In most forms of entertainment, friendships -- and conversations -- between women are all too often portrayed as backstabbing, competitive, or simply perfunctory. There’s the withered cliché of the post-coital huddle-up promoted by “Sex and the City,” whereby friends inexpertly repurpose directives from their own psychotherapy sessions; there’s the us-against-the-world friendship, intimacy so exaggerated it becomes suffocation; there’s also, of course, the friendship that’s just waiting to be ruptured by a man. Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels break from this tradition, as do other contemporary works about female friendship written by Lauren Fox, Emily Gould, Tayari Jones, Sheila Heti and other women writers. Podcasts are also well-suited to resist these reductions; “Black Girls Talking” and “Call Your Girlfriend” are just two examples of candid creative work. But by and large, the way that women speak and relate in the absence of men is poorly represented in both popular and literary culture.
About Women: Conversations Between a Writer and a Painter is an antidote, if an imperfect one, to this cultural weakness. The premise of About Womenis simple: two longtime friends, Lisa Alther and Françoise Gilot, began making tape recordings of the casual, frequent conversations they had in Gilot’s art studio in Paris. Originally the recordings were a playful project, an archive for the two women to expand on privately. Alther is 71, a renowned novelist and feminist, and originally from Tennessee; Gilot is 93, Parisian, a painter, and was both muse and partner to Pablo Picasso for nearly a decade. At a certain point, the tapes were transcribed. When the women began to pass the transcripts back and forth, the idea of the book was born, and so began the process of editing, clarifying, erasing, and rewriting.