“Fascinating . . . The Social Sex is a paean to companionship. Share it with a bosom friend.” —NPR
From historian and acclaimed feminist author of How the French Invented Love and A History of the Wife comes this rich, multifaceted history of the evolution of female friendship
In today’s culture, the bonds of female friendship are taken as a given. But only a few centuries ago, the idea of female friendship was completely unacknowledged, even pooh-poohed. Only men, the reasoning went, had the emotional and intellectual depth to develop and sustain these meaningful relationships.
Surveying history, literature, philosophy, religion, and pop culture, acclaimed author and historian Marilyn Yalom and co-author Theresa Donovan Brown demonstrate how women were able to co-opt the public face of friendship throughout the years. Chronicling shifting attitudes toward friendship—both female and male—from the Bible and the Romans to the Enlightenment to the women’s rights movements of the ‘60s up to Sex and the City and Bridesmaids, they reveal how the concept of female friendship has been inextricably linked to the larger social and cultural movements that have defined human history.
Armed with Yalom and Brown as our guides, we delve into the fascinating historical episodes and trends that illuminate the story of friendship between women: the literary salon as the original book club, the emergence of female professions and the working girl, the phenomenon of gossip, the advent of women’s sports, and more.
Lively, informative, and richly detailed, The Social Sex is a revelatory cultural history.
Yalom (How the French Invented Love) and Brown digest impressive swaths of literature as they investigate the bonds between historical women, making the bulk of the book a showcase of exemplary pairs that examines the lives of medieval nuns, early modern French literati, American social activists, and political wives, among others. Later chapters speculate on modern developments such as female roommates forming "friendship households" and online social networks reconfiguring relationships. While the history demonstrates that, at any given moment, the cultural paradigm shapes how women express their devotion from effusive "romantic friendships" among 19th-century women to online connections forged by social media among women today the authors suggest that the "essentials of female friendship have remained constant through the centuries." This sweeping, lighthearted, highly readable survey hints that beyond proximity, shared interests, and "reciprocity," there is still some lovely mystery to what binds the "noncarnal union of similar souls." Yalom and Brown confirm that "the benefits of friendship as an educational, ennobling, and personally satisfying experience" have been, and always will be, a "prized staple" of women's lives.