This past semester Caroline Heldman and I were asked, independently, to give talks in the Occidental College “Last Lecture” series. The series is designed to encourage faculty to imagine a final message they would like to pass on to the next generation. Dr. Heldman is a friend and, during a hike, we realized we’d both been asked to speak. So, we decided to give a talk together… about friendship.
It must have struck a chord (we were pleased to see Johnson Hall fill up to standing room only) and we were in good spirits knowing that our slideshow full of cute animals would make our talk a memorable one whether we said anything smart or not. Thankfully the Agora Project filmed the event and I’m pleased to post it here!
We argue that in American culture we tend to elevate family — both the kind we are born into and the kind we form through romantic relationships — above friendship. Research shows, however, that having non-romantic confidants is more strongly related to physical and mental health than romantic partnership. In light of this, we offer a feminist defense of friendship. We challenge the idea that forming healthy, supportive friendships is less important than finding Mr. or Mrs. Right. We also review cultural messages about friendship and show how these messages intersect with an emphasis on heterosexual relationships in ways that undermine women’s ability to be friends with women, men’s ability to be friends with men, and men and women’s ability to befriend each other.
We close, as we begin, with cuteness.