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Retracted sticker originally announced on Valentines day by The Access Fund (a rock climbing advocacy group) , showing two male climbers high-fiving. Large text says “I LOVE YOU MAN” while smaller italicized text says (Platonically of course). The sticker was retracted after the queer climbers’ group HomoClimbtastic pointed out that it was more than a little homophobic.

So in the comments on Luz‘s post about What marginalized communities can teach us about lovethe question was raised of why there is no female-equivalent word for “bromance,” nothing that unambiguously denotes “this is my same-gender female friend and we are intimate but platonic.”

My response is kind of long, and would be a late addition to that thread, so I thought I’d just put my fuller reply here:

Basically, I don’t think there are neologisms for female platonic friendship the way there are for male friendship because there is no urgent need to specify “no homo” for female friendships. The word “bromance” exists to specify “we’re not gay.”

  1. nonsexual female friendships are “allowed” to be intimate without being perceived as homosexual.
  2. female homosexuality is less damaging to a “feminine” reputation than male homosexuality is to a “masculine” reputation. 
  3. it is assumed that women can have a few homosexual experiences and still be straight, while men are generally assumed to “really” be gay, if they have any homosexual experiences at all.

As a hetero cis woman, I can say I’m ‘going out with a girlfriend’ and no one wonders what I mean. They know I mean girl [space] friend. Because I’m both assumed and known to be straight. And even if it was sexual, the reaction would be somewhere between “meh” and approval in most places. No one would accuse me of faking my heterosexuality for all time. No one will take a single instance of questionability as proof that I’m *actually* gay. Even if it was definitely sexual, I don’t lose my “woman” card.

101 dalmations side eye gif

Animated image of a primly dressed woman looking suspiciously out of the corner of her eyes.

But our culture currently has kind of a serious problem with male emotional intimacy. If two men are intimate, there’s the open question of what form that intimacy takes. And one of the possible forms gets serious side-eye.

As pioneering gay historian (gay and a historian, also a historian of teh ghey) George Chauncey shows in his excellent book Gay New York, prior to the social emergence of an exclusive homosexual identity (before “being gay” was “a thing”), affection between men was viewed quite differently.

Chauncey’s particular book limits its scope to New York City in the pre-depression 20th century, but there are many surviving or even famous examples of male affection that weren’t seen as gay at the times of authorship, when homosexuality carried a death penalty. Shakespeare’s incredibly famous sonnet “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day” was written for a male friend. (or maybe lover but no one would dare propose that publicly, so there was no need to publicly declare “no homo.”)  Late 19th and early 20th century male authors wrote passionately affectionate letters to one another. In other cultures with strict prohibitions on homosexuality even to very recent times, men still hold hands.

George W. Bush walking hand in hand with Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, 2005. Homosexuality is still punishable in Saudi Arabia by imprisonment, corporal, and even capital punishment.

In our modern palette of western masculinity, however, homosexuality is openly recognized. Because it’s an option, but not an option many men are comfortable being mistaken for, there is a need to specify against it.

Modern masculinity is struggling with a lot of negative definitions… not womanly, not faggoty, not.. un-manly-y. It is, in a lot of ways, extremely precarious. (In a way that is shitty. Thanks, patriarchy!) One instance of potential homosexuality is far more damaging to a masculine reputation than one such instance for a woman. Male homosexuality is seen as a step down, toward a womanly position, which is lesser. (Female homosexuality, and more masculine gender presentation on women aka tomboys, is more tolerated because it’s seen as aspirational towards the masculine, which is a better.)

So men specify that it’s a “bromance” as a way of simultaneously joking about and defusing the possible sexual implications of two men hanging out together while also clearly specifying that it is NOT sexual.

Female friendships don’t have that term, because they don’t need that term, because there’s no perceived threat.