One of the classes I’m taking at the moment required some reading about female friendships in the Victorian era. The piece theorizes that while interactions between women and men in much of the nineteenth-century were stiff and formalized, relationships between women were sentimental, effusive, and intense in a way that fulfilled the spectrum of women’s emotional needs. Now, given what I’ve told you about my degree, it’s not surprising that a class I’m taking would spend a good amount of time devoted to something most people find quite ordinary and not worthy of academic scrutiny, such as the subject of friendship.
But even this seemed mundane to me. Men segregated from women throughout most aspects of daily life? Women fulfilling all the emotional needs of other women? This is a revelation? Sounds like college to me! Where men were frat boys who pretended to ignore you when you came over to drink their beer, and women… well, they were who I lived life with! After all, I didn’t refer to Annie D. as my life partner in the toast I gave at her wedding for nothin’!
I’d like to offer a few nuggets from Carroll Smith-Rosenberg’s book, Disorderly Conduct, just to see whether that much has changed in the intervening century.
Smith-Rosenberg found that letters between women in the Victorian era “possess[ed] an emotional intensity and a sensual and physical explicitness that are difficult to dismiss.” (59)
Hmm. Emotional intensity? Exhibit A: my friends and I end every email or IM conversation with “LOVE!!!!!!!!!” Exhibit B: We have nicknames for each other that are too weird even for the internet. Sensual and physical explicitness? Exhibit C: When Jen S. met Annie D. and me, she made a poster declaring that we made her “wet herself.” And then she carried this poster around campus.
The Victorian age offered a “female world in which hostility and criticism of other women were discouraged, and thus a milieu in which women could develop a sense of inner security and self-esteem.” (64)
I have to say my friends and I spend an inordinate amount of time telling each other we’re sweet ass. And we’re pretty unapologetic about it. We’ve been known to spend entire evenings congratulating ourselves for being the spectacular people we are, and patting each other on the back for being so smart as to be friends with each other, thus compounding our amazingness. Wine helps with this exercise.
We are also at times supportive to a fault. Do you have friends who would touch dead animals in order to defend your honor? I know – that statement doesn’t make sense – but you’ll just have to trust me. They did, and I do.
“Quite a few young women kept diaries, and it was a sign of special friendship to show their diaries to one another.” (69)
Ooooh. How special! Diary-sharing. I’ve copied and pasted entire IM convos with third parties (mostly emotionally-unavailable boys) into emails to other friends. I’ve BCCed at times. I have a BLOG where I divulge things. Feelings. Cryptic statements about dead animals. How’s that for sharing? How’s that for TRUSTING? Any of that shizz could be forwarded with the press of a button! What was the worst that could happen with diary sharing? The Victorians didn’t even have Xerox machines!
“How, then, can we ultimately interpret these long-lived intimate female relationships and integrate them into our understanding of Victorian sexuality? Their ambivalent and romantic rhetoric presents us with an ultimate puzzle: the relationship along the spectrum of human emotions between love, sensuality, and sexuality.” (74)
Really? Is this a puzzle? This sounds like run-of-the-mill friendship to me. What do my friends know about my sexuality, you ask? I’ll tell you they’re more likely to comment on the wonders breastfeeding did for my boobs than anyone else – hubs included. They’re also more likely to gyrate inappropriately with me on any dance floor, any city, any night.
I think it’s fitting at this moment that B*Witched just popped up on iTunes.
If we were near a dance floor right now, no doubt a call would rise up for an “Amanda Sandwich!” Because sometimes sexuality – and friendship – comes in the form of a sandwich. With House dressing. How’s that for a subject worthy of academic scrutiny? Carroll Smith-Rosenberg, come write a book about me and my peeps!! I promise it’ll be a best-seller.
And theeere’s the B*Witched key change. Everything is right in the world.