more on my homosocial self.

10 May



Homosociality can be described as relationships between people of the same sex that are not sexual in nature. Traditionally, this subject has been discussed on how it relates to relationships between men. Eve Sedgwick formalized the definition as it relates to male characters in nineteenth century British literature. There have been homosocial studies of men in the work place and in sports.  The study of “romantic friendships” between women, and specifically, homosociality as it applies to women, is less researched and written about.


Sedgwick claims that the study of relationships between males must be held separate from the study of relationships between females.  Due to the patriarchal power structure of society, homosocial men rely on social forces different from the forces on which homosocial women rely. These variations in social pushes and pulls are not only applicable to sex, but to race, class and age, Sedgwick says.


Navigating through a larger lens – exploring friendships in general among women and Lesbian relationships – allows for the availability of a wider discourse on homosocial relationships between women. This is done not only through literature reviews, but in conjunction with the analysis of the varying language used to describe female relationships through time.


Researchers have recently begun to delve into qualifying non-sexual relationships between women in history as far back as the Ancient World. Women were seen as a function of men; as having no autonomy, making it difficult to study woman relationships. Women’s sexuality outside of the context of men was repressed and there aren’t many textual sources documenting the Ancient World. Historians have had to rely on images (casts, carvings, reliefs) to analyze women’s relationships with women. The societal pictures of the Ancient world – highly male centered – show that women did spend much time together, a feature of homosociality.                                                                                                                                        


The terra cotta knee guard for working wool depicted above shows women preparing for a wedding ceremony in ancient Greece. The artist, Eretria Painter, hoped to depict a “woman’s world” of the period.  Women prepared for marriage and childbirth with other women in a space that was called a gynaikonitis. The scene above exposes this space. Most interestingly, these spaces were used in conjunction with events (marriage, childbirth) that have connotations with a woman’s sexuality, womb and genitals.

Writers have called these ancient situations “homoerotic” and “homosocial” in a broad sweeping assumption. In fact, homosociality and homoeroticism are often used interchangeably when, in actuality, they are two very different concepts. Homoeroticism is defined as atendency for erotic emotions to be centered on a person of the same sex. In homosocial relationships, there are no links to sexuality. In fact, homosociality implies a passionate longing for emotional, spiritual and physical intimacy, without the traditional association of sex and reproduction. The distinction between homoerotic and homosocial is hard to make in the Ancient world, where same-sex sexual relationships were not defined. Historians are in a constant battle to decide whether homosexual relationships happened at all or if they were simply censored. Thus, it is hard to ever know if the seemingly homosocial relationships of the past were actually homosexual.

In the nineteenth century, as a function of the large middle class in the United States, both women and men were encouraged to socialize. Women, however, were seen as having a greater spirituality and higher morals. This element, combined with the time’s social norms surrounding house and child care, created separate spheres for men and women. These separated social circles created several same-sex environments. For example, men worked as cowboys and in mining towns and women, went to school at female academies or worked in factories. It is during this time that researchers are able to find textual recordings of homosocial (questionably homosexual) lives.


Research of romantic friendships during the nineteenth century generally focuses on white, middle-class women; their close friendships with women were seen as an acceptable and encouraged part of their social role. Sociologists have explored the components of these women’s relationships by analyzing the letters sent between sets of friends, autograph books, female academy yearbooks, newspapers and journals. The result of this primary document exploration is a classist arrangement of data; it excludes the analysis of romantic friendships among women who could not afford the fore-mentioned means of documenting relationships.

As women began fighting for equality (the suffragist movement of the early 1900s, the feminist movement of the 1960s/70s), it seems that their relationships with other women began to suffer. It is also interesting to note the period of the “sexual revolution,” and its impact on relationships between women. Sexual relationships between people of the same sex were defined (homosexual, gay, lesbian) and large groups of women who supported the advancement of women were labeled as “radical, bra-burning feminists.” Detrimental and stereotypical labels were attached to these definitions. This must have had an impact on women’s friendship… women who shared close bonds with other women didn’t want to be attached with these groups – who were constantly being harassed by a very hetero-normative society. In the case of Mills, student handbooks during this time describe an activist women’s campus but, illicitly state that Mills women are not radical feminists.


While is it positive that women have been able to make progress across the board in civil rights, one of the costs of this has been close female friendships. As social environments have become co-ed, climates and social infrastructures dedicated to women have deteriorated.      

During summer breaks from school, I pack up my things, and I head home. Home means I hang out with my guy friends and my guy more-than-friends… in fact, the majority of my activities during the summer are spent with men. It has been shocking when I bring these men back into my school (female) network; they are threatened and silenced by my group of outspoken women friends. To compensate for this, these men make me the other, the weird one, the one who has strange relationships. The closeness of my pure friendships are tainted and made to seem unnatural. The fact that I chose to attend a women’s college makes me either gay or weird or anti-male. Does the nature of my friendships emasculate and threaten men? Do large groups of women intimidate men because they can be a powerful and unstoppable entity? Do my male friends retreat when my feelings toward them seem subordinate to my feelings toward my girl friends?


2 Responses to “more on my homosocial self.”

  1. merrrrrr May 10, 2007 at 7:24 am #

    dude that is one SWEET picture of some fine middle-class white women engaged in some hot homosocial practice. i might have to steal it for my personal collection. especially the one holding the ball mmmmmmmm i likes that

  2. siriusag October 17, 2008 at 4:22 pm #

    Wow, I didn’t do the research you’ve done. I just bounced this idea around my keyboard and let it slap my blog, but I came to the same conclusion that you did, or are trying to, with this post. The movement that seemed designed to help women progress caused other well-functioning areas of the lives of women to deteriorate; namely our friendships. Then, when that lay in tattered ruins, it tore up the ability for men and women to relate well (my premise, anyway). You spoke to that when mentioning the antics of your male friends when confronted with the dynamic that is outspoken women in “cahoots”.

    I’ll be back to check you out, especially if I get an automatic link to another one of your posts.


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