My exploration of the potential for feminist friendship was initially inspired by the work of María C. Lugones and Elizabeth V. Spelman in their essay, “Have We Got A Theory For You? Feminist theory, cultural imperialism and the demand for ‘the woman’s voice’.” They describe that the only sensible motivation for why someone would willingly engage in the hard work of questioning their own culture, identity, and values, and really listen to the experiences of others, is that of friendship, out of friendship.
Over the past several years I’ve been wondering, “What is feminist friendship? What does it require? How can it be practiced?” While this entire project is dedicated to those questions, I’ll offer a bit more here.
To me, feminist friendship is more than a palatable-sounding way to package empowering relationships among women.
Feminist friendship is a practice of political resistance to oppression that focuses on creating intimate bonds of connection, understanding, solidarity, and support across our differences. And anyone can do it.
One of the most powerful tools of oppression is to create separation, division, disconnection, and misunderstanding among people, particularly across our differences of race, gender, class, sexuality, ability, religion, nationality, etc.
These divisions exacerbate fear, alienation, isolation, and result in what Chrystos described as a “gross lack of love” for one another – a devastating dearth of compassion and care – leaving some groups more vulnerable than others to harm, violence, disenfranchisement, and ongoing suffering. Hence, we confront and construct realities of racism, sexism, classism, transphobia, homophobia, ableism, and nationalism – and we use those words to name the unequal, unfair, and inequitable treatment and burdens that are put on some, but not others, for reasons beyond their control.
Given that oppressive systems seek to divide us along these lines, close intimate relationships across such differences are a valuable form of resistance to that mechanism of oppression. But they are also necessary.
Building relationships that embody a commitment to see and understand one another as who we really are – and not merely as onto whom we project our own fears, assumptions, and insecurities – is crucial for being able to effectively offer support, care, and solidarity towards a better world where humanity is respected and liberation is our goal.
“In a world of possibility for us all, our personal visions help lay the groundwork for political action. The failure of the academic feminists to recognize difference as a crucial strength is a failure to reach beyond the first patriarchal lesson. Divide and conquer, in our world, must become define and empower.” – Audre Lorde, “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle The Master’s House”
One might also ask, “How can you love me if you don’t even know me?”
If we do not see and understand one another, we will not understand the nature of our struggles. If we don’t know each others’ struggles, we will not know how or where to best offer support. If we do not know how to best offer support, we cannot truly stand in solidarity with one another. We may impose our own experience onto others and end up causing more harm (even inadvertently, even when we mean well). This is still domination. This is still silencing and erasing the voices of others. This is still imperialistic.
Thus, to practice feminist friendship, one must be equally committed to interrogating oneself – one’s own values, assumptions, and experiences – to unearth any lingering or deep-seated fear, prejudice, or assumptions of supremacy over others. This can be earth-shattering work, and one must do it willingly.
Not out of moral obligation because it’s the right thing to do. Not out of self-interest to be a better person. But to foster community and connection with others as both the means and the ends. That is, as Lugones and Spelman said…
Friendship, out of friendship.
To get there requires vulnerability, and building trust on all sides, in order to engage in what Lugones and Spelman describe as “genuine, reciprocal dialogue.”
While I hope the practice of feminist friendship will become more clear through the unfolding of this project, here are some more resources where I explicitly talk about it:
TEDxCSU: Feminist Friendship
“Feminism is hard and complicated—doing good feminist work and doing work to be a good feminist is even harder, says Dr. Cori Wong. White feminists have a long history of ignoring intersectionality within the women’s movement; rather than leveraging differences among women as strengths and a resource, they continue to be ignored. Dr. Cori Wong developed a model of Feminist Friendship to call attention to the skills we already utilize to maintain our closest relationships as well as allow us to better engage in social justice.”
#19: Feminist Friendship – Think Hard Podcast
“In this episode, we welcome special guest Dr. Cori Wong, a feminist philosopher who chats with us about feminist friendship. Cori considers the current tensions that exist between white women and women of color in the “feminist movement” and considers how we can do better in bridging the gaps between ourselves and people who are different from us, to stand in solidarity and in friendship with them.”