Preface

Feminist Studies 42 (2):271 (2016)
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Abstract

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:preface This special issue of Feminist Studies presents an eclectic view of women ’s friendships from across Western history and from several different cultures. Several of the articles question whether identity or sameness is a prerequisite for friendship and ask what friendships across difference look like, including charting the difficulties of making and sustaining such friendships. The articles in this issue contrast the variety and functions of women’s friendships with the narcissistic masculinist ideals of classical Western thought about friendship in which friends serve as reflections of a person—typically a male and upper-class person. The authors in this issue present women’s friendships that are more pragmatic and more vulnerable and that contend more fully with difference. Some authors reflect on the high expectations placed on friendship within Second Wave feminism in the United States, noting how competition and feelings of betrayal can suffuse friendships; others trace more autonomous, productive, and forgiving contemporary visions of friendship. The issue opens with Susan Van Dyne’s archival study of student friendships in a pioneering US women’s college, revealing how love, flirtation, and desire between women was expressed in Smith College’s class of 1883. In another historical study, sociologist Harriet Bjerrum Nielsen contrasts the narratives of Norwegian girls and young women from the late nineteenth century with those of present-day women and girls, noting differences between rural and urban contexts. Ivy Schweitzer 272Preface surveys classical Western masculinist ideals of friendship from Aristotle to Montaigne and traces the transformation of this tradition into the present quest for equality without hierarchy. Alexandra Verini addresses models of female friendship in the European Middle Ages, arguing that Christine de Pizan and Margery Kempe illustrate a “viable female alternative ” to classical models. The vulnerability of women’s close relationships comes to the fore in Nancy K. Miller’s moving elegies for deceased feminist friends, while Judith Taylor explores the more open and autonomous friendships adumbrated in contemporary fictions by Zadie Smith and Jillian and Mariko Tamaki, themes also addressed in Judith Kegan Gardiner’s review essay of advice books on friendships between women and other studies of women’s friendships. Richa Nagar’s interview articulates an ideal of feminist friendships that “enable continuous evolution of our beings and mindsets... without feeling threatened by one another.” If our articles focus on the close bonds between women, our News and Views pieces in this issue point to collective ties formed in response to political and social threats: Dalia Abd El-Hameed and Nadine Naber describe responses by Egyptian feminists to government crackdowns, and our forum “Orlando: Observances” offers a selection of first-person accounts from vigils organized to mark the massacre at the Pulse nightclub this summer. This issue also presents internal negotiations of identity, identification, and body image in Stephanie Han’s short story and in the vivid and bold transgressions of Wangechi Mutu’s collages as described by Sarah Jane Cervenak. In “‘Abracadabra’: Intimate Inventions by Early College Women,” Susan Van Dyne takes us on a fascinating journey into the “the early formation of a homosocial student culture and the bonds between women” at Smith College in the late nineteenth century. Mining an archive of diaries, letters, photos, and other materials from a group of friends from the class of 1883, she focuses on two kinds of written evidence: one, the inchoate expressions of homoerotic desire in one student’s journal at a moment when “lesbian” did not yet exist as an identity, and the other, a love poem to two students, written as a parody by one of their women professors, but which reverberated beyond the college and ignited male opprobrium. In her discussions of these developments, rather than ascribing identity, Van Dyne navigates the “messiness” of the archive, keeping her eye trained on the “only partially intelligible strategies of self-representation that can’t be translated or reduced to the modern Preface 273 language of sexual self-recognition.” What is most surprising in her account is not that young women would feel desire for one another, nor that male peers or authorities might find this threatening, but that the fabric of the students’ homosocial community had such resilience, nurturing...

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