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A Passion for Friends
Toward a Philosophy of Female Affection
By Janice G. Raymond
Spinifex PressCopyright © 1986 Janice G. Raymond
All rights reserved.
Origins of Female Friendship: In the Beginning Was Woman
What a woman thinks of women is the test of her nature.
Diana of the Crossways
I am due to have this friendship with Ethel Waters, because I worked for it ... I am her friend, and her tongue is in my mouth. I can speak her sentiments for her, though Ethel Waters can do very well indeed in speaking for herself.
Zora Neale Hurston, Dust Tracks on a Road
Jezebel, that flighty forthright, used to spend much of her Time in angling from her Window and crying "Uoo Hoo!" to the Kings that way wending to War and to Death. And some turned in at her Door, and others went on, though not a many 'tis true. Thus was Jezebel employed, when the Queen of Sheba passed beneath her Window, and Jezebel leaning outward called "Uoo Hoo!"
And that was Jezebel's last "Uoo Hoo!"
Djuna Barnes, Ladies Almanack
According to Man
Men have always realized that it is important to begin at the beginning. Male scholars have developed elaborate theories of origins, creation myths, and evolutionary schemas that claim to account for the unfolding of the human race. In all these scenarios, man and woman evolve to be for each other. According to man, woman is not for woman. Within hetero-reality, Gyn/affection has no original status.
Before woman, there was man. All the male chroniclers of human origins, ignoring or disdaining biological evidence, put man at the beginning and the begetting points of human existence. The Hebrew Bible recounts:
Yahweh God fashioned man of dust from the soil ... Yahweh God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone. I will make him a helpmate ..." So Yahweh God made the man fall into a deep sleep. And while he slept, he took one of his ribs and enclosed it in flesh. Yahweh God built the rib he had taken from a man into a woman, and brought her to the man. The man exclaimed: "This at last is bone from my bones, and flesh from my flesh! This is to be called woman, for this was taken from man." (Gen. 2:18–24)
This passage has been interpreted as mythical proof that man is the primordial human. It also casts the primordial human relationship as that of male with female.
The Genesis narrative unwittingly suggests the barrenness of the earlier homo-relational coexistence between a male god and a male human. It would seem that their "man-to-man" interval was bleak since, in the biblical account, woman becomes the being who evolves to remedy man's loneliness. Since then, men have pronounced that the original human relationship is hetero-relational while erasing the evidence of their homo-relational bonds. Thus, normal and normative love acts and feelings are supposed to exist only between males and females.
According to man, the original society consists of men and women in concert and consort with one another. The concerting and consorting are built on a theory of social evolution that rigidifies roles of sexual and social behavior. Durkheim, for example, links the evolution of society, with its transformation from mechanical to organic solidarity, to the evolution of "conjugal solidarity" in marriage and to the "evolution" of differentiation between the sexes. Earlier social groupings, in which women's functions were not clearly differentiated from men's and which did not impose conjugal constrictions, are faulted as weak societies. Real society evolved with the division of labor and its attendant submersion of women in the family and its projection of men into the public realm. The role of the division of labor "is not simply to embellish or ameliorate existing societies but to render societies possible which, without it, would not exist." For Durkheim and all male functionalists, real society did not come to pass until patriarchal or, in their euphemistic wording, organic society. The primordial social group is hetero-relational, that is, based on original social arrangements and behaviors between men and women.
According to man, the construction of civilization is produced as a hetero-relational drama. Man assumed the task of world-building because man is the original actor/activist. In the Freudian evolutionary script, man is the initiator of civilization because of his higher libido. Since woman has very low sexual drive, according to Freud, and since the birth of culture involves the sublimation of sexuality, a sexuality that only men possess, woman cannot conceive civilized life. Woman's hetero-relational role has been as supporting actress in man's cultural productions.
According to man, the origins of consciousness begin in the hetero-relational academy of male mentor and female student. It is man who introduces woman to a consciousness of herself and of the cosmos. Within this hetero-relational school, man awakens himself and woman to the consciousness of self, others, sexuality and, later, language and ideas. In the Hebrew Bible it is when man becomes aware of the cattle, the wild beasts, the birds of heaven, and the creation of his rib, woman, that he names them, thus giving them existence. Male consciousness confers existence because it is man who first becomes conscious of his own existence. Woman is awakened to life and made aware of that life by man.
Woman is because man accepted his evolutionary role as the natural sexual initiator (fucker). One of the more blatant misogynists and anti-Semites, writer Otto Weininger, attributes the very existence of woman to man's recognition and acceptance of his sexuality.
When man became sexual he formed woman. That woman is at all has happened simply because man has accepted his sexuality. Woman is merely the result of this affirmation; she is sexuality itself. Woman's existence is dependent on man; when man, as man, in contradistinction to woman, is sexual, he is giving woman form, calling her into existence.
This is one of the most arrogant justifications for the naturalness and primacy of hetero-relations. According to Weininger, and less blatant in others, not only woman but her entire affective existence was called forth by man. Therefore, man has been and always will be her destiny. For women, the original love affair is between a man and a woman. The natural relationship that men have prescribed for women is woman for man.
Man has named hetero-affection as the primordial relationship for women. It is primordial because man, as the original person, is the original initiator. This confers on him the right to call into existence creatures and things for himself. According to man, woman is the primordial receptacle. She is not the original person and thus she cannot originate. Her origins and her original affinities are bound by man. "Your yearning shall be for your husband, yet he will lord it over you" (Gen. 3:16). Male origins confer originality only on man. Since man sees himself as the original being, only he can originate.
According to Woman: The Origins of Gyn/Affection
A genealogy of female friendship — the lineage of women who have been and are primary to each other — tells a different story. It is the lineage of women who have been and are primary to each other. I use the word primary in both its descriptive and measured sense. In its descriptive sense, primary means momentous, prominent, remarkable, never to be forgotten, stirring, critical, vital, and essential. It characterizes friendships that are original and independent as well as fundamental and radical.
The genealogy of female friendship is also the story of women who have interpreted the word primary in a more measured sense; that is, the friendships of women are marked by a judgment of due proportion, what is due to women. In this measured sense, women who are primary to one another put each other first: first in the order of importance; first in claims of attention, affection, and activity; first in not allowing men to interfere with or encroach on female friendship; first meaning first-rate, or that which shapes the finest fabric of female existence; and first in the sense of re-possessing the memory of an original attraction to women that belongs to the initial state of Gyn/affective growth and development.
The ways in which women have put each other first are quite diverse. Repeatedly, however, many women have made their Selves and other women primary, whether they are lesbians, heterosexual, or celibate. This primariness is exemplified in the existence of blackwomen's clubs, founded in the nineteenth century. The black women's clubs, particularly in their initial generation of club members, were composed of "race women" whose primary commitment was to end racial oppression through a strong, black, woman-identified commitment. The Woman's Era, a nineteenth-century black women's publication, made this remarkable statement in 1894 about the clubs: "Clubs will make girls think seriously of their future lives, and not make women think their only alternative is to marry." One-quarter of the 108 club women profiled in Paula Giddings's study on the impact of black women on race and sex in America never married. Many of the most dynamic club members married relatively late, among them Mary Church Terrell and Ida Wells-Barnett. And only a quarter of the women profiled in Giddings's study had children.
There have been several interpretations of why, for example, the club women married late. Giddings suggests that because some of them held traditional views of marriage, they believed that women should "never neglect home and husband and children to enter professional life or to further any public cause, however worthy." Thus they put off marriage until they could give their undivided attention to their duties as wives and mothers and to what society expected of them as women. However, one could put a different twist on this interpretation by saying that they married late because they put women first in the chronology and commitment of their life span. Thus they married only after they had accomplished their chosen work for women. Their women's work came first, in order of both age and their priorities.
Further, some club women, such as Ida Wells-Barnett, after stating their intentions to retire from club work to devote full time to families, lasted only several months in marital "retirement." Even some of the more socially and politically conservative club women, such as Margaret Murray Washington, were skeptical about the "joys of motherhood." Of greater significance is the fact that over one-fourth of the women in Giddings's study exercised their freedom never to marry.
Another example of women who put each other first is the phenomenon of "professional lineage" set up by some of the first generation of women scientists in the United States. In her book Women Scientists in America, Margaret Rossiter chronicles a system established by female scientists at women's colleges through which they served as mentors to particular women students, supervised their selection of graduate schools, followed their progress closely, and arranged to have their own colleges hire them as junior colleagues. In time, the protégées would assume the status of faculty mentors and follow the same process of identifying and promoting other female successors.
Some of these "protégée chains" lasted for several generations and helped establish a national reputation for the science department involved. They also influenced many undergraduate women to study science. For example, until 1932, the professors of astronomy at Vassar College were all students and "grandstudents" of Maria Mitchell, the astronomer, who had been appointed at Vassar in 1865. Susan Bowen and Cornelia Clapp originated a line of zoologists at Mt. Holyoke College that lasted from 1870 until at least 1961.
In completing her portrayal of this "professional lineage," Rossiter describes how the senior scientist, confident in her successor, would retire to a cottage on campus with a sister or another colleague. A hall or laboratory would be named for her, and when she died her protégée would write her obituary.
The origins of female friendship are in female freedom, an important aspect of which is the freedom to be for women. It is important to a genealogy of female friendship that women claim this freedom to be primary to our Selves and each other in some way. The ways in which these primary aspects are increased and intensified enhance the originality of female friendship. A genealogy of female friendship reveals the many ways in which women have been primary to our Selves and other women.
The origins of female friendship are also in female culture. Female culture is past, present, and ongoing, and thus the origins of female friendship are not confined to any static original state, or golden age, of Gyn/affection. As I noted in the Introduction, the vitality of women's "otherness" is grounded in the culture that women have created with and for each other throughout history and in all cultures.
The word culture has several senses — social, intellectual, and artistic. Etymologically, it comes from the Latin cultura, meaning to cultivate the soil. From prehistory, women were the original cultivators of soil, and this is an apt metaphor for representing many of women's cultural pursuits and products. Thus we have women also as the cultivators of the social group, that is, of society, as hypothesized in some of the theories about early matriarchies that credit women with bringing people together into groups; women as cultivators of the mind, spawning a female culture of thinking that included early science, mathematics, and philosophy; and women as cultivators of the arts of weaving, pottery, and painting. Ultimately, in the evolution of its usage and in its modern development, culture came to mean "the whole way of life, material, intellectual, and spiritual, of a given society."
The origins of female friendship are to be found in "the whole way of life, material, intellectual, and spiritual," that women have cultivated with each other. A genealogy of Gyn/affection lays claim to this "whole way of life" which, for many women, has represented an attempt to think in new ways about women's social, moral, and intellectual life. As the modern meaning of culture has given high valuation to a particular people's specific traditions, so too does a genealogy of female friendship. It puts a premium on women's cultural specificity — that is, women's commonalities and women's distinctive ways of being for each other — across a diversity of ethnic, racial, and national boundaries. As any cultural tradition cannot be assimilated by a simple and unilinear idea of civilization, neither can the culture of female friendship be absorbed by more catholic ideas of friendship in general. The culture of female friendship has a distinctive purpose, passion, and politics. Its origins are to be found in those spheres where women were and are free to be for each other and where women provide women with a sense of difference, importance, autonomy, and affection.
In its attempts to subdue a particular people, one of the most destructive weapons of colonialism was to extinguish a group's cultural traditions. Often this was done in an abruptly violent way, as when a people's symbols, artifacts, creations, beliefs, and history were outrightly obliterated. More often, it was done over a long period of time during which this same set of cultural specifics was erased at an evolutionary pace. As women re-member and re-create the culture of Gyn/affection in our lives, we become firstborn to our Selves and each other.
One way in which men have distorted and dismembered women's origins with each other is by institutionalizing a system of primogeniture in which not only is the firstborn son considered the recognized and rewarded heir to the kingdom of the father, but the father-son relationship itself is shored up as the model for important relations between men. Patriarchal primogeniture is a strategy for bolstering the traditions of homo-relations in which all sorts of fathers bequeath to all sorts of sons the keys to their kingdoms. Patriarchal primogeniture renders invisible not only firstborn daughters but the mother-daughter relationship as well. This potentially Gyn/affective bond is deprived of its power to serve as an archetype for a succession of women's affinities with women. Instead, women are taught to disavow their affection for women. Disowned love for women is like disinherited daughters. Only men become the recognized and rewarded beneficiaries of female affection.
Men have inherited the earth and its man-made kingdoms of money, education, professional prestige, and political power. Men have also inherited, by virtue of having been born male, the "right" to women's affection. Female friendship can give back the right of primogeniture to women by establishing a firstness among our Selves. Women who are primary to our Selves and to other women are saying that we do exist, that we have a memory of our Gyn/affective origins, and that we will inherit the earth beginning with our lost affection for our original Selves and for one another.
Excerpted from A Passion for Friends by Janice G. Raymond. Copyright © 1986 Janice G. Raymond. Excerpted by permission of Spinifex Press.
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Table of Contents
I Origins of Female Friendship: In the Beginning Was Woman,
II Varieties of Female Friendship: The Nun as Loose Woman,
III More Loose Women: The Chinese Marriage Resisters,
IV Obstacles to Female Friendship,
V A Vision of Female Friendship: Two Sights-seeing,