As women, we’re often defined by our relationships with men. Even in discussions of rape or sexual violence, women are referred to as “someone’s wife, someone’s daughter, someone’s sister”, as if our personhood alone is not worthy of mention. And, while we should never be defined by our relationships with any other person, our friendships with other women may have the radical potential to help us escape this compartmentalisation.
Media depictions of women’s friendships are somewhat lacking. There are two choices: either you hate other women and view them as competition, or you have a facile, “girls night out” relationship with your friends, where all you talk about is shoes and cocktails. It’s a false dichotomy that fails to take into consideration the true depth and spirit that really exists between women.
Our conversation is often referred to as “bitching”, “gossiping” or “girl talk”, as if nothing of worth could possibly pass between two women. Sex and the City is often derisively evoked here; all we do is sit around drinking in expensive bars and laughing about our exes, right? For a bit of variety we might mention shopping, or some other girl who we hate, or maybe even our weight. They are the only topics women can possibly manage, such is the intellectual capacity of our weak and feeble brains.
Do I talk about clothes and relationships and sex with my friends? Of course. But that doesn’t mean our friendship is somehow any more trivial than that between two men, that because we talk about these things we’re somehow less intelligent or our connection is in any way diminished. Moreover, why are those topics denigrated and perceived as insignificant? Purely because they are “feminine” and associated with women.
Talking about, and sharing, a lived experience, is absolutely not trivial. The way we travel through the world is indubitably defined by our gender, and a wordless appreciation of that from another woman can go a long way in our understanding and acceptance of ourselves. Furthermore, this kind of friendship allows us to share experiences that the men in our lives are unable to fully understand. Our experience of sexual harassment, sexist jokes or other everyday misogynies are often, sometimes unwittingly, undermined by men, and we’re left feeling unimportant and ignored. This is something I’ve never experienced in my friendships; I’m always believed, I’m always supported, I’m always left feeling as if I do indeed have value.
And you know what? Friendship between women is more than just a simple relationship; it’s a feminist act. Patriarchy seeks to undermine women, to diminish our achievements and to separate us from each other. Friendship between women can form a sturdy wall that slowly pushes against this discouragement; a vital community in which we feel safe and supported, in which we can express the way we feel without being shouted down or accused of exaggeration. It can provide us with the energy and confidence to speak up, to begin to stand our ground and let our voice be heard.
Like it or not, every aspect of a woman’s life (her career, her sex life, motherhood) is deeply saturated with complex gender politics. The solidarity that comes hand in hand with women’s friendships can allow us to navigate these nuanced difficulties with the support, understanding and love that patriarchy has tried to deny us.