I’ve been thinking about this lately, especially with being alone and with the influence of Ramadan, a time of reflection. Throughout all 20 years of my entire life, most of my friends have been women, and they have usually been very passionate women. It is not news to anyone that having a sister makes you happier–for both men and women. But although I am a sister, I don’t have one. I was lucky, then, to have found profound friendships with immensely strong women. And, despite what illusion the media creates for us of catty women and overly emotional relationships, they were women who harbored great depth and intricate understanding and love. And complexity: they were also stubborn and self-destructive, and each of us was so independent we argued often and rarely correlated our free time without someone having to rush off somewhere important. We also talked for hours, about documentaries and biology and philosophy and great literature and star formation and religion and different types of infinity and logical fallacies, and unlike the movies few of our conversations involved men. In fact, the subject of romantic love was not only something we didn’t gush over, but something we rarely brought up at all. My friends dated, but it sort of just… was. We obsessed over school together and each individually took over the work of our respective assigned groups if were were in separate ones. (“Get back! Everything you touch turns into an A-minus!”)
While female friendships outside the stereotypical fabulous four are rarely portrayed in media, friendship between men is represented in all its forms: men feeling torn apart by the loss of best friends / loss of kings in dramatic movies (but showing it in manly ways of course because femininity is weak don’t ya know), men going to war together and sacrificing themselves / mourning the loss of a fellow solider, men deceiving their wives / girlfriends so they can go drink with the guys in commercials–there’s constantly an emphasis on male friendship, and a lot of times it is to “take down women.” Friendships between men are represented in a way female/female relationships aren’t and cover a vast variety of genres and consequently emotions and experiences (though again, “manly” displays of affection.) However, friendships between women are almost always romantic comedies, and consequently male-centric.
Friendship with women is incredibly significant, a powerful act–maybe even a feminist act. Strong genuine bonds between women through which we grow are one of the best weapons against patriarchy, especially since patriarchy has gone out of its way to turn women against each other. You are in competition with each other patriarchy tells us–but never in competition with men. As Molly Lambert writes,
Why Do Dudes Think You’re In Competition With The Other Girls? Because if you’re in competition with the men, you might be better than they are. And a lot of them can’t handle this, and even more weirdly it’s like it doesn’t even really occur to them. They just automatically compare you to other girls and not other men, even though you obviously compare yourself against everybody in your field, not just the women.
Why exactly they can’t handle this is something that I understand but can’t really sympathize with for obvious reasons. The sinister underlying idea is that men are always going to be naturally better at everything than women. That the best man will always be better than the best woman, and that women should expect and accept this.
Friendships with women put the experiences of women in the center, when global patriarchy puts forth the experiences of men first and foremost. It’s especially true when we struggle and recover and hold each other accountable. The development of a tendency for women to sustain each other, frequently exploited by societal perceptions–is a process of healing.
But friendship between women and the way it is portrayed in the media has not only a negative effect in how men view women but how women view other women. I’ve heard women say that they relate better to men (not hard considering around whose experiences we revolve) than to women, and either imply in their tone or come straight out and say that women are untrustworthy, deceptive, petty, and overly complicated–despite the fact that anyone who’s ever been in a friendship with a woman knows this is far from the truth, and, at its very worst, is misogynist through a dismissal of the value of femininity because hey, I’m just one of the guys! LOL. Let’s go harassing some chicks like a bonding ritual! (Because patriarchy has done a number on men as well.) On the other hand, men are just as deceptive as women have a reputation of being, and they certainly back-stab and gossip just as frequently if not more in my experience. There is a strong sense of security in having friends who are other women, a legitimization of the difficulties faced in experiences unique to women.
Men showing emotion also defies oppression and frees men–“feminine” emotions, like those that surface from friendship: the characteristics of devotion and compassion, for which men are taught they are “too good” and if they give in are “worthless and unmanly.” Platonic friendships between women and men are patriarchy-defying, as the media and most of the world appears to believe that if a man and woman are friends they must be sleeping with each other, or will eventually sleep with each other, or are thinking about sleeping with each other.
And men being friends with men! As long as they aren’t, you know, being friends with men over the oppression of women and street harassment.
Genuine friendships, of sincere loyalty, love, understanding, compassion, nourishment and support are powerful feminist acts.
Okay now go make friends.
12 thoughts on “Powerful Feminist Acts: Women and Friendship”
You touch on so many excellent points here–thank you. In case you haven't already read it, let me recommend Ariel Levy's "Female Chauvinist Pigs"–part of its thesis is the advent of "OMG I just get along so much BETTER with GUYS, who aren't WHINY and know how to kick back a few BREWS."I'm guessing by your reference to the "fabulous four" that you're not a fan of Sex and the City; I was, and actually my favorite moments throughout were the depictions of friendships among the female characters. Yes, they spent most of their time talking about dating (it was, after all, the premise of the show) but through that a lot of complex issues came up that usually get short shrift–actually, NO shrift–in entertainment. I've heard the show described as "friendship porn," and in many ways it was–and in some ways the friendships were idealized–but the show didn't always take the easy way out either.I really feel like something subversive happens when I catch a woman's eye on the street and one of us gives the other a smile. It is a feminist act, however small.
OMG AUTUMN! Hi, you're awesome. And yeah, I've read Female Chauvinist Pigs. =)Sex and the City was my first thought, but in general it's a reference to the overused group of four that seems to be some kind of packaged trope. (Each of the girls also tends to have different colored hair.) I've only watched the first few episodes of Sex and the City, and I've heard both good and bad things about the rest. Might have to look into it.
Great post. You make excellent points worthy of examination. Reading this makes me want to follow your blog.
EXACTLY! Great points. I think Ariel Levy's book is an excellent example of what you are discussing here.
I love this, Nahida. We need to see more female friendships on film.
Hi, this was the first post I read and I loved it. I have added you to my blogroll.Incidentally I am doing a post about women and girls and representation of their relationships in Indian movies/Bollywood and would like to link this post with your permission.Please let me know if its ok
Nahida,I have just stumbled across your blog and read a couple of your articles. First and foremost, you are a gorgeous person! I admire you so much. I also understand some of your points coming from a fellow Arab country. After having read this article I find that I am most likely one of those women you are referring to having more male friends than female friends. However, I view myself as a feminist.I don't think that having more male friends than female friends makes one a sexist-against-women woman. Maybe in some cases it does but that is a generalisation. I would LOVE to have more female friends, but the society I live in regards women as plastic-bimbos-who-dont-know-how-to-drive-dont-have-to-work-find-a-rich-husband-accept-presents-when-u-find-him-cheating-on-u and so unfortunately if you have been nurtured in a specific way, you cannot help but to live up to these standards. In this stereotype of the woman in my society, being degrading and sexist to other women is also part of the facade. I remain open minded when I meet a native woman but from past experience, men treat me with more respect than women do… IN THIS COUNTRY. So obviously this is also a facade of men in this country and they probably ARE sexist assholes inside, but isn't it nicer to be treated with respect than to be degraded down to nothing by a fellow woman? I fight for women's rights on a daily basis, in my own way..
Awwwe, thank you!Oh, I definitely don't think simply having more male friends than female friends makes one automatically sexist. I think it's seeking out male friends over female friends *because* of these stereotypes that do. However, I understand that obviously these situations are going to vary from country to country, and you are better suited to speak for yours than I am. I don't at all doubt that cultural factors contribute–although, would you truly say that your experience is representational, even in your country? Interesting comment, thank you!
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