Why Celebrate Women’s Friendships?

We need a way to celebrate the important role that friendships with women play in most of our lives. I remember feeling quite satisfied with my life as a single woman well into my forties because of the richness of my network of women friends. I had good friends at work with whom I went to concerts and on vacations. I had other women friends with whom I shared problems and companionable activities such as movie going, and I had women friends I had known since high school and college with whom I had shared significant life passages over many years and miles. I remember saying at that time that while I would like to have a long-term intimate relationship someday, if that never happened, that was okay, too. My relationship needs felt largely fulfilled by my friendships with women. When I did meet my soul mate at the age of forty-five, and began sharing daily life with him, he and I both understood that my women friends would continue to play an important role in my life. Yet it feels to me like we are missing a way to celebrate the importance of women’s friendships for meeting needs beyond those fulfilled by both same-sex and heterosexual marriage (or their equivalent). In an interesting new book entitled The Social Sex: A History of Female Friendship, the author, Marilyn Yalom, traces the history of female friendships and notes that “almost all documents on friendship during the first two thousand years of Western history—from 600 BCE to 1600 CE—pertain to men.” She notes that ancient Greek philosophers “did not consider women worthy of attention since they were noncitizens, nonsoldiers, and nonparticipants in the public realm.” As late as the mid-nineteenth century, British journalists published articles suggesting that women were too unstable to be suited for, or capable of, friendships “within their own sex.” Could it be that women’s friendships are still largely uncelebrated because of undercurrents from ancient stereotypes about women? Rebecca Traister, writing in the New York Times about the importance of female friendships, contradicts the ancient stereotypes and states that “female friendships have been the bedrock of women’s lives for as long as there have been women.” She notes that a network of women friends can provide support and understanding about shared life experiences as women that a male partner cannot provide. In fact, because no one person can ever meet all of our needs, women married to women also need to maintain their network of women friends to keep themselves and their relationships balanced and healthy. In my book, New Rules for Women: Revolutionizing the Way Women Work Together, I report findings from my research on women’s relationships in the workplace. My research participants describe the importance of having supportive relationships with other women at work in order to keep their balance and grounding in the face of unconscious bias, subtle gender discrimination, and the challenges of balancing work and family life. I agree with Traister when she says that we don’t have ceremonies or rituals to acknowledge the importance of the role women friends play in our lives —and we need them.  Do you have any suggestions? Please share your thoughts and experiences about celebrating women’s friendships in the comments section, and let’s see if there’s an idea that might be ready to take flight for the rest of us!     The image in this post is in the public domain courtesy of Jacquelynne Kosmicki.]]>