Recently, I wrote about slumber parties and the strange duality of the girlish friendships I had when I was a kid. The topic of female friendships in general has been much on my mind. Most recently, this piece about the epic friendship of Daria and Jane has definitely struck a chord.
As an adult, I cherish my friendships with other women and I seek other women out for friendship. I don’t dislike men as individuals (and I'm married to one who I think is pretty awesome), though I am often frustrated enough by institutionalized sexism to find misandry jokes hella funny. (They're a proven catharsis, after all.) But there's something about the company of, well, people who aren't dudes.
It's not about sexual attraction — I do, after all, identify as queer and I don't really have a gender preference when it comes to pants parties. Instead, I think it is about the way a room changes when there are men there, when the every pause in the open air between words is punctuated with social dynamics operating on a much larger scale than any one of us has control over.
There's a relief to being in a room where there aren't any men.
Remember that book The Red Tent? I was not much of a fan of the book, and I kind of scoffed a little that women might need a place of retreat from men, regardless of the reason. The thing is that I had gone from a women's college to another college with a lot of women and I spent all of my free time with women (well, and a couple of guys but they weren't really the point). I was already more than halfway living in that metaphorical tent anyway. And it was pretty fantastic and empowering.
Homosocial relationships (as distinct from homosexual relationships) don't get as much conversational play as they used to — and as we work toward more gender inclusivity, I think it's for the best that we stop relying on the term. What I need now is a word that I can use to describe being in community and company with "everyone but men." Again, not because I don't love men but because I also want to sometimes just take a little vacation from the whole man scene.
Some people are going to call that out for sounding exclusionary — but men have the vast majority of social power in mainstream America and I can't feel too bad about wanting to take a break from that. I don't fault people of color for needing a break from white people either. Or any other group that deals with a oppression. Hell, last weekend I went to a quilt convention where I barely did anything convention related just for the opportunity to hang out with fat friends and just fat fat fat together for a little while.
(Absolutely zero slight to the thin people who were there with whom I also hung out. It was great to see y'all, too.)
Sometimes it's just nice to be with people who kind of understand.
I had reason to be in New York City at the start of this week (I'll get to that another day). The snow fell on me as soon as I left JFK and because I had just been at the beach that morning, the whole process of going into a building in one city and exiting a similar building in another city seemed extra incongruous. In truth, it all seemed very surreal, from the physics of flight to the lightness of the snow as it melted on my black leather jacket.
Travel, all of the platitudes tell us, expands the mind. It demonstrates the breadth of the world, even as digital communication technologies consistently shrink the world, give us the ability to view more of it from the comfort of our desk chairs and couches — or even just from our smartphones. I like the tension of that, because I am a fan of the liminal space, the transitory place held in stasis as we figure out just what the hell any of it all means.
What it means, on this particular occurrence, in this specific moment, is that I got to go to the xoJane offices and meet the team in the office on Monday. This is only notable because I've worked with xoJane since roughly 2012 — that's three years, give or take (I've got a horrible head for dates but that seems right) of near-daily communication with these women, in this virtual workspace that is not like any other work experience I've ever had — and I'd never met them in person before.
There's a weird thing sometimes where women who work together are expected to be friends — or at least frenemies, as though there's only a finite amount of success and we have to be in competition with each other even as we pretend loyalty to each other. That dynamic seems different when there aren't men around, when everyone else isn't reacting to the cultural power divide in the corner.
And I think it leads to a lot more generosity when it comes down to supporting each other. I like that generosity. I like feeling capable of offering it even more than I like knowing it's on offer if I need to email everyone with an issue.
A lot of the same stuff can be said about the comments section here. There's a lot of super personal communication with and among regular readers. We tell you things we tell our therapists and our best friends or that we've never told anyone else. And sometimes you tell us the same sorts of stories. We become secret keepers for each other in a very public way.
Of course we have men writing here (hi, Tynan!) and making comments. But maybe the difference is that this is still a place described as a women's-interest website — that shifts the power dynamic even though women are interested in everything and I'm always frustrated by the way "women's interests" are written off as facile and shallow.
That shift in the power dynamic is what keeps me here (well, at least partially), what keeps me seeking out people who aren't men in general, what keeps me building relationships where I can. I am definitely biased toward people who aren't men at this stage in my life and I can't bring myself to feel bad about it at all.
I want slumber parties, literal or figurative, where we have room to be vulnerable with each other without following it up with fear of what that vulnerability is going to cost. I want honest conversations. I want mentorships and requests for help. I want consideration for how we're different even when our identities sometimes intersect — and I want that to be a strength rather than an excuse to tear each other down.
At the offices, one of the guys working the front desk asked me what we do here at xoJane. I tried to describe things a little bit but elevator pitches are my kryptonite and somehow everything went off the rails and we wound up talking about trends in pubic hair. (Spoiler alert: He goes for a French-style full bush but is fine with whatever a woman wants.) (If only I could have linked him live and in-person to this piece by Emily.)
There wasn't anything wrong with the conversation; we both left it laughing. But I got upstairs and met the team and hung out with these women who have been such a big part of my life — and it was like a long, slow exhale, no performance required.