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Susan Shapiro Barash

Spilling our Guts to Our Female Friends

Spilling our Guts to Our Female Friends

The kinship among women these past forty years, since the woman's movement, has created stronger, more intimate bonds than ever before. If we compare what female friendship entailed in the 1950's and early 1960's to today, women were more guarded and less comfortable discussing their innermost feelings. As single working women or as wives -- the only two options available to women during this time period -- friendships were kept on a superficial level and few women were willing to share their troubles or deepest yearnings. Instead, single women discussed dating and the possibility of marriage, while married women discussed their husband's jobs, their latest appliances, their children's schedules. Not only were women separated by their roles, i.e., single secretaries weren't friendly with married women, but appearances were too important to yield any real closeness. In these relegated roles, women would not dare disclose family secrets, unhappy marriages, financial troubles, and difficult children to one another.

However, as options became more available to women in the workforce, in their personal lives, as mothers, more divorces occurred (the highest rate of divorce was in 1980 when women had been in the workplace long enough to make their own money and to meet other men to whom they compared their husbands and found them wanting) and female friendships took on a new hue. Female bonding increased and women, more outspoken about their needs and desires than ever before, chose to tell it all to other women. By the 1990's the intimacy attached to female friendships had increased to a point where women were depending on their female friends, in various stages of their lives. And by the 21st century, tremendous expectations were placed on the relationships, with trust at the top of the list, and it mattered little what walk of life the friend was from, the bond was about emotions and affinity. The HBO television series, Sex and the City, showed us how interwoven a four way female friendship was with the other parts of the characters' lives, and how rewarding it was to trade intimate details.

In the 21st century, our intricate lives demand closeness -- it's a welcome relief to confide in a friend in that shared gender way that makes women feel understood and appreciated. Groups of female friends, for women of all ages, are important because women care so much about the connection to others. It's rewarding to have this circle of friends and the closeness is soothing. Yet women also report that this level of commitment to one another can put the friendship at risk. After all, if you tell your friend how you really feel about your life, if you confide about an extra marital affair, a shopping addiction, being laid off, chances are the friend has something over you. Or the friend becomes tired of listening and feels burdened, or she may use it to her advantage, or a friend who has said too much then becomes clingy or demanding.

It seems ironic that while we know this can happen, we can't resist the temptation of telling all in a society where problems are rampant and female friends are meant to be the buffer. But once we have told a friend far too much, we might discover that she doesn't approve and becomes distant, icy. And this, women say, makes them uncertain that they can actually trust their friends -yet the urge to spill all remains, along with the hope that the information is safe.


About the Author

Susan Shapiro Barash is the author of eleven books of nonfiction women's issues and teaches gender studies at Marymount Manhattan College.