Girlfriend or “no” friend: Platonic relationships and sexist tropes

 

This is my friend Molly. In college lot's of people thought we were dating.

This is my friend Molly. In college lot’s of people thought we were dating.

Platonic relationships between women have always been “suspect” in the general opinion. We can look back as far as the Salem witch trials, for example, to see exactly how dangerous it was in America for women to build sustainable relationships with one another without the supervision of men. Back then, women who were single, financially independent, involved in midwifery or other medical practices and/or spent too much time with other women were accused – and sometimes tried and convicted – of witchcraft. Even today, the myth persists that women are somehow not able to maintain healthy relationships (an idea that is fueled by the onslaught of reality television shows that show women hating each other). And if women have close relationships with other women, it is easier to filter the relationship as  sexual/romantic. Oprah and her best friend Gayle have been accused of being lesbian lovers for years now.

When talking about the undermining of female friendship, Maya mentioned that we live in a culture where sexual and familial relationships are prioritized over friendships. This is so true that sometimes are willing women devalue the friendships that we have for the sake of being good romantic partners. Have you noticed that messaging around good heterosexual relationships often includes letting men “hang out with the boys,” but women’s friends are portrayed as destined to be the bane of the relationship? This rhetoric is pervasive. I’ve had personal conversations with women who stand by the idea that once they’re in a relationship, their partner comes first.

Not only is this standard an insult to the transformative potential of sisterhood, but it can be extremely dangerous. In my opinion, someone who loves you should: 1) recognize the other people in your life who care about you just as much and have your best interest at heart. 2) Respect those relationships. One partner forcing or attempting to isolate the other partner from their friends should raise a serious flag.

This idea is rooted in patriarchy. At the root of this logic is the idea that women are of no use to anyone unless they are meeting sexual needs. (This also assumes that romantic relationships are always linked to sexual activity which isn’t always the case and a post for a different day.) It’s reflective of how nuanced even basic sexist principles have become.

and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.

2 Comments

  1. Posted October 2, 2013 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

    I value friendship highly. And I must be fortunate, because I have close female friends who also value friendship highly. I find this to be so among my straight women friends and my gay women friends. I even write songs about these wonderful friendships!

  2. Posted October 5, 2013 at 8:29 pm | Permalink

    I’ve noticed actually a similar trend with men — hear me out — in that when two men have a particularly close friendship, they’re either pigeonholed as ‘gay’ or expected to partake in some pretty disgusting displays to prove that they’re ‘still men’. And, really, I think it all comes from the same source — the patriarchy’s fear of anything that threatens male heteronormativity and gender roles.

    Female-female friendships are treated as ‘They must be lesbians’ because the idea that women would have friends at all humanizes us — something that makes it harder for men to objectify and sexualize women. So, how better than to do away with the pesky human traits? Sexualize them, too!

    Male-male friendships are likewise given the ‘They must be gay’ treatment because, if men show genuinely warm displays of affection or care for each other, it crosses the line into feminine behavior — it’s weak, and ‘real men’ aren’t weak, so they also can’t be emotional, nor show real affection for their friends beyond ‘Lets get a beer’. It’s a lie that men use to dismiss emotions as ‘feminine’, and thus put themselves as ‘superior’ so long as they only have two modes in their relationships with other men of ‘I want to kill you’ or ‘I want to fuck you.’

    …You know what, humanity sucks. I like my computer better.

Feministing In Your Inbox

Sign up for our Newsletter to stay in touch with Feministing
and receive regular updates and exclusive content.

167 queries. 0.863 seconds