Sexual orientation, heterosexism, and mutuality in friendship relationships between lesbian and heterosexual women



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Women are socialized to base their self-worth on their ability to have meaningful relationships (Miller, 1986a; Miller & Stiver, 1997). However, in a patriarchal culture, they rarely find in their interactions with men the acceptance, validation, equality, and empowerment that are central to deep connections and women’s psychological development (Jordan, 2009; Miller, 1986a). Thus, women are more likely to meet their needs for such relationships with their women friends (Diamond, 2002; Miller, 1986b) and see them as first source of support in crisis situations such as domestic violence (Campbell, 2013). However, research on women’s friendships, particularly across sexual orientation, has been long ignored (Chittister, 2006; Galupo, 2009). Therefore, the purpose of this study was to contribute to the much-needed research on cisgender women’s friendships across sexual orientation in relation to mutuality and heterosexism. Mutuality was selected to assess friendship quality because mutuality is characterized by elements such as emotional intimacy, authenticity, validation, and empowerment. Heterosexism was selected as it may influence openness to cross-sexual orientation friendships. Mutuality was assessed with the Mutuality Psychological Development Questionnaire (Genero, Miller, Surrey, & Baldwin, 1992) and heterosexism was assessed with the Multidimensional Heterosexism Inventory (Walls, 2008a). A demographic questionnaire was also constructed. Participants were recruited through listservs, social media, and snowball sampling. Fifty-four lesbians and 118 heterosexual women between the ages of 19 and 82 years old participated. Most participants were White and had at least a bachelor’s degree. A mixed-design ANOVA revealed participants’ perceptions of mutuality were similar in same- and cross-orientation friendships. An independent-samples t-test indicated lesbian and heterosexual women endorsed low levels of heterosexist attitudes. A Pearson product-moment correlation coefficient indicated heterosexist views were negatively correlated to perceived mutuality in cross-orientation friendships. Results also revealed differences in the number of friends and friendship categories in cross-orientation friendships. Lesbians had similar patterns of frequency and closeness in their same- and cross-orientation friendships; however, this was not the case for heterosexual women. Implications of these findings for theory, research, and practice for these populations were included.



Women's friendships, Friendships, Mutuality, Heterosexism