Thursday, August 11, 2005

Girl Crushes

As somebody who identifies as being "Mostly Straight," I've still had my fair share of "girl crushes," so I was interested to read this piece in The NY Times about the apparent "resurgence" of women feeling free to express infatuation with one another.

Oh, did I mention it's purely infatuation, not attraction?

Not at all.

Because that would be gay.

A girl crush:

refers to that fervent infatuation that one heterosexual woman develops for another woman who may seem impossibly sophisticated, gifted, beautiful or accomplished. And while a girl crush is, by its informal definition, not sexual in nature, the feelings that it triggers - excitement, nervousness, a sense of novelty - are very much like those that accompany a new romance.

It's not gay.

Now, there are some interesting bits in this article. And of course, women were able to express this kind of affection more freely in the 19th century, and often wrote one another long love letters and kissed and hugged and everybody was cool with that. And it's neat that in some circles there's a resurgence of that.

But there were a couple of things that really bothered me. The first is the way "girl crushes" were categorized as giving women "safe and valuable experience in the emotions of love" and "there's every reason to think that girls can fall in love with other girls without feeling sexual towards them, without the intention to marry them."

The first comes dangerously close to implying that oh-so-19th-century idea that romantic love felt by women toward other women is somehow childish and quaint, something to give you "experience" before you have a "real" romantic relationship with a man. The second bothers me because it's another elbow in the ribs of the "not gay" variety. People can also fall in love and get married and not have sex. Well, only if they're a hetero couple, or maybe if they live in Massachusettes or Canada or Amsterdam. Or Spain, actually. Marriage doesn't neccessarily guarantee a sexual relationship, either, and like any other sort of crush or infaturation, the urge for hetero sex/sexual feeling between partners cools down over time as well.

Anyhow, I was a little struck by how clearly both the author and researchers quoted wanted to distance this kind of attraction (and yes, I'll call it attraction) from same-sex attraction (i.e. LESBIANISM) or hetero attraction (i.e. "Real" attraction).

I would also argue that some of their attempts at differentiating "girl crush" from "real crush" are kinda lame: "Crushes are typically fleeting, and infatuation often turns to friendship in this way." Isn't that true of most relationships, sexual (hetero and same-sex) as well?

I do believe that fears of "this must mean I'm a lesbian" do still really curtail the ways in which crushes/attraction between (and among) women are expressed. I've got no trouble saying that I love some of my friends, and it doesn't bother me to think, "Hey, that feeling I have toward that woman, that's kinda gay." I don't need to go around in loops and hoops and try to justify it as some sort of "special" or "different" sort of love or attraction.

I was happy that they made a nod toward men in this discussion as well:

As for men, to the extent they may feel such emotions for each other, Dr. Caplan said they are less likely than women to express them. They are not reared to show their emotions. "A man talking about emotions about another man? Everybody's homophobic feelings are elicited by that, and that's because men aren't supposed to talk about feelings at all," Dr. Caplan said.

Let's qualify that with "Men in this culture." Guys holding hands in Iran isn't anything to look twice at.

Though if you do more than that, they'll kill you.

Not that anybody's justified in being afraid to be called gay for feeling sexual toward another woman. Cause so many current cultures are so approving of that. I think it's far easier for women to justify it as childish "infatuation" (NOT GAY!!!!), and hold out for the more socially-acceptable penis, which they may prefer anyway, but which shouldn't totally negate their attraction to particular women.

What I'd love is for somebody to just up and write the article where they admit that sex and sexual expression is a social activity. It brings people of same and different sexes together. It builds social networks. It's one of the things in our evolutionary toolbox that's helped us survive: forming bonds of friendship can and does include actual touching of the Evil Corporeal Body.

Keeping us all terrified of touching each other smacks to me of living inside some dystopian novel where we're perpetually at war with a Nameless Enemy, a Society of Disinformation reigns supreme, we're all being tracked and tagged with DNA cards, and the President speaks only in doublespeak...

Oh, wait, that was me watching CNN this morning.

Nevermind.

17 comments so far. What are your thoughts?

Anonymous said...

Can I just say a big AMEN to everything you've said here?

Saints preserve me from the "Okay-so-I-fell-for-my-best-friend-once-but-I'm-not-like-GAY-or-anything" girls. I keep running into them. It pisses me off royally.

Oh, and you have to say "LESBIAN" with a freaky hissing lisp, cause that's how everybody seems to hear it.  

Posted by Andygrrl

Anonymous said...

Yea, the "This is *not* lesbianism!" insistence inside of the article really fascinated me. The sort of mental hoops you have to do to define it as a "different" love/attraction/infatuation from the "lesbian" kind were really interesting.

Goes back to the "It's OK to be a lesbian, no long as I'm/you're not one," idea of liberal "tolerance", I believe. 

Posted by Kameron Hurley

Anonymous said...

THANK YOU.

A few months ago, one of my co-workers was talking about how she had the biggest girl-crush on Audrey Tautou. I figured this would be a good time to ask a straight girl what that was supposed to mean. She didn't know I was a dyke & was like, 'Well, it's not a real crush . . . . you know, because it's a girl.' 

Posted by Mistress

Anonymous said...

Mistress, ahaha ahhAHAHAh hahahahaha AHAHA Haha ahHA.

That is just beautiful, and oh so --

NOT GAY! 

As a self-identified straight girl, tho, I can tell you that we do tell ourselves a *lot* of lies about what the "girl crush" *really* is... I spent years and years doing it, and I think a lot of that self-delusion is because we've got such narrowly defined boxes.

I was very clear that I was really crazy about sex with men in general, and attracted to them, and then every once in a while, some woman would come a long and I'd be like, "Huh." I didn't like the "bi" label either, cause that sort of woman didn't come along often (I've never had an affair with a woman), and I wasn't sure how long the sex part would last if I ever did get entangled. More than likely, we'd just end up "friends." Sex tends to complicate things, even if it's not very much sex.

Eventually I was able to owe up to it for what it is: attraction, and be cool with allowing that I feel that way sometimes and still maintain a pretty straight identity.

Though, you know, ideally, I think "queer" is a great word for everybody that doesn't feel comfortable in the boxes. I know that telling people I'm "straight" sometimes chafes, but saying I'm "bi" would feel totally untrue.

It's a problem with our definitions. 

Posted by Kameron Hurley

Anonymous said...

speaking as a boy, i have a big whomping crush on Jason Scott Lee . but, i can say with complete certainty that this crush is absolutely, positively, inalterably & utterly NOT GAY!

.

OK, OK... maybe it's just a little gay.

.

actually, fuck that - LOOK at the man! so, yeah, it's pretty damn gay, but then i have a crush on Audrey Tatou too (too too!) so it's OK, right?

right???

 

Posted by jam

Anonymous said...

I've only ever dated and slept with men as well, but I'm comfortable with the fact I've had "girl crushes", too... mostly fleeting ones with fictional characters. You know, like the buff Linda Hamilton in T2, or Angelina Jolie's Lara Croft...

"I know that telling people I'm "straight" sometimes chafes, but saying I'm "bi" would feel totally untrue."

Quite well said. :) 

Posted by Aurora

Anonymous said...

I think it is ok to point out that you can be really into someone without wanting to have sex with them, regardless of their gender or sexual orientation. Humans are cool, spending time with people is fun, and there are so many great people out there to meet.  

Posted by Mariana

Anonymous said...

Mariana, you are, of course, totally right that there are certainly a lot of people in the "You're cool, but I don't want to have sex with you," department.

However, I'd argue that thinking somebody's cool and deep friendships do often have a physical component to them. If not of the "I totally want to go down on you!" type, then certainly the huggy, kissy, snuggly type, touching being an expression of affection.

However, I do think that a lot of women try to justify their attraction to other women by turning it into something "other" than attraction, and certainly use it to skirt around the issue of physical contact (which would be seen as "gay" and might confuse their identity?).

The article also didn't address the issue of women having "guycrushes" on men they *didn't* want to have sex with and *weren't* attracted to. I think that when women say they have a "crush" on a guy, attraction of a sexual nature is assumed.

It's an interesting double standard. 

Posted by Kameron Hurley

Anonymous said...

It is an interesting double standard. I used to feel really guilty about the crushes I had on guy friends when I was with my first boyfriend, though in retrospect if anything sexual had happened with those objects of affection I would have recoiled in horror. A friend of mine once got really mad at her boyfriend, and rightly so, for saying he wouldn't be mad if she cheated on him with a girl, but would be if it was a guy.

And I'm totally down with cuddling as a way to show affection or enjoy someone's company. Someone's comment above that "sex and sexual expression is a social activity" was interesting. I don't want to have sex with... pretty much all of my friends, but there are other things that are usually associated with sex that I would like to do with some, and I wish could be used as a social expression, like sleeping in the same bed or kissing on the mouth. Intimacy is such a crazy thing.

I guess the problem with assuming crushes are sexual is the sense that there is something more  you want from the person, and that you're spending time with them/ cuddling with them because you want it to go further, and that can be really uncomfortable if misunderstood. Either for the object of the crush or the actor. I've had guys lose interest in my company when they realized they weren't going to get any, and that hurt. I've also held back on being affectionate with people, male and female, because I didn't want them to 'get the wrong idea'. It is true, though, that with the girls it was also, partially because I didn't want to admit it might actually be sexual, or put the possibility on the table. Y'know, I've never put that in writing :)

But it is true that saying 'no, no, not gay!' too often or too loudly sounds like you're saying 'being gay is gross!'.

And since we're on the subject, God DAMN Naomi Watts is hot! In a totally sexual way.  

Posted by Mariana

Anonymous said...

It is true, though, that with the girls it was also, partially because I didn't want to admit it might actually be sexual, or put the possibility on the table. Y'know, I've never put that in writing :)  

Kinda liberating, isn't it? :)

I think the discussion could use a really clear definition of what "sex" and "sexual expression" mean as well. When we talk about "sex," I think our default goes to penetrative hetero sex as being the "only" or "most true" form of sexual expression, which is so narrow as to be offensive. I would lump in stuff like mutual masturbation, oral sex (of course), and pressing or rubbing (which may be a sort of mutual masturbation, depending on how far you take it or how you look at it).

The reason people get weird about kissing/cuddling is that yea, they're assumed to be precursors to something we'd have less trouble labeling "sexual," which is why we've got very clear boundaries in many relationships about how far things can go in order to maintain a non-sexual relationship. For some (self-identified straight) women, kissing a woman is "too sexual." For others, it's no big deal.

In my experience, (self-identified straight) men are more often weirded out about sleeping in the same bed with another man than women are sleeping in the same bed with a woman, which has roots in the emotional thing talked about in the article, and the relatively lax attitude of society toward women who "experiement" (so long as it's only experimentation!!!) with other women (the "Bisexual chicks are hot!" deal, where it's really hot to see two women together, so long as the guy can join in). And again, straight male culture is much more weirded out about hugging and kissing one another in friendly ways as well.

And I'd argue that yes, some of this fear does have to do with the fact that we can see how this physical touching *could* lead to something more intense and sexual in nature - I think it's something we do see in ourselves, a place we *could* go with some individuals (certainly not all, but some), and that's really scary for a lot of people. It's one of the reasons I think so many people are so terrified of homosexuality: I think you can look at your own life and interactions with others and see the occasional person, the odd moment, where you, too, wanted to do more than just shake the hand of someone of the same sex, even it was "just" kissing, or "just" making out, or "just" mututally masturbating, or whatever we want to tell ourselves.

The first thing I think people do it tack it down to one experience, a fluke, a weird attraction to just one person in particular. When it happens again a couple months or years later, you do have to start to wonder, though, and look back at some of your other interactions with members of the same sex and figure out what, exactly, that feeling was you had toward that fucking amazing brunette with the gorgeous eyes, sturdy shoulders, and amazing diction in high school theater who played the Stage Manager in "Our Town" (she's married now, alas). Would I have gone to bed with her? Dunno. Would I have kissed her if I had the chance? Sure. Would that have led to anything else? I don't know. Does that negate the feelings I had? I don't think so. Does it make it a less valid crush because I didn't sleep with her? I had a crush on my high school drama TA, too, and we never slept together, either. Would I have liked to kiss him? Sure. Would I have gone to bed with him? Dunno.

Doesn't negate the feeling. And if I examine my feelings for both, they're way too similiar to try and pretend that they're coming from a totally different place.

Also, I agree: "I'm NOT GAY!!" said too often and too loudly comes off sometimes as gay-bashing, to me, like being down with the gayness is cause for nuclear war. What's wrong with being gay? I'm not running around screaming, "I'm NOT A RED HEAD!!!"

And yea, Naomi Watts in Mulholland Drive is amazing. Not my type, but frickin' amazing.
 

Posted by Kameron Hurley

Anonymous said...

"I AM GAY!" But I do have the occasional boy crush. I certainly wouldn't say no to Johnny Depp. Great discussion. Sorry I don't have enough working brain cells to comment intelligently at the moment.





 

Posted by Winter Woods

Anonymous said...

Lara Croft is a babe! 

Posted by David

Anonymous said...

Lara Croft is a babe! 

Posted by David

Anonymous said...

"The lady doth protest too much, methinks." 

Posted by anotherlesbo

Anonymous said...

Oh, Kameron, I have a total crush on you. Have I mentioned that? It is so totally not gay -- oh wait, I am queer & everything, but it's just that you're so fucking smart & adorable & all that. I'm not going to move to Chicago anytime soon, so you can relax about that. Plus I sort of like unrequited crushes, with lots of distance involved.

But my point is that you are so spot on about this.

When I was a wee lassie, I remember my mama told me that it was perfectly normal for girls to fall in love with other girls, or to have crushes on them, on account of boys have cooties & all that. But that when normal girls grew up, they would like boys because, well, she never did explain why or how or when that would happen. And she didn't mention what would happen to girls who weren't normal. So on the one hand, I got a free pass to be in love with my girlfriends (well into high school & even college) but on the other hand it was never acknowledged that I might in fact actually be fucking them (I was). So it was kind of traumatic for my poor dear mum when I told her -- at age 25 -- that I was in fact a lesbian. She's pretty groovy, and she got used to it. But now here I am in my 40s and terrified that my mom will find out that I've been dating a boy, cooties & all. I just don't want her to be able to dismiss almost half my life by saying "it was just a phase." Because, you know, I might just find the right girl & settle down someday.

Or not. I really like this one boy a lot.

It's all so silly.  

Posted by alphabitch

Anonymous said...

(I'm here through feministing.com, just so's you know)...

I really liked your take on the "girl-crush" thing that keeps popping up lately.

I have always had two kinds of crushes - 1) where I think they are the most beautiful person on Earth (which mostly refered to the mental beauty and general coolness, not so much physical kind) and 2)where I really really really wanted to shag them. Both were gender non-specific, and I was not so much bothered by that. Strangely, both were pretty much never on someone I didn't know personally (i.e. celebrities). I guess the fact that I'm an artist made it more "permissible" - oh, you know those artists, so impressionable and passionate. I never saw (and still don't) see the difference between being in love with a girl or a guy, or why does it have to boil down to the sex question.

I've had crushes on boys where I didn't want to do much more than draw their portraits and listen to them sing (or watch them skate or whatever), and then I've had crushes on girls where I couldn't wait to go clubbing with them, hoping for stuff to happen. And vice versa.

I am not liking much how the "girl-crush" gets talked about - like it's something silly, something somehow less real than, well, "real crush"... WTF?
I'd much rather differenciate between the "brain crush" and "lust crush". But maybe that's just me.
 

Posted by elfinity

crazedJennifer said...

Most people would consider me a straight girl, but occasionally, I have these mad attractions towards older females.

Currently, I have a huge thing for my friend's colleague. She's in her thirties, dark hair, dark eyes and totally married.

It's causing a bit of confusion to my straight world. Whenever she speaks, I'm totally enchanted by her exotic accent. When she laughs, I feel like recording it and put it in my alarm clock for my wake up calls. When she looks at me with those soulful dark eyes, I feel like she has penetrated my soul (and loving it).


Would I shag her then? I'm not sure... but I'd kiss her mouth anytime.




Posted by absolutjenny