"The Twisted Sisterhood," a book about the "dark legacy of female friendships"

  Enlarge Photo    
Sunday, October 31, 2010

society

THE TWISTED SISTERHOOD

Unraveling the Dark Legacy of Female Friendships

By Kelly Valen

Ballantine. 229 pp. $25

In a 2007 essay in the New York Times, Kelly Valen made a bold confession: She didn't trust other women. Her reluctance stemmed from the reactions of her sorority sisters to a horrible rape she had endured as a college student some 20 years prior. Instead of supporting her, they expelled her. Ultimately, Valen concluded, her rapist's actions "hurt me far less than the judgments, connivance and betrayal of women."

The article sparked a media controversy over the prevalence of female infighting. And in "The Twisted Sisterhood," Valen argues convincingly that such animosity is pervasive and has lasting consequences. In a survey of more than 3,000 women, she found that 84 percent have "suffered palpable emotional wounding at the hands of other females" and nearly half experienced "lasting distress or trauma" as a result.

The book would have benefited from more measured consideration of the insecurities behind female bickering. Valen insists sexism isn't to blame and even questions whether it still exists. These are surprisingly sweeping claims, given her eloquent writing on the dehumanizing aspects of rape - claims that seem slightly manufactured by publishers hoping to profit by, ironically, starting a catfight among readers.

Overall, though, the book seems well-intentioned, with moving chapters on the power of mothers, forgiveness and female friendships. Valen's tone is appropriately friendly, and her message - that women have everything to gain from being less judgmental and more supportive of each other - certainly has value.

- Ashley Sayeau


© 2010 The Washington Post Company