How sisterhood has flourished throughout history.
While male friendships have been “extolled…as the noblest form of human attachment,” women’s bonds, cultural historian Yalom (How the French Invented Love, 2012, etc.) and Brown assert, have been overlooked and even disparaged. Aiming to rectify this slight, the authors chronicle abundant evidence of women’s friendships, focusing on communities (nuns, for example, quilting circles, and the Lowell, Massachusetts, factory girls) and particular pairings: the “loving friendship” between German mystic Hildegard von Bingen and her disciple Richardis von Stade; Teresa of Avila and her sister Carmelite Ana de San Bartolomé; Mme. de Sévigné and Mme. de La Fayette, 17th-century French salonnieres; American patriots Abigail Adams and Mercy Otis Warren; memoirist Mme. Roland and Sophie Grandchamp, who described their relationship as “a mutual rapture of the soul”; reformers Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr, who co-founded Hull House; and many others. Yalom and Brown examine bonds forged at college, among working women, between feminist activists, and the comradeship, as they put it, among divorced women. The authors wear their scholarship lightly, creating a lively narrative. Unfortunately, their enthusiasm leads them to make extravagant, unfounded claims: friendships formed “during political upheaval and war,” they conclude, “are among the strongest experienced by humankind.” Women’s friendships, characterized by affection, self-revelation, physical contact, and interdependence, can change the world: the “power, and often the wisdom, of what women seek and find in friendship could lead future generations into lives of dignity, hope, and peaceful coexistence.” Women, the authors insist, “will continue to show the world how to be friends” and help to create “a world in which the strengths of the friendly sex imbue society with greater concern for the well-being of every person.”
Such unsupportable assertions, heartfelt though they may be, undermine the authors’ considerable research.