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Virginia Woolf famously noted how unusual it was to find accounts in literature of women being friends–not rivals, sisters, mother and daughter, etc., and not in their relationship to men,  but friends with one another. Paging through a new novel by Mary Carmichael,

‘Chloe liked Olivia,’ I read. And then it struck me how immense a change was there. Chloe liked Olivia perhaps for the first time in literature. 

So much of women’s lives had been obscured, and so much lost to literature, as we would have lost Julius Caesar and Hamlet and Prince Hal if writers had not seen  the friendships between men as a worthy subject. (She goes into much more detail, and if you haven’t read “A Room of One’s Own,” do! It’s indispensable.)

Something just as troubling, or more, seems to be true in our time and place, not in literature but in real life, and it’s signaled by the trending term “bromance.” “Bromance” refers to a non-sexual, close relationship between unrelated men, as in “the thriving bromance between Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen,” who’ve clearly enjoyed spending lots of off-stage time together during their tour as co-stars in a couple of plays. “Brother,” “bro,” “romance”: get it?

In our culture, we don’t need a special name to describe the relationship between two women who love each other, love to spend time together, and are not romantically involved together nor seeking to be. We already have a term: friendship. What disturbs me about the embrace of the “bromance” term is the shunning of the obvious, available word.

Is there something so extraordinary about a close, loving, non-romantic relationship between men that we need a cute, arch term for it? Do men in our culture not feel comfortable calling each other friends? Is it difficult in real life, as it once was in literature for Chloe to like Olivia, for Patrick to like Ian?

Men, what’s your experience?

I got back to the drawing studio yesterday after the June hiatus. I like the foot here:

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and the foot and right hand here, as well as the shadow falling on the shoulder:

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I had no idea the patch of light on the buttocks was working here until I saw it today:

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Nothing much here, though I enjoyed working on that hand (it ended up out of scale, as things do when I focus too much on one part):

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So I really tried to work all over the paper here, not staying in any one spot too long (my teacher in Mexico, Silvia Velasquez, always reminded us of that and I’m aware of her voice 80% of the time I’m drawing, because that’s how much of the time I’m ignoring that advice, often to my regret):

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I did it more on this one:

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On this one I just went really dark, too dark on the back but it’s okay–I wanted to stay loose and I mostly did:

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Every time abortion is debated I have this wish, this longing, which, forgive me, I’m going to articulate as a list. As with many polarizing debates, people tend to hunker down in their camps pointing at the most extreme versions of their opponents’ views (possibly fictional): “She had a ninth-month abortion so she could fit into her prom dress!” / “He thinks people shouldn’t even use contraception!” We know the stereotypes: Pro-choice people are just callous and selfish and eschew personal responsibility. Anti-abortion people just hate women and fear sex.

I believe (and fervently hope) that there is a vast realm of people who do not all agree about the ethics of reproduction but do share the following values, or strive for them, even though we get very nervous about how others might exploit them to ends we don’t share:

(1) We think sex is a valuable and precious part of adult life and should be enabled and celebrated. We want people to rejoice in their sexuality, not be ashamed.

(2) We value the lives of people living in the “fourth trimester” and beyond.

(3) We believe that somewhere between conception and birth, the human zygote / embryo / fetus takes on qualities that obligate us to it in ways that we are not obligated to our appendix or spleen. This does not necessarily mean that it has the same moral claims as an infant, just that it is not the moral equivalent of an object.

(4) We believe that women’s autonomy is as important as men’s.

(5) We believe that the person whose body nourishes and is inextricably bound up with a growing fetus has a unique relationship to that fetus and the issues surrounding it that is not equivalent to the biological father’s, other parent’s/parents’, or anyone else’s–which is not to suggest that others have no relationship or obligations to that being.

(6) We harbor deep questions and uncertainty about where the dividing line is between not-living and living, about what and who has moral claims on whom, and about how much some frequently-debated questions even matter to the question of abortion.

(7) We believe in two principles that are often in tension with each other: people have a moral obligation to accept the consequences of their actions, and people need the space to start afresh after mistakes. We want to live honestly with this tension and seek neither irresponsibility nor punitive rigidity.

(8) We believe that in an ideal world, people would choose if and when they want to reproduce, be enabled to reproduce when they wish it, be able to enjoy their sexuality without unwanted pregnancy, and be supported in raising wanted children. We commit to work together toward such a world.

(9) While recognizing that pregnancy is too often a sorrow and a burden, indeed sometimes a tragedy, we also see the profundity and beauty in it and feel a deep sadness about the loss of a pregnancy, however it comes about.

(10) We recognize that legality and morality are not exactly the same, nor can they be, nor should they be. There may be illegal actions that are morally right. There may be immoral actions that are perfectly legal. This will always be so in anything other than a totalitarian society.

(11) We would like to move beyond rhetoric and dismissively pat solutions and slogans.

(12) We believe these issues are important and difficult.

(13) We wish to talk with others who struggle with these issues, not in order to concede to intolerable positions nor make peace with every opponent, but because they matter to us, and it is the duty both of a government and a civilization to grapple honestly with such questions.

I would love to attend a forum where people engage with these issues, respectfully, setting aside fear and righteousness as much as possible in order to come to a deeper understanding for ourselves, which may help our public policies be wiser as well. At our best, we Unitarian Universalists have a commitment to the inherent worth and dignity of all people, embrace moral complexity, trust that reason and relationship can get us to a better society, and believe that it is our calling to help make that better society. And we are currently working, as a denomination, on the issue of reproductive justice. So what better time to host such forums?

Please comment respectfully.

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