She's a character, she has opinions.

Female Friendship and Common Ground

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The Girlfriend Vote–Hillary Clinton may have lost her presidential bid, but she won me a new kind of pal. “Until you and I started talking about the campaign, I never recognized our similarities. I think the problem between gay and straight women is that we see our obvious differences, and don’t really understand how alike we are. I am admitting a prejudice, of course, but I couldn’t see how my domestic life and the domestic life of gay women would be similar.”

A dialogue in response to this column-

SAMANTHA: This piece rubbed me the wrong way, unfortunately. The overall message, of Hillary Clinton’s candidacy drawing women together, is a positive one, but the way the author goes about framing it leaves me completely alienated. She explicitly sets up female friendship as being centered around men (therefore barred to her as a lesbian), and instead of challenging this, suggests that the Clinton candidacy allowed for a secondary basis for friendship, which is…still about men, as she approaches their sympathy with Clinton through the lens of how hard Clinton has it trying to make it in a man’s world.

To which I can only say…well, two things.

1. …sigh
and
2. No.

TAMARA: I completely agree. I wanted to rejoice in this article and smile over how Hillary Clinton brought us all together under the bonds of sisterhood, even if that wasn’t her intention. But what kind of sisterhood is dependent upon the gender you love?

S: Setting up the modifier of “female friendship” is in itself problematic; it once again falls into the pattern of distinguishing women and setting them aside from *human*. Female friendship, as distinct from just regular friendship, which by process of elimination must then be…male? Female friendship, which has to be set aside because it’s weird and abnormal.

(On a side note- though *is* there such a thing as “male friendship”? Or does the very concept imply a sense of emotional intimacy that men, in standard constructed Western masculinity, aren’t supposed to have? Would having “male friendship” by its very nature be kinda gay, and therefore proscribed? Or is emotional intimacy what sets “female friendship” apart and makes it weird in the first place?)

T: I think emotional intimacy does play a part in this, insofar as male and female styles of communication can be different. This doesn’t hold true for everyone, of course, but there is that old stereotype of women sharing and men fixing. But there’s no reason why one type of communication should be the standard and the other should require a modifier.

I’m also having a very hard time understanding why someone with a lesbian partner is kept apart from having friendships based on domestic life. It almost seems to me as if the author is stereotyping her friends just as they admitted to stereotyping her. There have to be commonalities to their domestic lives that don’t include men and men’s behavior.

S: My experiences of friendship have not been based around men. I make friends over common interests or common experiences (I’m 24, and have spent my life to date in school, so “common experiences” are the most typical basis for my friendships: I met them in the place where I was spending all of my time). And while the topic of men and relationships with men certainly *enters* our friendship and is a topic of discussion, I don’t ever feel it has *defined* them.

Am I the outlier, or is the author?

T: If you’re an outlier, then so am I. I don’t think I’ve ever had a group of friends that falls into the all-about-men stereotype mentioned by the author. My bonds with my friends are based on things other than the men in (or not in) our lives. The friendships that were seemed to end as soon as the relationships with the men we were talking about ended. Not an ideal basis for a friendship, obviously.

Last week I had dinner at a friend’s house. She cooked the main dish, another friend brought the appetizer, another brought dessert, and I made the salad. I told you about this, I think; it was a good time. We make a point of doing this once a month, sharing food and stories and just spending time with each other. We have a great time together. I guess they’re the stereotypical group of friends, the ones who are there for me through it all. We’ve popped quite a few champagne bottles together.

And, sure, we talk about men and babies, but we also talk about football, Hillary Clinton’s *policies*, and the rising cost of gas. The majority of our conversations pass the Bechdel Test.

S: Your experience sounds pretty similar to mine. One thing going back to my first point- the friendships that were based in that common school-experience haven’t tended to be particularly enduring. We move away, we move on, we lose touch. (Though the explosion of social networking, particularly Facebook, is changing that a bit, so far in very superficial ways for me personally.)

T: Like “work friends.” You spend eight hours a day together and you socialize after work. But when the job ends, often so does the friendship.

S: My friendships based on common *interests*, though, those endure. Because I’m very shy, and because I’ve moved around so much in pursuing my education, these friendships have tended to be Internet-based from the get-go; we met through common interests online, and communicate primarily in that medium.

T: My internet friendships are pretty important to me. These are women I’ve never met in person, who I connected with on a social networking site and who have been women I consider friends for years. In some ways I almost feel I trust and rely on them more than my, I guess you could call them “real life” friends. [NB: This is how Samantha and I met, actually, as well.]

I think one thing that makes these internet friendships so special is that we have the luxury of time and space so that we can show each other only our best sides. Not that we lie, but that instead of having a friend show up on our doorstep crying at 2am while we’re tired, maybe a little PMS-ing or hungover, and facing work in the morning, we can open that email at 8am when we’re wide-awake and ready to give our best support to our internet friend in need. It isn’t a perfect system because sometimes you do need someone at 2am, but for a lot of things it’s nice to know that someone is supporting you, no matter what, just like you’re supporting her.

S: And as those friendships develop, you swap phone numbers, you go visit each other in person, at your own pace and on your own terms. You develop the ability and willingness to give that 2 AM support with less pressure, I think.

T: And if it’s 2am in your timezone, it may not be in hers. It makes you less reluctant to reach out, I think, when it’s as easy as sending a message and knowing your friend will get back to you when and if she’s able. There’s certainly less pressure involved. Internet friendships seem to involve a conscious decision to be there. As Samantha says, more “common ground” and less “common experience.”

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Written by tldegray

September 17, 2008 at 3:35 am

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