Carroll Smith-Rosenberg, “Female World of Love and Ritual”

Smith-Rosenberg investigates the ways sexuality was constructed in the 19th century and particularly at the relationships between women. She describes a world that is largely homosocial, where the primary relationships for each gender was located among others of the same gender. These relationships were both intimate and socially acceptable, fitting with no apparent contradiction with the societal push for women to assume roles as wives and mothers.

While this description seems connected to the idea of “separate spheres,” the idea that men and women had distinct social sphere raises some interesting questions. For one, it would be interesting to look at conversion patterns in terms of these homosocial networks, rather than families. Also, the discussion of female social worlds needs a corresponding discussion of male social worlds and the prevalence of fraternal societies during this period.

Just as a side note, Smith-Rosenberg seems to describe this sort of social relationship as a world long past. However, it is interesting to note that I have seen similar patterns, though less intense, in conservative evangelical subcultures where interactions across the genders is highly regulated.