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.

Feministing's resident "sexpert", Sesali is a published writer and professional shit talker. She is a queer Black girl, fat girl, and trainer. She was the former Training Director at the United States Student Association and later a member of the Youth Organizing team at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. She received her bachelors in Women's and Gender Studies from Depaul University in 2012 and is currently pursuing a master's in Women's, Gender, and Sexuality studies at Georgia State University in Atlanta. A self identified "trap" feminist, and trained with a reproductive justice background, her interests include the intersections of feminism and: pop culture, youth culture, social media, hip hop, girlhood, sexuality, race, gender, and Beyonce. Sesali joined the team in 2010 as one of the winners of our So You Think You Can Blog contest.

is Feministing's resident sexpert and cynic.

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