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female co-habitation

 

Sharing a household is not a pre-condition for participation a close same-sex romantic or erotic relationship, but cultures which normalized co-habitation by unrelated women created a context where such relationships could be more easily accommodated.

LHMP entry

The increasing divide between the derided image of erotic sapphic relations and the praiseworthy image of female domesticity, epitomized by non-erotic woman+woman couples, is played out in attitudes toward certain couples. The “Ladies of Llangollen” (Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby) were firmly established in the popular imagination as the model of non-sexual romantic friendship.

Chapter 2 - Constructing and deconstructing sexuality: New paradigms for “gay” historiography

While the Inseparable motif sometimes employs a male character to bridge the practical logistics of forming a female couple, it is more natural for a triangle of this sort to frame the man and woman as rivals for their shared object of desire. Sappho’s fragment 31 encapsulates the envy of a woman for the man who has the attention of the woman she loves. And in contrast to the common motif of-two men competing for a woman's love, when one of the rivals is a woman there is always an awareness that the playing field is badly uneven.

In this chapter Donoghue examines texts, both fictional and biographical that examine close and long-term friendships between women. The selection here is focuses on the complexity and difficulties of real lives rather than those that idealize friendship.

Here Donoghue considers the literature that addresses sexual activity between women. In contrast to some claims, there are a number of home-grown English texts in this period that address non-penetrative sexual activities between women, and during the 18th century there seems to have been a regular dialog between French and English writing in this vein, with works in one language rapidly appearing in translation in the other.

Donoghue’s second conceptual cluster in this analysis is the “female husband” motif. That is, not simply women passing as men, but doing so in a context where they courted and/or married other women. The chapter begins with a general note on the prevalence of this type of event and the wide variety of superficial motivations for passing.

This article isn’t so much on lesbianism in a cultural context as on the methodology of studying the topic, and particularly the importance of not assuming equivalence between male and female homosexuality. Please note the publication date and filter appropriately. As most of the specific cultural citations are relatively modern, I’ll be discussing the general patterns.

The 18th century saw a polarization in attitudes, both in popular culture and in real life, between the "safe" de-sexualized romantic friendship (associated with educated and upper class women) and the "dangerous" sexual, gender-transgressing lesbian (associated with lower-class or socially marginalized women). Gonda looks at two women who--although their lives and careers show striking parallels--could be considered prototypes of these poles.

Lanser opens with a letter from the intellectual Elizabeth Montagu in 1750 deploring the plan of two female friends to live together as it will "hurt us all" if women "make such a parade of their affection" leading to suspicion regarding all female friendships. Lanser argues that Montagu's objection is unlikely to be to romantic friendships as such. The sister to whom the letter was addressed would later pen Millenium Hall, a celebration of separatist female friendship.

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