Jenny Neale

No Friend Like a Sister: Exploring the Relationships between Sisters

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"It was such a close relationship, like best friends really and we'd tell each other just about everything. Sometimes I think if it came to the crunch to choose between my husband and my sisters I don't know which I'd choose."

The relationships between sisters are little documented and, as a consequence, can be an invisible area of women’s lives. Traditional models for analysis of family relationships have largely neglected the sister bond, defining sisterly affection purely in terms of obligation and expectation. No Friend Like a Sister begins with the premise that we need a new method of approaching and exploring the sister relationship.

This process began with a series of in-depth discussions with several small groups of women all of whom had at least one sister. This was then followed up with individual interviews with 48 women, ranging in age from 20 to 91 years. These interviews encompass both the highs and the lows of the relationship and span a wide range of issues, from the death of a parent to the expectations of mutuality and reciprocity; from facing the repercussions of sexual abuse to issues of communication and contact. Even in a painful or negative relationship, sisters are reluctant to ever completely sever the tie.

No Friend Like a Sister uses this material to explore the characteristics of the sister relationship, to ask what sets it apart from friendship and from other family relationships. The discussions and interviews offer a rich and often moving resource of information, experience and opinion, and ultimately a valuable insight into the unique relationship between sisters.

"No one will ever have the same closeness to you as your sister has, purely because, as you get older, they remember things no one else can. They’re remembering the same things and there’s a common background. You may have very close friends but nothing like a sister."

Jenny Neale is the Deputy Dean in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, and Director of the MA (Applied) in Social Science Research at Victoria University.

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