through me joining sex worker rights groups in NY). We met up and went to a bar but it was too expensive so after one beer we brown-bagged it on our way to a sex worker advocacy magazine office (he thought it was funny that the guy asked us how old we were and he said 22 and I said 23 and the guy just took us at our word and didn’t ID us). So once we were at the office he gave me a few back issues of the magazine and pointed out articles I might like, and we talked about our abusive childhoods and various traumas…and it was sweet, and not really that terribly hard, and also kind of a relief, connecting with him like that.

    Later he visited me while I was in a psych ward…he had just learned my legal name a few days before when another sex worker friend of mine sent an email to him and another friend (I had asked her to) telling them where I was and how they could reach me. He forgot my last name, so they were not letting him in. They came up to me and asked me if I was expecting a visitor, and what name? I wasn’t thinking, and even though I knew his name, I gave the name he does activism under. They asked what last name, and I felt weird giving the last name of his activism name, so I said I didn’t know. She (the nurse) looked at me funny and said that was really weird. Eventually they let us visit. LOL. He commiserated with me and told me about when he was in a psych ward (not since he was a kid) and he described it as super-homophobic and “hard to have sex or masturbate.” He’s funny. And also wonderful.

    @Sheelzebub- THANK YOU.

    I think there’s a bit of FEMME-PHOBIA going on in this thread (RE: “women who stick to ‘gender roles'”).

  38. Another Laurie
    January 20, 2010 at 6:22 pm

    I have always had both male friends and female friends.

    My experience has been that hanging out with male groups feels like entering a totally different cultural space. There is more jocularity and one-liners, less story-telling and sharing of confidences. There are different social rules. When I was younger, I tended to especially value my opportunities to hang out with men. It seemed more exciting because it was “different.”

    Today I still value my friendships with men, but I find my friendships with women much more satisfying. Communication with women is easier (for me) and there tends to be more empathy among women. It’s not that men are incapable of empathy (quite the contrary) but I think expressions of empathy are often discouraged in male culture. In addition, I think men sometimes do not comprehend some of the social experiences women have as women; that is, they honestly don’t see how differently women are sometimes treated. With a woman, I can start to describe an experience and have her immediately exclaim, “I know exactly what you mean!” while a man will fail to comprehend. (This is especially frustrating when the uncomprehending man is one’s own spouse.) This phenomenon is, I think, a function of the fact that men and women are differently positioned in society.

    My only complaint about “female culture” is the pressure to remember and do something special for my female friend’s birthdays. My husband and his male friends don’t do anything for each other’s birthdays, whereas my female friends do cards and gifts. That doesn’t mean I think my female friends are silly or petty or frivolous for making a to-do birthdays (which is often an interpretation I hear of female behavior). It just means that my personal preference would be to not do cards and gifts on birthdays, even though I admit it is quite nice when it is my birthday being celebrated!

  39. Another Laurie
    January 20, 2010 at 6:40 pm


    I love the concept of “femme-phobia.” I have never heard that before.

    I am quite femme-y, at least in terms of dress and appearance. People often assume I am more stereotypically “feminine” than I really am because that’s how I look (or “perform” if you will). It is a weird position to be in, because on the one hand my appearance conforms to the socially-approved gender norm in our culture, but on the other hand our culture codes “femininity” as weak and foolish. I enjoy fucking with it a little bit, i.e. surprising people who pre-judge me by disclosing my many years of feminist thought and work or my involvement in some stereotypically “male” pursuits. But I have had many experiences when more “butch-y” women whom I have admired or wanted to get to know have looked down on me.

    I have mixed feelings about this. I think I sort of understand why someone who doesn’t perform femininity at all is not going to want to bond with pearl-wearing, make-up applying, smile-y girly me. After all, I choose to present myself the way I do. On the other hand, judging me based on my perky girly appearance overlooks a lot of what I actually stand for. And re-inforces the larger culture’s contempt for anything traditionally coded female (as well as its grossly unfair punishment of women for doing what the larger culture trains and conditions women to do).

  40. Dana
    January 20, 2010 at 6:56 pm

    I can’t help but find this discussion a little it frustrating. I definitely am 100% on-side with the point of the OP.

    But. Just because you’re not comfortable with super-femme women doesn’t mean you’re discriminating. It just means you may have zero in common.

    I personally do struggle with sexism. I tend to feel judged by most women, simply out of a combination of social anxiety and never meshing as well with [most] women as [most] men.

    Ironically enough most of my friends are female due to the industries I work in (veterinary care and sex toys), but I have real trouble being close to anyone outside of my relationship, and the only women I’ve really felt 100% open with is someone who has the same almost-but-not-quite-trans feelings of dysphoria I do.

    I am highly intimidated by femininely strong woman (a description that is hard to define), and that is exacerbated by being attracted to women but less than men so struggling both with feeling they would be disgusted if they knew and that I’m full of crap and only want to be “cool”. (Not true but I struggle there.)

    The female friends I have that you would not describe as butch in personality, I absolutely love, but I also look up to them and I think will always feel overawed by them. It’s not a bad feeling but I just feel more relaxed in men’s company – including mildly misogynistic men, especially if I can just call them fucking idiots when they’re misogynistic and have them (a) laugh it off and (b) note that that’s how I feel.

    I’m not good at subtlety, most of the things I like are traditionally “masculine”, if I spend any time around traditionally feminine women (even my friends above wouldn’t really fit that) there is always awkwardness for me as they talk about how stupid men are for wanting to do something I would like to do, or just stare at me like I am an alien when I express a passing opinion.

    OK, this post has no real conclusion. Basically, yes, my reactions out in public to women can be sexist. But my experiences of interpersonal relationships with women are extremely complex and varied – and no amount of analysis will change the fact I am more relaxed and feel able to be “myself” around men.

  41. Ergo
    January 20, 2010 at 7:11 pm

    Femme-phobia? Sorry, nice try. Women are raised and *expected* to be feminine, and women who perform femininity are privileged over those who don’t. Complaining about femme-phobia if you’re a woman is like complaining about being oppressed because you’re thin and people tell you to go eat a sandwich.

  42. RD
    January 20, 2010 at 7:32 pm

    Another Laurie-

    I love the concept of “femme-phobia.” I have never heard that before.

    It’s not my concept! :) You hear it more often I think in queer communities.

    I am quite femme-y, at least in terms of dress and appearance. People often assume I am more stereotypically “feminine” than I really am because that’s how I look (or “perform” if you will).

    Me too! People see me as very femme-y most of the time (even when dressed down, not wearing makeup…), but I don’t identify as a femme. And when you get to know me, I’m really not all that feminine.

  43. January 20, 2010 at 7:38 pm

    Everyone, the discussion on femmeness would be more suited to another thread. Let’s move on, please.

  44. Another Laurie
    January 20, 2010 at 7:49 pm

    RD, Well, you’ve taught me something new! I look forward to googling the topic.

    Ergo, I hear what you are saying. In fact I was trying to acknowledge that very point in my comment. Still my gut instinct is that the notion of privilege is more complex even than usual in this context. This is due to the double bind in which patriarchy places women. We are punished if we don’t perform femininity but we are also punished if we do perform it. For example, women are expected to wear make-up but are considered vain and frivolous for doing so. I am positive that a feminine appearance has helped me in many contexts, but I am also well aware that my stock goes up more with people if I express an interest in sports or knowledge of a toolbox than if I tell them how much I like baking cookies. A woman’s degree of femininity or lack thereof is a weird double-edged sword.

  45. January 20, 2010 at 8:25 pm

    Most of my friends are female, and I am a man. There’s lots of reasons for that, but to be blunt, most of them arise from the fact that I am uncomfortable with the idea of traditional masculinity and masculine gender roles and have always been. And the childhood abuse contributed to it, of course.

  46. Sheelzebub
    January 21, 2010 at 9:35 am

    Sorry folks, when you decide that you aren’t going to be friends with someone because their “performing femininity” (WTF??) it comes off as a bit patronizing. I have a lot of very feminine women friends who are not passive-aggressive or gossipy, who are kind and open and honest.

    Again, the majority of women display gendered behavior because, HELLO, there is inordinate pressure on every.single.woman. to adhere to these standards. Women who don’t display the behaviors you find “annoying” (and that many people find annoying) are regularly pilloried for being bitchy. Women who are direct are aggressive, women who don’t cry are cold, women who don’t apologize or soften what they say are arrogant. . . men who do so are strong. Either way, women can’t win. Well, fuck you very much.

    And I’ll say again, men display the behaviors people here attribute to women. I know a LOT of men who are passive aggressive, who gossip, who perform in very gendered ways that annoy the fuck out of me. Yet we don’t call it “gossip” when men talk about other people and their personal business, we don’t say it’s passive-aggressive when they act passive-aggressively. No internalized sexism here, nope.

    Some of the comments here go beyond “I just have more in common with my guy friends” and talk about how awful/annoying/horrible women are. I’m seeing some real contempt for women in some of these comments. And that’s sickening.

  47. Andrea
    January 21, 2010 at 10:25 am

    I think Sheezelbub pretty much nailed this one. I would also add, that to discount all women who perform femininity is to paint them as pretty damn one-sided. Can’t get behind that, myself.

  48. January 21, 2010 at 10:55 am

    I think we do hold women to a higher standard.

    Totally agreed Sheelzebub. And let’s not forget that women are trained from pretty much day one both to be in competition with each other, and that feminimity is less than masculinity. Those things are hard to unlearn, even for the best of us.

  49. January 21, 2010 at 12:32 pm

    “Some of the comments here go beyond “I just have more in common with my guy friends” and talk about how awful/annoying/horrible women are. I’m seeing some real contempt for women in some of these comments. And that’s sickening.”

    Especially considering that this is a feminist blog and I’m pretty sure most of the commenters are feminist…

  50. Alex
    January 21, 2010 at 12:39 pm

    Sheelzebub, I think you’re fortunate to have met women who enjoy more “gendered” activities but still have things in common with you, and also don’t treat you differently because you don’t necessarily gravitate towards those activities. However, since you haven’t met the women I have, or the other posters have, I don’t think you can reasonably assume we’re rejecting them unfairly. As I said, I’ve lived predominantly in conservative and religious areas, and many of the women around me have purposefully trained themselves (or been trained) to be submissive, deferential, meek and childlike. Is this a problem? You bet. Does it make me mad that the predominant culture has trained them to be this way? Absolutely. But I’m not going to go out of my way to build a close bond with someone who cries if you have an opinion (believe me, it’s happened) or who gets upset when I say I don’t like skirts and dresses. I have also been called a “weirdo” because I don’t understand the need for pedicures or manicures.

    I have been fortunate to meet some women in these areas who are the “odd ones out” like me, and as it happens, they’ve all been in the jeans and sneakers, roughhousing, strongly opinioned category.

    All that said, I have never been openly hostile to someone for having different taste than me, but I can’t help that the things I have in common with the super-feminine women I meet are *usually* so rare that a close friendship would be forced, at best. I can be acquaintances with just about anyone–but when it comes to spending prolonged amounts of time with other people, it helps if our values and preferences are somewhat aligned.

  51. January 21, 2010 at 1:02 pm

    “Is this a problem? You bet. Does it make me mad that the predominant culture has trained them to be this way? Absolutely. But I’m not going to go out of my way to build a close bond with someone who cries if you have an opinion (believe me, it’s happened) or who gets upset when I say I don’t like skirts and dresses. I have also been called a “weirdo” because I don’t understand the need for pedicures or manicures.”

    I don’t necessarily believe that it isn’t a problem. I absolutely believe that women being trained to be submissive, meek, extremely “feminine”, etc. -is- a problem in our society. I personally just don’t hold it against the -women- for participating in these activities. I am not friends with many women who are overtly submissive, or who absolutely must wear dresses, skirts, frilly shit, and make-up -all- the time. I do make the effort to befriend them, however. And if it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out.

    But, all of these comments about “the games women play” and all the “backstabbing” and “gossiping”…it’s utter bullshit. Yes, there are individual women who do play games, who do backstab their friends, and who do spend way too much time gossiping (any time gossiping is too much time as far as I’m concerned), but I do not see where women do it more than men do. I also do not see how these things are worse than the average negative behaviors that men tend to engage in…like, oh, abusing women, raping women, talking down to women, dominating women, using prostitutes, jerking off to misogynistic porn, denying us or rights or trying to take them away once we have obtained them.

    I’m really pretty sure that all of those things that so many men engage in is really quite a lot worse than gossiping about you behind your back, or worrying over whether or not that dress really does make her ass look fat.

  52. Alex
    January 21, 2010 at 1:09 pm

    Raping and abusing women is a negative behavior the AVERAGE man participates in? o_O I don’t even want to know what kind of men you know!

  53. January 21, 2010 at 1:15 pm

    “Raping and abusing women is a negative behavior the AVERAGE man participates in? o_O I don’t even want to know what kind of men you know!”


    Well, yes, there are quite a large number of men who engage in those activities. But I quite seriously believe you missed my point by a mile…

  54. Alex
    January 21, 2010 at 1:35 pm

    Please translate for me, because from where I’m sitting, this is what I saw:

    “I struggle to make friends with women because of ______.”
    “Well, men gossip too! And anyway, any negative behaviors women partake in pale in comparison, because the average negative behavior of men is raping and abusing (etc)!”

  55. P.T. Smith
    January 21, 2010 at 1:41 pm

    ” ‘Raping and abusing women is a negative behavior the AVERAGE man participates in? o_O I don’t even want to know what kind of men you know!’


    Well, yes, there are quite a large number of men who engage in those activities. But I quite seriously believe you missed my point by a mile… ”

    Or your wild accusations missed your point by a mile. It’s simply not useful to the discussion at all to claim that the percentage of women who backstab and gossip is the same as the percentage of men who are rapists. It doesn’t help any discussion, at all, just insults and distracts.

    I was going to write a long post about how most of my friends since the beginning of college have been women, but that interestingly, most of those women are the type who say that most of their friends are males. I was going to go on about how it could reveal a lot about both sides finding escape and comfort from the extra-heavy gender roles of each group. I was also going to go on about how the denial of groups of women friends to be more inclined towards games, gossip, and the like is actual a problem that a lot of liberal progressive groups share. It isn’t useful to deny an issue just because the existence of the issue can be seen as offense; it is much much more useful to acknowledge that the issue does exist, then try to hunt down the reasons why, and change those. I was also going to go on about how it seems to me that the perception of gendered types of friendships is similar to the perception of Midwest friendships as compared to New Englander friendships (i.e. my housemate from the Midwest thinks that New Englanders don’t get close because they take forever to “share” or never do at all, while there seems to be a belief that men don’t get close because of the same reason; where both of these beliefs are mistaken).

    But now that the conversation has actually degraded into the average man is a rapist, I’m going to walk away. Which is sad for me because this is the most interesting thread I’ve read here in a while.

    • January 21, 2010 at 1:48 pm

      But now that the conversation has actually degraded into the average man is a rapist, I’m going to walk away. Which is sad for me because this is the most interesting thread I’ve read here in a while.

      Not what Faith said.

  56. January 21, 2010 at 1:43 pm

    “”Please translate for me, because from where I’m sitting, this is what I saw:

    “I struggle to make friends with women because of ______.”
    “Well, men gossip too! And anyway, any negative behaviors women partake in pale in comparison, because the average negative behavior of men is raping and abusing (etc)!””

    My point was that the overall negative behaviors of the overall male population is far worse than the average overall negative behavior of the female population. Are all men rapists? No. Is the “average man” a rapist? Probably not. But, the fact remains that (as others have already stated), that men get away with far worse behavior than women. Men -can- rape and still have oodles of friends and respect, for instance. Even -women- friends.

    People also respond differently to women and men in similar situations. For instance, a woman gets pissed off and upset and starts screaming or crying, people will distance themselves from her, call her a “crazy bitch” or “hysterical”, etc. etc. A man gets pissed off and starts punching walls or even people and the average response will be something along the lines of “Whoa, dude, chill out.”

  57. January 21, 2010 at 1:45 pm

    Alex: Faith was pointing out that people are saying they have a hard time making friends with women, but are then attributing to women a series of stereotypical, mostly negative behaviors that, yes, many women engage in, but that many women don’t engage in. She compared that to stereotypical, mostly negative behaviors that, yes, many men engage in, but that many men don’t engage in.

    Her point, I believe, was that these stereotypical male behaviors are generally way worse than the stereotypical female behaviors — and yet many of the “I can’t make female friends” commenters don’t seem to have a problem making male friends. So maybe the problem with making female friends goes a little deeper than “women like shoes and gossip.”

    Although of course Faith can speak for herself; I just didn’t find her point all that difficult to understand.

  58. January 21, 2010 at 1:46 pm

    “But now that the conversation has actually degraded into the average man is a rapist, I’m going to walk away. Which is sad for me because this is the most interesting thread I’ve read here in a while.”


    Please re-read what I said. I didn’t miss the point. You and Alex did. I did not say the “average man” was a rapist. That’s how you read my statement.

  59. Mish's biggest fan
    January 21, 2010 at 2:24 pm

    Sheezlebub and Faith, I want to make sweet, sweet love to your comments. x

  60. Sheelzebub
    January 21, 2010 at 2:31 pm

    You know, I don’t think it’s unfair to point out that women are being held to a higher standard of behavior. I’ve seen comments here that basically say “women tend to be gossipy and passive aggressive, they cry, they display gendered behavior and I’m just not into that.”

    Pointing out that men also gossip, act passive aggressive and act emotional but these behaviors aren’t really noticed when they do it is now somehow unfair? I did so to point out that while many people have a big problem with women who do these things, no notice is taken of men who do these things. And it’s odd that people who aren’t friends with women because of these behaviors overlook them in men (who are apparently are much easier to be friends with).

    And Alex, tell me–if it’s difficult to be friends with women in conservative areas, why is it so much easier to be friends with men in conservative areas? I personally, as a feminine-looking and acting woman, have run into a lot of hostility from some of those men, who see me being direct and honest and call me a ball-busting bitch. If I was passive-aggressive, I’d still be horrible for different reasons. Can’t win.

  61. Sheelzebub
    January 21, 2010 at 2:36 pm

    And to clarify: I’m not criticizing anyone for having mostly male friends. I’m fucking livid that on a feminist blog, supposed feminists are making generalized statements about women like “Women tend to be passive-aggressive and gossip” “Women play games” etc.

    I hear enough of that shit from misogynist–and supposedly non-misogynist–men. It’s a real punch to the gut to hear it from supposed feminists.

  62. January 21, 2010 at 2:37 pm

    Sheelzebub, exactly (again)! Some of the whiniest, most gossipy people I know are men. And the idea that if you wear dresses, you cannot also wear jeans a wrestle with your dog is a little silly, and as I said before, paints women as very one-dimensional. This stuff drives me up the wall. People can hang out with whomever they want, but all these characterizations of women would never be tolerated coming from a guy. And sheez, I’d totally be your friend in real life, even if you are a girl.

  63. Sheelzebub
    January 21, 2010 at 2:43 pm

    Andrea, I’m knuckle-cracking, foul-mouthed, lipstick wearing girly girl in a dress, LOL. Except on the weekends, when I’m in jeans or jammy pants.

    Mish, my comment took a purity vow. ;)

  64. Alex
    January 21, 2010 at 2:43 pm

    You know, I gotta say that I’m not really comfortable with the “battle of the sexes” slant this is taking either, so I’m gonna bow out too. You guys find it easy to make female friends–that’s great, I’m glad for you. Other women have an easier time making friends with men. Like I said, different strokes for different folks.

    This post and many of the following comments seem to have a “female friendships are superior to female-male friendships” tone to it, which is why I (and I presume why others) spoke up to explain why we generally have male friendships. That’s all. No one has said anything about men as a gender being immune to behaving badly, or that men are better than women, or that double standards don’t exist. Just that– in our experience– it’s been easier to make male friends, for whatever reason.

  65. Sheelzebub
    January 21, 2010 at 2:58 pm

    Alex, I’ll point out that a lot of the comments actually DID have the vibe that women were somehow lesser, that we game-play and are passive aggressive and drop people as soon as we find a man and cry and act cute. There were sweeping generalizations made about women, and to now suddenly take offense at the battle of the sexes vibe is a bit rich, considering. I pointed out the double-standards because they were on full display in the comments–I pointed out that men do these very same things, yet it’s women who are bad (and difficult to be friends with) for doing them.

    But way to sidestep the actual points that were made.

  66. January 21, 2010 at 3:02 pm

    Okay, folks, this thread is getting to be unproductive. Let’s move back to the importance of women’s friendships and how they function in society. I’m going to consider deleting any further derailing comments.

    ‘This post and many of the following comments seem to have a “female friendships are superior to female-male friendships” tone to it’

    That is very far from what I said.

  67. January 21, 2010 at 4:02 pm

    I am lucky enough to have a sister, and to have made friends with her enough times that it stuck, so I’ve had that female friend since the summer after my 8th grade year. (We were also friends when we were little, but there were a few years there where a self-conscious teenager and a brash, confident kid had nothing in common.)

    But I have spent years without other close female friendships, and it’s been hard. I’ve lost female “best friends” over their intimacy issues, over my divorce, over all sorts of things. It’s been really hard for me to shake the idea that I need a “best friend”: one woman, unrelated to me, with whom I have a lasting bond and with whom I share most of my interests. My sister, incidentally, has that with a woman she met in childhood. They go to movies together, they live in the same city, they talk constantly, she’s the one my sister’s going to call to take care of her toddler when she goes into labor.

    I remember my mom cautioning about “best friend” — how the term could make other friends jealous, how it placed a certain amount of pressure. She had a point, but as I got older, the exclusive quality of the term faded — I don’t get cognitive dissonance from the idea of multiple “best friends”. As I’ve grown up, I’ve also come to peace with the fact that friendships, as well as lives, are different. I may never have a “best friend”ship just like my sister’s with her friend, and that’s all right. I know lots of bright, fun women in whom I can confide, and there’s no need to find some mythical One (similar to the romance myth, eh?) person who will satisfy all my friendship needs. You can call different people when you want to see a movie your partner doesn’t, when you need a shoulder to cry on, when you want to take a craft class, when you just want someone to walk around town and talk with.

    I have moved, in the last few years, from female-friend paucity to female-friend wealth, and I’d say it’s because I’ve become part of writing communities. I’ve met lots of vibrant, lovely women through writing graduate school and speculative fiction communities (despite the latter being traditionally considered male-dominated.) If someone told me they had trouble finding female friends, now, I would ask them what they do as a vocation, and what as hobbies, and encourage them to explore those communities — knitting, gardening, model-building, photography, whatever — in their town. It worked for me, and I wasn’t even doing it on purpose.

    One last note in my rambling comment: the older you get, the less your age matters. Yes, when I was ten and my sister was thirteen, it seemed like we had little in common. But now? I’m in my late twenties, and one of my newest close buddies is in her early forties. Many of my closest friends are in their thirties, but I also have rich, meaningful bonds with women in their late forties and fifties. Similarities in reading, attitude toward life and creative passion trump decade of birth any day. I think there are added benefits to having cross-generational friendships. Different perspectives and life experiences, different stages and sorts of growth, bring layers of discovery and wisdom to a friendship. If we are talking about how female friendships “function in society” then that’s an important way — they function to transmit intimate knowledge and hard-won wisdom from one woman to another. They allow one woman to access the experience and struggles of another, as well as to share her joys.

  68. preying mantis
    January 21, 2010 at 4:45 pm

    “if it’s difficult to be friends with women in conservative areas, why is it so much easier to be friends with men in conservative areas?”

    Because of the pattern where men get off with talking the talk, but women are expected to actually walk the walk? At least, that’s what I’ve seen from conservative communities. There’s probably about an equal percentage between the sexes who are really, really invested in it, but of the rest of the population, the female half of the go-along-to-get-alongs get their behavior policed a lot more and are subjected to way more social conditioning.

    So the guys slide with a “Woo, Jesus” every so often while the women are expected in the pew every Sunday and at the bake sales once a month, and the guys aren’t the ones expected to ditch their friends because their kid has the flu, and the guys get to officially have opinions about Important Things instead of having to find something to do in the kitchen whenever they want to talk without being bullied.

    If one gender gets to have a life while the other gender’s expected to put in a second (or third, or fourth) shift, it shouldn’t be terribly surprising that the ones pulling double-duty are more difficult to form relationships with than the ones who are benefiting from that labor. Also? Feature, not bug.

  69. January 21, 2010 at 4:53 pm

    Well, that streak of ‘let’s respect what the mod asked’ lasted… one comment. Now I’m definitely deleting further derailing comments.

  70. Sheelzebub
    January 22, 2010 at 9:08 am

    I’ll say that my women friends are the best thing I have in keeping myself centered and sane. Even if we don’t live the same kinds of lives or do the same kinds of things, we ‘get’ each other in some very fundamental ways–why we don’t walk alone at night (or resent the idea that it’s just the way things are for women’s movement to be restricted), etc. I take the loss of a friend much harder than I have the loss of a romantic partner.

  71. January 24, 2010 at 2:02 pm

    I have both male and female friends, and enjoy my friendships with both.

    That said, I don’t enjoy the company of women in general, except for my female friends, and female family members. Perhaps it’s because they’re friends and family. But, I tend to find conversation with women to be less intellectually engaging. It’s either babies, breast feeding and play group, or school-age kids, car pools and soccer games. Not my idea of a good conversational time. Thus the reason I avoid the lunch and facult rooms, and often eat alone, and finding my own company preferable to the aforementioned babble. But, hey: This is what reigns supreme in their lives. But, I don’t have to be a part of it, and thus choose not to be.

    I also find that most women aren’t intellectually engaging because they choose not to be, having been brainwashed into believing that being stupid gets Moe, and, actually it does in more often than not, and actually keeps Moe interested…at least for awhile. Then, even Moe gains some sense.

  72. Kim
    January 24, 2010 at 5:33 pm

    I enjoyed this post, but one thing I didn’t like was that it reinforced a male-female gender binary and thereby leaves out anyone who identifies as trans.

    “I’m not saying it’s wrong to have lots of male friends (I think that’s fantastic) or that having them means you don’t like women (that’d be silly and, you know, assuming there aren’t any other genders).”

  73. January 24, 2010 at 5:41 pm

    I think that the idea that women are held to higher standards than men is true. Let me try to explain:

    As feminist women, we often reject the idea that women “ought” to be one thing or another, or conform to specific and particular rules about our gender presentation, our intellect, or our behavior. When we are comfortable rejecting these ideas and expectations, we often easily notice when other women are not rejecting these ideas, and are doing what they can to conform. This could mean that they do not have intellectual conversations, that they are obsessed with babies, that they wear a lot of makeup and say things like, “I really need to wear it, because [something’s wrong with me].”

    It’s easy to write those women off as trite and stupid and not worth our time, because it seems almost more appalling to see a woman behave in such a manner that implies that she is a proponent of such expectations than a man, because as a woman, she should really be aware of how she’s being oppressed and actively fight against it.

    That’s my theory, anyway. Upon further thinking about this, though, most women would likely realize that if a fellow woman is not giving consideration to these notions, then it’s probably not because she chooses not to, but because she is still indoctrinated into the patriarchal mode of operation and simply doesn’t see it yet.

    I’ve been slowly converting an “uber femme” female friend to feminism. She’s catching on, but she still says weird things that I don’t know how to respond to, like, she’ll hold a door open for me or call me “hon,” and then profusely apologize because it was sexist of her… ?!! Or tell me that it’s okay that I don’t wear makeup, because I have high cheekbones or something…

    Anyway, it’s difficult to find common ground with women who aren’t feminists, is the main beef many of us feminist-with-mostly-male-friends have, I think.

  74. January 24, 2010 at 5:44 pm

    Ugh, not to further elongate my already huge comment, I realize I left something out: automatically disliking “femme” women, or women in general who do not appear, at first glance, to share your feminist ideals, is often accompanied by a thought like, “she, and women like her, are giving us a bad name, and perpetuating the idea that all women are thoughtless baby-makers and stupid.”

    I don’t think that this is true of these women, but that’s because I thought about it some more. It’s not fair for us to blame the woman for what she does to feel comfortable in a patriarchal society. All we can do is help educate them about feminism and find common ground.

  75. January 24, 2010 at 5:48 pm

    I do ask your pardon, Kim, that wording is rather misleading; I’ll change ‘male friends’ to ‘men friends’. :) I wish there was an appropriate adjective that was inclusive!

  76. January 24, 2010 at 7:45 pm

    All we can do is help educate them about feminism and find common ground.

    And we might not want to be patronizing while doing it. Not that I’m saying that you are, but it’s just that you’re making it seem like there is this really neat break between “those women over there with babies and makeup” and “us true feminists.” I think if one’s feminism is going to remain relevant in one’s friendships, it’s going to have to be both dynamic and inclusive. And I see this binary thing going on here, and it makes me think – well, that’s not how I go about friendships in general, let alone friendships with other women.

    Of course, I wear enough makeup to make Janice Raymond weep, so I’m not even part of this conversation. Or am I?

  77. January 24, 2010 at 9:08 pm

    What would be fun would be if we can steer this conversation to a more inclusive place that is actually on topic. I’m going to set my delete finger hovering again, so please don’t bother writing a comment you know won’t get to stay up here, folks.

  78. January 24, 2010 at 11:56 pm

    And we might not want to be patronizing while doing it. Not that I’m saying that you are, but it’s just that you’re making it seem like there is this really neat break between “those women over there with babies and makeup” and “us true feminists.”

    I didn’t mean to be patronizing, or assume that women who wear makeup and dress in a “girlie” way aren’t feminists; just that they’re not assumed to be to many other feminists. Maybe I’m only speaking for myself (not quite a girlie girl or… whatever the opposite is) and my own misperceptions when interacting with women who would fall under the “femme” category.

    It was probably more of a self reminder, and one for other people like me, who are trying to not judge other women so quickly. I think part of it also comes from an internalized misogyny, in a way. Where we do not like the image of “girlie girl,” because it’s something that everyone makes fun of, so we don’t want to be associated with it.

    I’m sorry if that was off-topic, Chally. I was just trying to chime in with a theory about why many of us “mostly male friends” gals might be that way, and how we might be able to get over it, because I agree 100% that having close friendships with other women is extremely important.

  79. January 25, 2010 at 12:06 am

    You know why female friendships have been so important to me? Because they remind me every day that the women I know are multidimensional people. Some of the most interesting and intelligent women I know are into fashion and intellectual. One in particular helps me put together an outfit (I’m hopeless in that department) and would also be able to tell you everything you could ever want to know about Mexican photography.

    I have a lot of female friends who, even if they don’t identify as feminist, hold many of the values. As Susan Bordo wrote in “Unbearable Weight”, “feminist cultural criticism is not a blueprint for the conduct of personal life and does not empower (or require) individuals to ‘rise above’ their culture or to become martyrs to feminist ideals.”

    My female friends remind me every day that there are many, many ways to be feminist. And they don’t all revolve around jeans.

  80. nico
    January 25, 2010 at 12:49 am

    First of all, enough of the hating on “femme” women. There’s no rule saying you can’t be a serious and interesting person and also wear heels and makeup, and I’ve known tons of women who do both.
    The real problem I see for women’s friendships is that they’re undervalued by women themselves. Like I said above, many women drop their female friends when they get a serious boyfriend or get married, and it’s not because women are bad friends, it’s because it’s EXPECTED of them. Many women regret this after they’ve been married for a few years and find themselves feeling isolated, but by then it’s difficult if not impossible to reconnect.
    I’ve heard it theorized that the reason “Sex and the City” is so wildly popular among suburban wives is not because of the glamorous city life it depicts, but because it’s about strong female friendships that have lasted into their 30s and 40s.

  81. January 25, 2010 at 7:36 am

    I’ve heard it theorized that the reason “Sex and the City” is so wildly popular among suburban wives is not because of the glamorous city life it depicts, but because it’s about strong female friendships that have lasted into their 30s and 40s.

    It’s one of the reasons I always watched “Sex & the City,” to be sure. I didn’t enjoy the fashion and the New York angle a whole lot (I like New York, but there are other cities I tend to mythologize), it mostly struck me as a fantasy meant for someone else, but there are moments I remember very fondly. Such as when Carrie can’t take her diaphragm out, and she asks Samantha to help, and Samantha’s all like, “OK, but you’re buying me dinner.” Not only is it hilarious, but I think it’s oddly touching too (pun not intended).

    I think it can be tough to balance love and friendship for anyone, but I feel like with the pace of life that currently exists in the U.S., it’s even tougher. And women are, naturally, expected to sacrifice more in that department, for the benefit of the men. Though in my experience, it’s always been the dudes who “forget” me when they get a new girlfriend/get married, etc. I confronted a couple of them about it, over the years, and I get the whole, “well, my gf will be jealous” thing. It’s like, “honey, don’t flatter yourself. I don’t actually want you, you know.” It usually works out in the end, but still, it can be painful.

    But that’s just anecdote, of course.

  82. Alma
    January 26, 2010 at 11:48 pm

    I found myself kind of squirming as I read this because I’m not quite sure how to describe where I stand and it brings up a lot of deep emotion in me. Maybe because I never deeply reflected on it until now. All the long, enduring friendships I ever had were with women. But those relationships were also some of the most hurtful and challenging.

    I was always skinny growing up and I remember constantly having that be called out by female friends who treated me jealously or callously because of it. I had a 5-year friendship with a girl and eventually ended that after she humiliated me at a birthday party of a shared friend. Then a sometimes good, mostly torturous 9-year relationship with a girl in high school. It took a turn when I was jumped by two other girls and she stood by and watched me get beat up without trying to help. I stayed her friend, but then we eventually drifted and now I rarely see her. In all of these relationships there was a common thread; all the friends I did make tried to dominate me or belittle me, and for whatever reason, I let them.

    It didn’t really help that I grew up in a traditional Slavic household where gender roles were separated and, though I always feel guilty saying this because it feels like I’m stereotyping, all the women did talk about was weight, babies, and the dress they were buying for the next wedding. Feminism was unheard of. If it was it was considered laughable. As a girl I found myself always yearning to hang out with my uncles and brother and their friends. It just seemed like that’s where all the action was, like that’s where my destiny would be, to be adventurous and exploratory like they were, not a little housewife like I was expected to be. And even though I was rarely if ever included with them, it felt good to know that they were there. It was like they represented a different life for me, an example of a better, freer way of living. They seemed to judge me less harshly too. A lot of the gender-policing in my life came from women, not men.

    However, I’ve never had a deep friendship with a man. I think in regard to depth I look to women. I probably always will. Upon the realization that I was bisexual, I also came to realize that I sometimes had feelings for women that ran deeper than friendship. It’s only now I feel like I’ve finally met a friend that is really on my wavelength. She’s a fellow feminist; my first real fully, gloriously aware feminist friend. She’s also 5 years older than me and in graduate school which makes her kind of my hero. I met her at a rock and roll camp for girls where we both volunteered. I really like her. I only see her once a month because she goes to school upstate but I hope we stay friends. I will admit that I value men very much too though, because I really feel immediately comfortable with them, whereas with women it takes some searching and probing before I let myself go enough to really trust them. Then again, I’m also that way with men, but romantically. As friends I’m totally comfortable but sexually or romantically, I find men much harder to trust. I think I’m deeply untrusting of both genders, but in different ways. But I think I really have it in me to love a female friend deeply. I hope I have that experience one day.

    It’s heartening to read all these posts describing similar feelings. I was taking a Women’s Studies class this semester in college and I mentioned something about how I always seemed to gravitate toward men as a child and appreciated their company. After that I pretty much heard crickets chirping. I was very surprised and a little embarassed, as if I’d just said something very unfeminist. It was like no one knew what I was talking about, like no one had ever heard of such a thing.

    Thanks for this post. It really got me thinking.

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