La Trobe
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Relating women: lesbian experience of friendship

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posted on 2023-01-11, 13:20 authored by Tania Lienert
Abstract: Friends are of crucial importance to lesbians' lives, their significance heightened due to lack of acceptance from blood family, work colleagues and society. Despite a proliferation of literature on lesbians' love relationships, lesbians' friendships remain understudied. In the light of theorising about widespread shifts in intimacy patterns in modern industrial societies, this thesis examines the role of friendship for contemporary lesbians. It takes an interdisciplinary approach, using lesbian feminist, feminist psychological and mainstream sociological theories to interpret lesbians' negotiations of their friendships and preoccupations with their own continually developing sense of self.The study finds that firstly, the most significant issue in negotiating friendships is deciding on a lesbian identity despite socialisation to 'compulsory heterosexuality'. Friends are expected to be accepting and supportive or they are lost. Discrimination, the fact that the lover is the 'best friend', struggles with difference in lesbian communities, time constraints and a more general shift to individualism mean that community and family contacts are replaced by small, supportive and affirming friendship networks. These meet needs and within them lesbians negotiate a sense of self, but for the most part with no template of political consciousness. Secondly, while friendships are important, they are also difficult. The fluidity of the friendship relationship, blurred boundaries between friends and lovers, and women's moral 'imperative to care' all provide barriers to communication. Thirdly, while lesbians value 'the relational self', a confident sense of self is challenged when close-connected relationships sit at odds both with mainstream, heterocentric culture, and with traditional models of psychology which promote independence and separateness.Lesbians who are confident communicators, who have access to alternative feminist discourses which value relatedness, and who, together with their friends, are open to change, are able to negotiate satisfactory friendships and relationships. The study demonstrates lesbians' complex subjectivities as changing selves are negotiated through friendships, love relationships and communities, particularly through experiences of loss.

Originally part of the Australasian Digital Theses (ADT) database.

Submission note: A thesis submitted in total fulfilment for the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy [to the School of Communications and Critical Enquiry], Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, La Trobe University, Bundoora.


Center or Department

School of Communications and Critial Enquiry. Women's Studies Program. Faculty of Humanities and Social Science.

Thesis type

  • Ph. D.

Awarding institution

La Trobe University

Year Awarded


Rights Statement

The thesis author retains all proprietary rights (such as copyright and patent rights) over the content of this thesis, and has granted La Trobe University permission to reproduce and communicate this version of the thesis.

Data source

arrow migration 2023-01-10 00:15. Ref: latrobe:19687 (9e0739)

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