Tuesday, October 26, 2010

On Female Friendships aka The Sisterhood

I heard a quote that goes something like this, "I am so glad I can stop pretending to be somebody else, so that I can go back pretending to be me".  At some level, I think we can all relate and get a chuckle out of that, particularly so for women as it relates to female friendships. Such friendships or partaking in the sisterhood calls for a level of fakeness. If I have learned anything it's that if you want to have female friends, especially popular ones, you have to pretend to be somebody else. If you let your guard down and say what you really think or dress how you really want to, you will be tossed out of the herd. A black sheep of sorts.
Once you decide to "stop pretending to be somebody else" then you can still get stuck with "pretending to be me", which is only one step better.  Probably this is the level female friendships meander around. Few are ever being their true selves; we are still just pretending because appearances and images are everything. The fear always lurks that if I say what I really think, etc, I will be friendless, which is a fate worse than death for women. "Pretending to be me" is projecting the image of yourself that you think everyone wants to see. Being you, the real you, is saying what you think and living life with strong convictions regardless of who you might offend. You can be the real you all the while still maintaining civility, grace, and good manners. An uncompromising individual, who is civil, is a rare find.

Real friends come when you can be your real self. For example, my blog supporters are more of true friends than my real life ones. On here I am not pretending to be somebody else nor am I pretending to be me....this is the real, raw, and uncensored Laura, because on here I am not interested in making friends or projecting appearances. I did not set out in the blogging world looking for a social life, but what I have found are those online are often more edifying and comforting than those I know in real life.  And I believe that is because online we can say what we mean and mean what we say. No pretenses. Take it or leave it. Love me or hate me. But, in real life there is the tendency to want everyone to love you and hence even if we are not "pretending to be somebody else", we are "pretending to be me", in a fake attempt to win friends and influence people. Those who support me online are supporting in the truest sense as they know the unvarnished me. Those in real life, if they knew my controversial, non-PC opinions would probably drop me like a hot potato. Friends: one condition away from being an enemy (or so it seems).

With all that said, I came across an interesting review about a new book by Kelly Valen (review by Michelle Wiener): The Twisted Sisterhood: Unraveling the Dark Legacy of Female Friendships.
"This book is an invitation to every girl and woman to pay more attention to what's going on within the gender, to reflect, and, ultimately, to behave."
Behave. Yup, that is what women need to hear more of; not only in dealings with their fellow sisters, but with men. Of course suggesting that women should behave or that women are anything less than perfect is a big no-no.Well behaved women, rarely make history or so the saying goes. Grerp correctly points out that very few ever make history, including men. Behaved or not, if history is what you want--good luck. The idea is that women should be able to express themselves independently, whether they are behaving properly doesn't matter. Expression of self at all costs and sometimes the cost is female friendships. An ironic twist. Most of the misbehaving is passive though; in the act of pretending, true feelings are bottled up only to later come out in the traditional catty ways.
"So writes Kelly Valen in the introduction to "The Twisted Sisterhood," a book that tackles a recognized but oft-unspoken truth about female friendships: that while women cherish their friendships, there is also frequently an undercurrent of destructiveness."Twisted Sisterhood" is a thorough, well-researched, earnest look at how women might stop turning away from one another. Valen covers mother-daughter relationships, friendships and work relationships, offering evenhanded advice bolstered by psychological and academic texts. Of particular concern to Valen are mother-daughter bonds, posited as a crucial part of healing and avoiding either inflicting or suffering from the emotional scars that women are especially capable of causing.The book elaborates on an issue Valen first wrote about in a 2007 New York Times' Modern Love column, in which she described her inability to feel close to other women, which she dated back to college, when her sorority sisters failed to support her after she'd been raped at a fraternity function.While she received a number of harsh criticisms and critiques from female readers, other women wrote to share their own emotionally damaging experiences at the hands of other women."It seems we've conditioned ourselves to deny, discount, and just plain swallow our intrafemale hurts as something we shouldn't indulge or whine about," Valen writes, and the fact that airing legitimate grievances or concerns would be seen as whining is telling in itself."

"Valen surveyed over 3,000 women — the questionnaire is in an appendix — gathering as much data from as wide a cross-section as possible. The questions range from whether one finds their female friendships "authentic" and "reliable" to whether one had ever experienced "any type of lasting distress, pain, trauma, or emotional scarring" stemming from a negative experience with a woman or group of women. While these questions may be leading, many respondents answered yes, and Valen reproduces a number of stories that sound heartbreakingly familiar."
"Twisted Sister" is worth reading, with one caveat: Valen seems uncomfortable with feminist politics, which she raises in a later section of the book that argues women should stop blaming men for their own infighting. Feminism is defined as simply "blaming the patriarchy," which Valen tends to conflate with "blaming men," when pointing the finger at individuals isn't at all the same thing as pointing to an ideological framework that systematically and institutionally values men over women — an idea that is then curiously absent from her discussion of work-related intrafemale fighting and the negative stereotypes of female relationships perpetrated by TV programs and movies."
"uncomfortable with feminists politics", it would be a breath of fresh air to think so, but from my google searching she has feminist or at least left leanings. However, it is encouraging to see another women take on the sisterhood and critique women. As noted above, some women are already outraged that she dare write a book suggesting "girlfriends" are not all sunshine and lollipops. Again, appearances are everything and women would prefer that the world think that the female world is perfect or better at least than the male world.

Encouraging women to stop blaming men or any outside force for their infighting sounds right to me. Women should look at themselves first, as individuals and as a sex, before blame is placed elsewhere. It is known that I am not shy about critiquing my own sex. I have found enough problems in the female home camp that men as a source of female woes are rarely on my radar.
"Valen goes so far as to question whether 21st-century women even need the "feminist" label, and for those women who would answer such a question with a resounding "yes," the ideas in this section will not at all jibe with the rest of her book, in which Valen is clearly making a feminist argument: that the sisterhood is powerful and can be more powerful still if all women everywhere took more care with each other."
"Goes so far..." Even the tone in that statement infers the crime that Valen has committed. Again, how dare she suggest that women do not need the "feminist" label. OF COURSE they do, without it they could not stand on their own two feet.  With one simple suggestion, she will be deemed a traitor and ironically prove the whole point of her book.  I too have made the argument that women bonded together (sisterhood, if you must) can be a force for great good. Women have the potential for great influence, if channeled correctly. I would not call this a feminist argument though, but a common sense one. I don't know why feminists have to take such basic concepts and claim them as their own, as if they "coined" them. Men too have the power for great influence and have had great influence by the looks of history and the ever controversial 'patriarchy'. Men are more likely to bond together and get things done without cattiness and passive destruction.Women end up doing this.

My final thought is if women are this cruel to their own kind, then what chance do men have? My friends know the answer.


Terry @ Breathing Grace said...

... if women are this cruel to their own kind, then what chance do men have? My friends know the answer.

Indeed, Laura, I do know the answer. I am fortunate to have one friendship where I can just say what I think. She's as un-PC as me, and even when we disagree, it's all good.

Uou think it's a coincidence that she's married to my husband's brother? Me either.

Anonymous said...

Being friends with "popular" women can be destructive?

What do you mean by "popular" women? Is this high school?

In the world I live in, there are no popular and unpopular women. There are moms, career women, elderly retirees, college students, grad students, freelancers, etc. None of them worry in the least about whether they are popular.

If you are in an unhealthy friendship, leave it. That's true whether your friendship is with a man or a woman.

And your final point makes no sense: the women who write to you online are "good" (so female friendship is good when you are honest) but your real-life friendships are "bad" because you are phony. So stop being phony! End of story.

Are you sure you just aren't happier being with people who agree with you, and unhappy with people who challenge you?

Saint Louis said...

I grew up with four older sisters, so I witnessed plenty of female "friendships." I could never get over how nasty and catty they were to each other. I used to think that if those were their friends, I'd hate to see how they treated their enemies.

I also have always found it funny when a woman/girl tries to be "one of the guys." She'll pretend to like football or some other primarily male activity. I guess she does this because she's so used to female friendships where she needs to adopt the habits and tastes of the group. What she doesn't get is that most guys can see through the act and find it incredibly annoying.