An Ode To Female Friendship
There are many types of love in the world. Greek philosophy classified 6 archetypes of love: eros, philia, ludus, agape, pragma, and philautia. Love in general looks at our relationships with others and ourselves. Each of these types embodies one expression of love. While they are all experienced, some types are more familiar than others. Our culture is often consumed by eros, the type of love rooted in romance and attraction. But this love, while wonderful, is limiting. A love that is even deeper than eros is philia. Philia is the love of friendship. Grounded in the mutual sharing of goodwill, philia bases itself on the practice of self-giving and self-sacrificing love.
Many renowned philosophers had their opinions on philia. Aristotle said that in order to fully express this type of love, a person must contain these 3 characteristics: useful, pleasant, and good. The last of these is the most difficult to understand. Good, for Aristotle, means rational and virtuous. He then went on to say that these friendships, the ones based on philia love and goodness, allowed companionship, dependability, and trust to flourish.
The Greeks valued philia love far beyond the love that eros could bring. That banal and carnal attraction is fleeting and not grounded in truth. Philia, is the true testament of affection, one that spans a lifetime, one that can never truly dissipate.
Friendship is an important part of our society, and the love that a good friend gives can last a lifetime. As November draws to a close, I'd like to take some time to talk about friendship, especially female friendship and the way it sustains us and helps us grow.
A Feminine Touch
Today’s world underestimates the value of female friendship. History chronicles strong female relationships as dangerous, salacious, and a threat to the nuclear family. Such feminine closeness could not be trusted, and it was something to naturally fear.
In a biography I read about a famous French courtesan, Valtesse de la Bigne, 1890s Paris saw the rise of laws for female independence which many men did not like, one of the primary concerns being the close-knit friendships and even romantic relationships that occurred between women. This book inspired me to think about the ways that 19th century Paris may not be so different from our society today. Society is threatened by powerful women. They pave the way for change in a way that isn't always pretty, simple, or diplomatic—rather they do what they must to be seen and heard.
The patriarchy thrives on female opposition, on the competition for male attention. This system of beliefs slithers its way into our media and extracurricular outlets like books, movies, TV, and music. Women are described to other women as the enemy, someone to be loathed and not trusted.
In our rising misogynistic climate, I want to be another woman who challenges this notion. Female friendship is crucially important— physically, emotionally, and psychologically. Nothing makes me happier than spending an evening with my close friends. I have been immensely lucky in that regard. My friends are scattered across the United States pursuing their dreams and I couldn’t be more proud of them. This means that our correspondences are often in the form of memes, Snapchats, text messages, or Facebook posts. While there are many problems that accompany the use of social media, it provides me with a medium to maintain the relationships I have with the wonderful women in my life.
My friends have given me some of the best memories I'll ever have. Their selfless devotion got me through some of the toughest and most beautiful moments in my life. I'd like to illustrate a scene for you.
March in Michigan is not a lovely month. A coat of rain, darkness, and cold keeps the touch of spring on a tight leash. My senior year in college, I applied to many graduate programs to pursue my study of English. On a dark day in March the clouds hung low, too encumbered with rain to stand tall, I found out that I was not accepted into my dream school. I had a busy day though, work, classes, and volunteering so I didn’t have any time to be sad. When I walked into my house at the end of the day, my roommates had made me a full dinner: tacos, taquitos, and margaritas. It was this simple, yet genuine act of kindness that let me know I had a wonderful support system. There were many other moments like this throughout our time of living together, but this memory stands out for me. Whenever we do something selflessly for the good of another, we create beauty.
The Secret Sisterhood
I recently finished a book that dealt with bringing the vibrancy of female friendship to light, A Secret Sisterhood: The Literary Friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot, and Virginia Woolf by Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney. Throughout literature we are exposed to famous friendships—most being male like Byron and Shelley and Fitzgerald and Hemingway. These male friendships have made the history books but many famous female writers had been painted as lonesome and solitary. A Secret Sisterhood aimed to change that narrative.
The book is split into four sections, each detailing a renowned author with her closest female acquaintance. Each section acts as a mini-biography of the pair, detailing their correspondences throughout their lives and the profound effect that their friendships had on their writing. While I love the concept and think a book like this is a necessary addition to literary studies, it took me awhile to get through. The project never seemed to have the right flow, though some chapters I found much more compelling than others. Narrative timelines became blurred especially in the first chapter about Jane Austen and Anne Sharp. Upon further consideration, having the book begin in such a disconnected way set a more negative tone on the rest of the book.
The friendship between Charlotte Bronte and Mary Taylor is one that is more widely known and understood by Bronte scholars. All biographies of Charlotte mention her relationship with Mary, so while this pairing was not as surprising, the narrative structure was more coherent acting in a chronological fashion.
The final two chapters were the most superior in my mind. I had no idea that George Eliot and Harriet Beecher Stowe were friends! Such spark and guidance among this pair made the chapter riveting. Eliot’s own reservations about her writing are manifested in many forms throughout her life and I quite enjoyed the revelations made within her relationship with Stowe. I also quite enjoyed the chapter of Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield. Woolf is a hallmark writer for the modernist movement. My studies did not lead me to her extensively, so I greatly enjoyed learning more about this feisty yet sustained relationship between the two.
In The End
Friendships sustain us. They rely on us just as we rely on them. Female friendships, in particular deserve a special place in our hearts. I love the friends that I have made, and I can only hope that I have been able to help them as much as they have helped me.