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The Social Sex: A History of Female Friendship

3.07  ·  Rating details ·  215 ratings  ·  45 reviews
From historian and acclaimed feminist author of How the French Invented Love and A History of the Wife comes this rich, multifaceted history of the evolution of female friendship.

In today’s culture, the bonds of female friendship are taken as a given. But only a few centuries ago, the idea of female friendship was completely unacknowledged, even pooh-poohed. Only men, the
Paperback, 400 pages
Published September 22nd 2015 by Harper Perennial
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Doreen Longo This is on a reading list at my local library and I look forward to reading it soon. I have not heard anyone speak about it but the topic and title in…moreThis is on a reading list at my local library and I look forward to reading it soon. I have not heard anyone speak about it but the topic and title interest me.

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McKenzie Richardson
I received this book from GoodReads in exchange for an honest review.This is kind of a difficult book to rate. While the text is informative, the overall narrative feels as though it is lacking. Part of the issue is clearly a lack of historical texts to use in order to determine changes in female friendship. This is mostly a history of white middle class friendship with a brief look at various "other" friendships such as "Friendship in the Workplace, Third-World Style", an unfortunately flippan ...more
Feb 11, 2016 rated it it was ok
The last few chapters seemed to really lag for me. Indeed I decided not to bother finishing chapter 14 and skip to chapter 15. Primarily the women in this book were wealthy or middle class white women, mostly from the U.S. Not only that but it isn't accurate to say that Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton never had disagreed on anything. They did disagree. Anthony thought that Stanton kept bearing children when she should have been completely focused on women's issues, as well disagreeme ...more
Jun 19, 2015 rated it did not like it
I'm reviewing this book for the next print issue of Bitch magazine! ...more
Wamuyu  Thoithi
Nov 17, 2018 rated it it was ok
I had to skim through this book as there really was no cohesion. I enjoyed the upfront section on Greek philosophy and the chapter on ‘Can men and women be just friends’, but that’s where it ended for me. As a woman of colour I could not relate AT ALL. The title is inaccurate- it is not representative of women. The title really should be ‘The Social Sex: A history of WESTERN/ EUROPEAN/ WHITE AMERICAN CIS-female friendships’. A miserable attempt was made at mentioning women of colour in the later ...more
Amanda Pinero
Aug 24, 2018 rated it liked it
I have read "The History of the Breast" by Marilyn Yalom, so I was excited to read this book because I really enjoyed the thoroughness of History of the Breast. Unfortunately, I really had to power through the first couple of chapters of the book because the stories of the women described were repetitive and boring. Once she started in on the 20th-century things started to pick up but I felt as if she had given much thought and research to the first several chapters but started to become bored a ...more
Stephanie Phillips
Sep 07, 2015 rated it did not like it
After reading Yalom's previous book, "A History of the Wife," I thought this would be a more interesting read. Unfortunately, I was left sorely disappointed.

It is ironic that this book contains a passage in which Toni Morrison lamenting the absence of the portrayal of friendships between women that are absent of any kind of sexual suggestion, as that is one of my complaints about this book. I don't mean to suggest that same-sex relationships between two women are unworthy of study, nor do I mean
May 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
I picked up this book on a whim and am surprised at what I found. This is definitely worth a read.

However, I feel like there are some pieces about friendship that are missing. When you figure it's mostly focused on popular culture of Europe and America in history it makes sense. The writing is also balanced, mentioning several sides to a quotation from letters, such as views from historians or popular opinion. Some of the points made in the book really stood out to me.

The major one that stood
Dec 07, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: adult-nf, read-adult
I was so disappointed! I think another reviewer, McKenzie Richardson, says it best...

This is kind of a difficult book to rate. While the text is informative, the overall narrative feels as though it is lacking. Part of the issue is clearly a lack of historical texts to use in order to determine changes in female friendship. This is mostly a history of white middle class friendship with a brief look at various "other" friendships such as "Friendship in the Workplace, Third-World Style", an unfor
Dec 29, 2015 rated it really liked it
An enjoyable read that marks a lot of important points about the ideas and patterns of female friendship throughout the ages. Although the book seems a bit unbalanced at times (the ending seemed rather rushed; the beginning, which is about previous male views of friendship was perhaps too lengthy), the middle and majority of the text hones in on a key friendships throughout history, depicting the women and their partnerships in engaging ways that should interest any history lover.
Dec 14, 2015 rated it liked it
Started off promising in the first chapters but became dull. Changes in women's friendships in modern times are given short shrift at best. ...more
Kathleen McRae
Jan 11, 2017 rated it it was ok
This book was not an easy read it has some interesting facts but you had to search them out.
I liked how friendship among writers was emphasized, but I wish there were at least a couple of friendships from people of color.
Renate Stendhal
Dec 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing
The author is a charming erudite.
May 08, 2020 rated it it was ok
I really wanted to like this book! If my expectations hadn't been high I might give it a higher rating. Women's friendships are an important topic and well worth being written about.

I will say for this book that it's a very quick and pleasant read. However, it's hampered by the authors' focus on friendships between elite Western women. The book purports to be a social and cultural history of women's friendships, but the narrow focus on a tiny women limits how convincing any of the arguments can
Jul 29, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, women
I think this does what it aimed to do, which is to start to write an overview of female friendship. It's very easy to read and there is a lot of interesting information. I'd certainly encourage people to read it, if that's something they're interested in. However, it is very much focused on Western Europe and the US. I am also very unconvinced by their approach to queer relationships. I agree with their points that it is hard to judge the past, given the different ways we talk about love and fri ...more
Dec 31, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: own, history, women
It was a less rigorous history of female friendship than I expected, written in a very accessible tone. Exploring friendship between women in it's changing complexities is a tricky undertaking, and the authors rely primarily on literary and archival texts with supposition and corollary building to modern emotional assumptions. It was also super white elite focused, largely as a result of their source material. They attempted to address this gap, but it often came across as a sideline show. But f ...more
Dec 10, 2017 rated it liked it
I have mixed feelings towards this book. I loved the first chapters, I found them insightful and entertaining. They were encompassing from Greeks, to Romans, from the Bible to European as well as American stories. Then the author started to solely focus on America and on stories of friendship between people I never heard of, and I started to lose interest - and struggled to finish it. The last few chapters seemed rushed and not thought through, it seems that the author lacked information or time ...more
Kasey Dietrich
Mar 03, 2021 rated it did not like it
I thought the title of this book was funny, so I picked this up. I put this book down because the book started unfocused and with "it all started in the stone age...". I don't really like when authors do that, since there often times that we don't need to go back to cave men to understand the topic at hand, also we have few records of social interactions in that time anyway. It just threw me off. ...more
Lisa Allen Thakur
Apr 13, 2018 rated it liked it
A good overview of women's friendships over the ages; the writing was interesting but not compelling. I enjoyed some of the theme-based chapters (such as romantic friendships), which sparked my interest in researching a particular woman's life in more depth. ...more
Dec 27, 2017 rated it it was ok
Tried to read. Couldn’t get into it.
Ehsan Gazar
Oct 29, 2018 rated it it was ok
This book helps you to think more about female friendships and compare it with men, even though, the narrow of the book is hard to follow.
Nov 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
I wanted so many more details! I felt that this book could have been at least twice as large.
Jul 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
it's no Captain Blood ...more
Lance Grabmiller
Jul 11, 2019 rated it it was ok
The scholarship is broad but rather shallow and the tone a bit too breezy for me.
Nov 16, 2020 rated it did not like it
Feminism 101 depth. Didn't teach me anything I didn't already know ...more
Dec 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
A very interesting and comprehensive history of a subject dear to me: female friendship.
Aug 26, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: women-s-history
For much of human history women's friendships have been invisible, because much of human history has been written by men; and, as with most things exclusively female, men have paid little care or attention. When women's friendships were mentioned at all, it was usually dismissive in tone - women were not deemed capable of the kind of deep, philosophic, 'one soul in two bodies' kind of friendships that the ancients wrote about. Women's friendships, if they were permitted to have them at all given ...more
Jan 09, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: history, nonfiction
I feel compelled to justify my two-star rating on a book I expected to love, for future reference. It just read like a college research paper, with all the chapters summed up by fairly shallow generalizations. There's not enough historical record to justify the existence of the chapters on Biblical and ancient Greek/Roman female friendship, or to justify the attempted broadness of other chapters. It would have been much more interesting if it had focused more in depth on specific friendships abo ...more
Mark Beaulieu
Sep 20, 2015 rated it liked it
As this is the Digital World, here are my thoughts 1/3 or the way into the work - then I will revise when done. Very pleased so far.

I met the 2 authors last night in La Jolla and so my thoughts are combined with their teasing preview...

Much as is said about love, little is written of friendship. Especially that between women, arguably stronger and more enduring than between men. The writers present their historical research on the actors and the anthropology behind feminine friendship. This kin
Gayle Francis
Jan 22, 2016 rated it really liked it
More 3-1/2 than 3, but not quite enough for me to go for the full 4.

It's an interesting book, tracing friendships between women from the bible and forward. Near the end, it suddenly brings male friendships with women into the story, and it feels like they felt they needed to discuss it rather than simply discussing only female-to-female friendships. It threw me out a little, as I was greatly enjoying the history of only the female-to-female friendships, and would have happily finished the book
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Marilyn Yalom grew up in Washington D.C. and was educated at Wellesley College, the Sorbonne, Harvard and Johns Hopkins. She has been a professor of French and comparative literature, director of an institute for research on women, a popular speaker on the lecture circuit, and the author of numerous books and articles on literature and women's history. ...more

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“LIKE IT OR NOT, SOCIAL media has fundamentally changed the ways in which nearly everybody conducts their friendships,276 but more so for women than for men.277 Social media is more important to women in part because it can accommodate the expressions of affection and self-revelation that often characterize female friendships. These empathetic expressions contrast with the norm for man-to-man friendships, which by and large can exist without the intimate confessions women so often make to one another. The increasing scarcity of women’s disposable time has helped spawn the mushrooming of social media. Even in dual-income households where the husband sincerely tries to shoulder a fair share of domestic burdens, the “second shift” of housekeeper/mother duties is still more often than not borne by the wife. Consequently, women in the twenty-first century have reincarnated themselves as quintessential multitaskers. Social media provides critical tools for women who manage the domestic front and the job front but who still wish to maintain important friendships. As Facebook honcho Sheryl Sandberg notes, women do the majority of the sharing on Facebook. Whereas men generally use social media for research and status boosting, “the social world is led by women,” according to Sandberg.278” 1 likes
“Friendship matters, especially in old age, when death reduces the number of one's friends.” 0 likes
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