The Social Sex: A History of Female Friendship

Marilyn Yalom

Harper, 2015

Agent: Sandra Dijkstra

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 reasoning went, had the emotional and intellectual depth to develop and sustain these meaningful relationships.

Surveying history, literature, philosophy, religion, and pop culture, acclaimed author and historian Marilyn Yalom and co-author Theresa Donovan Brown demonstrate how women were able to co-opt the public face of friendship throughout the years. Chronicling shifting attitudes toward friendship, both female and male, from the Bible and the Romans to the Enlightenment to the women's rights movements of the '60s up to Sex and the City and Bridesmaids, they reveal how the concept of female friendship has been inextricably linked to the larger social and cultural movements that have defined human history.

Armed with Yalom and Brown as our guides, we delve into the fascinating historical episodes and trends that illuminate the story of friendship between women: the literary salon as the original book club, the emergence of female professions and the working girl, the phenomenon of gossip, the advent of women's sports, and more.

Lively, informative, and richly detailed, The Social Sex is a revelatory cultural history.

“A fascinating overview of women's friendships in a public historical context…for the minutiae it uncovers, the figures whose correspondence sparks biographical curiosity, and — not least — its insistence on the world-shifting power of female friendship, The Social Sex is a paean to companionship. Share it with a bosom friend.”
—Genevieve Valentine for NPR

“This treatment is a comprehensive overview of friendship among women…its expansiveness makes it a fun and exhilarating read.”
— Library Journal

"This sweeping, lighthearted, highly readable survey hints that beyond proximity, shared interests, and 'reciprocity,' there is still some lovely mystery to what binds the 'noncarnal union of similar souls.' Yalom and Brown confirm that 'the benefits of friendship as an educational, ennobling, and personally satisfying experience' have been, and always will be, a 'prized staple' of women’s lives."
Publisher’s Weekly

“For those who may view women as natural adversaries…this book provides a compelling counter-narrative. And the emotional appeal is undeniable ‘because,’ as the authors put it, 'we dwellers on this crowded, conflicted planet must ply every relationship available to us.'"
San Francisco Chronicle

“You will end this highly erudite romp through the biblical Middle East, classical Greece, renaissance Italy    and modern America   – with a whole chapter on Eleanor Roosevelt --    delighted, fascinated and in a brighter frame of mind.  The public face of friendship has long been resolutely male, the authors rightly note.  So how did female friendship rise in the eyes of a modern public?   And have women raised “the emotional bar” in friendship?  Might they, as the authors hope, “show the world how to be friends?” The book is dedicated to one friend, written with another, a playful, informative, and loving tribute to its topic. And a great read.”
Arlie Hochschild, author of The Outsourced Self and So How’s the Family?

“The book is worthwhile for its clear-headed understanding and appreciation of the deep bonds that women form, without the temptation to judge or label them… a compelling (work) — an unabashedly affectionate chronicle of what is for many of us, gay and straight, male and female, among the defining relationships of our lives — the one we have with our girlfriends."
Los Angeles Times