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PHOTO: Dyak women of Borneo, 1890
Bromance. Yeah, you know the word. A word that has gained such a following it now has a definition in the dictionary:
Bro.mance (noun) a relationship or friendship between two men that is extremely close but does not involve sex.
Having taken off in popularity these past few years, it leaves one wondering where the female counterpart to bromance is? Where is the womance? Why is this term lacking in our common vernacular and why does there seem to be a persisting sense of competition between many women?
Whether you did it when you were 13, or still do it to this day, most of us have been in a situation where we meet a new woman, and our first reaction is to size her up. Is she prettier than you? Smarter? Funnier? Is she flirting with all of your guy friends? Are they paying more attention to her than you? Suddenly this new acquaintance is thrust into the category of “competition” rather than “friend”. The parallelism is quite often, she is sizing you up in the same way at the same time. But why do so many women seem to fall into this trap?
To understand where these deep-seated feelings toward our sisters come from, we need to briefly delve into our history—a history that is under-taught and underrated, and yet so enticingly revealing and miraculous: the history of women.
Step back with me, if you will, to around 500,000 – 15,000 B.C. and you find societies that differ dramatically from our modern day civilization. What you find is hunting and gathering societies, where all women live together and all men live together in separate huts. Men are responsible primarily for hunting and protection. The women are responsible for, well, pretty much everything else! Women built the huts, skinned the hunts, cooked the meat, crafted clothing and gathered the primary source of food for the tribe (in those days, meat was a rare supplement, while grains, nuts, fruits and vegetables were the largest contributor to diet). Furthermore, women were responsible for rearing the children, and not just their own—all women were mothers to all children (as all girls were sisters, and all boys were brothers). A child would call any woman of adult age “mother”, and the strongest male role model in their lives was the mother’s brother. The reason for this? Paternity was not yet known. In those days, women were believed to be blessed with a supernatural gift to create human life, and no notion of the male’s role was considered. Because of this, women as well as men both enjoyed great sexual liberty from a young age.
It doesn’t take much to imagine the bond between women in those days was very strong. Women depended mostly on one another for support, guidance and teaching. Even when marriages (and I use the term loosely) took place, the man would enter the realm of the woman as a visitor; she would not leave her home. This societal structure did not lead women to depend on men for survival, as they were strong and considered very capable.
“This societal structure did not lead women to depend on men for survival, as they were strong and considered very capable.”
As Will Durant is quoted saying in Women’s Roots, “The differences which now divide the sexes hardly existed in those days, and are now environmental rather than innate.”
This perspective grants us understanding that any human is capable of accomplishing the tasks presented to them with persistence; women have been presented with home tasks for centuries, creating deep-seated conditioning, both mentally as well as physically. In fact, fossil skeletons have revealed female bones as massive as males, with muscular attachments almost as large. This comes as no surprise when the heavy workload of women of those days is considered. Indeed, even the weight they carried would far surpass the men, who upon traveling, needed to keep their arms free in case the need to defend arose; thus it was the women who did the majority of heavy lifting.
It is clear to see the difference between the society we live in today and the one of older times, but how did it come to be this way? What changed?
Fast forward to around 15,000 – 2,500 B.C. and a great change occurs — the shift from a hunting and gathering lifestyle to one of cultivation. Women are credited with being the first gardeners, as well as the first to learn how to keep livestock penned, sometime around 6,000 B.C.
A passage from June Stephenson’s Women’s Roots reads, “They were, so to speak, the first farmers and industrialists; the first scientists, doctors, nurses, architects, and engineers; the first teachers, artists, linguists, and historians.”
However, with this new age of cultivation, came an even greater change. When men no longer needed to hunt, thanks to the development of agriculture as well as rearing and keeping animals (the primary function of the primitive male), men sought a new role in the society. As such, they took over the rearing and capture of livestock. Cattle thus became man’s first experience with owning property, and the concept of such emerged. More significantly however, came a powerful knowledge – the knowledge of paternity. Through watching the cattle that have now been herded and penned, man at last learns the great truth of his contribution to the creation of children. Suddenly it is understood that the male who has sex with the female is the father of the child. It is at this point that the term and concept of “father” is created. Men now know they can lay claim to their children—but here’s the catch—only if they know for certain the child is theirs.
Thus, we have the beginnings of the value of chastity, an enormously powerful cultural concept which stretches from that point on into present day. Men, in order to be certain a child was their own, now understood they also needed to be certain a woman had not had sex with anyone but them. The concept of virginity is created and suddenly held to a high standard of value; what’s more is the ramifications of this – the sexual repression of women. Whereas before, woman was free to explore her sexuality with whomever she wished – if she is now to be considered “valuable” she must remain chaste. Stigmas form, labeling the non-virginal woman as “tainted” and “worthless”. Men conversely, do not fall victim to this stigma and are allowed to continue practicing their sexuality freely. It is worth noting this double standard also began the trade of prostitution—for if you want the women to be chaste but the men promiscuous, there must be a separate class of women to fulfill this role.
“…if you want the women to be chaste but the men promiscuous, there must be a separate class of women to fulfill this role.”
Even to this day, as I write this article in the year 2013, this stigma continues to have a firm hold on our psyche as sexually active women are deemed “sluts” while sexually active men are deemed “studs.”
With the emergence of the concept of ownership, women’s work began to shift from their hands to the hands of the men, and with the concept of virginity, women’s main role shifted to vessel for man’s children. In fact, this is exactly the belief which was now harbored. Whereas before, women were spiritually blessed with the magical gift of creating human life – now it was believed that women were merely a vessel for man’s seed, which was the entire essence of creating life. With this new belief rose a powerful shift in the paradigm, where men sought to own their children, as well as the virginal women who would deliver their children. Some may ask why men were suddenly so keen on claiming ownership to their children, but the answer to this too lies in the development of the age of cultivation. Previously, in the hunter and gathering society, children were sometimes seen as a burden, another mouth to feed — but now, with much work to do around the home (ploughing fields, raising cattle, etc) male children became a valuable commodity to the community as another set of hands, another worker. Female children fell into the property category, able to be bought, sold and traded for valuable things such as livestock. By laying claim to his virginal daughter, a father could sell her to a man for a decent amount of livestock or other such commodities. The purchasing man, now lays claim to the daughter as his wife, and considers her purpose and duty to be that of bearing his children.
This is where we begin to get to the “crux of the biscuit” as Frank Zappa may say—the dissolution of women from workers into property. As poignantly written in June Stephenson’s book, “…if a woman’s work is not valued—her value becomes that of a sex object.”
With men laying claim to women and children, the landscape of the family changes. Women no longer reside amongst each other, and instead begin to live with the man who purchases them. This begins to breakdown the sisterhood, the support of women by women. Without their sisters, women are no longer able to support themselves as well as their children independently from men. This course of events leads to what becomes woman’s total and utter dependance on men for survival, and this becomes a long and exhausting reality for many centuries to come.
So let’s take a look at this empirically for a moment—when your very survival depends on your ability to acquire a husband, the way you view your worth and other women changes drastically. This is what spawns our traditions that reach even into our present day. This is what creates the feelings of competition among women, since now they must compete to win a man to support them. Women are no longer friends and allies to one another, they are competition for their very chance at survival. This begins the eras and eras of women evolving through different obsessions with “beauty.” Woman’s worth has been made solely sexual, and as time progresses there are times when a woman’s only choice for survival is to become a man’s wife and child-bearer who is subject to the whims of her husband (which they are told a good wife is), or to become a prostitute and be forced into a life of demeaning and empty sexual acts for survival.
With all this comes the make-up, the corsets and girdles, and the striving to be the most beautiful, the most sexually desirable. Today, women still feel compelled to wear make-up in order to be “more beautiful,” despite the fact there is a wonderful natural beauty they are covering up in the process. The bra, another remaining piece of evidence stretching back through the ages, cut down from the corset, is another reminder of the lengths we women will go to in order to modify our appearance. Surely, some large-breasted women truly benefit from this support—but what of those who could comfortably (and I can’t stress how much the word comfort plays into this) go without? What of those whose bras are merely for aesthetics? Push-ups? Padded? We have come far since the days of being traded for cattle, make no mistake—but is it far enough?
Society tells us our beauty is ever-loving important. Put on your make-up, quickly hide your true face with this doll face! Get this bra, no wait get this one instead! It gives you maximum lift to hide the way your breasts naturally fall on your chest. Push them up quickly, make it tighter, tighter, fuller. Buy these clothes, get that look – and all the while make it sexy, you have to make sure you are sexy, because what good is the feminine if it is not represented first and foremost as sexual? What worth does the feminine have beyond sexuality?
Despite the fact we live in modern times where many of us are free to marry who we like, live how we want, have greater sexual liberties—these customs persist. Perhaps most tragically, the ingrained sense of competition among women persists. How different could our world be if we put these culturally conditioned feelings behind us and embraced the women in our lives as friends, allies, and sisters? Should women not be each other’s greatest support rather than seen as competition? Why on earth are we still competing with one another? Over what? Do we still feel somewhere, deep down, inherited through our ancestors, we need a man for simple survival?
Surely, media influence plays a major role in this. The way women in media are presented is both misleading and conditions many women (especially impressionable young girls) to continue to believe their worth is primarily sexual. It’s safe to say this way of thinking has been hard wired into women for centuries, and breaking free from this misconception will take some time, discussion, and persistence. Most of all it will take love; love for the women around us, love for our sisters. It will take some womance.
Wo.mance (noun) a relationship or friendship between two women that is extremely close but does not involve sex.
I think we could all use a little more womance in our lives; a feeling of support, love and connection with the women around us. In our continued evolution, I believe there is a strong need for women to come together and stand by each other—to eschew feelings such as insecurity and competition that come with our continued belief that our worth is sexual. Throw that shit away! Discard that notion! Turn your television off and tune in to what is real and right in front of you. Look around and realize the way women are portrayed in media is not reality, and many of the women you may look upon with a suspicious eye, could actually be one of your closest friends and biggest supporters if we only give each other a chance.