“Female friendships that work are relationships in which women help each other belong to themselves.” – Louise Bernikow
One Saturday night, a few weekends ago, I was sitting around a roaring fire with a group of friends. For a moment, everything went a little out of focus. I didn’t register what was happening, or notice the brief sadness filling my chest, but I still sank a little deeper. Then, a small hand reached out and took mine. It squeezed gently, bringing me back. We didn’t need to look at each other, didn’t need to acknowledge anything. It was an action I’d mimicked in the past and we both understood, without words, exactly what it meant. I’m here. I understand. You are okay.
Moments like the one above define female friendships. When women get to know each other well enough, there are no limitations. They read each other’s minds, able to understand the hardest of situations because they’ve been there too. If they’re offering advice, it’s often tried and true, or tried and failed. There’s a fierce loyalty and a fierce honesty and a comfort, in being able to share similar experiences. At this point in my life, I’m confident that the female friendships I’ve fostered will remain strong, no matter how many years pass. Yet, it is still so jarring when moments occur that confirm this for me, and I’ve been considering why that might be.
I had a literature professor in a criticism and theory course a few years ago who offered a thought experiment. Think of your favorite novel, play, short story, etc. and pull out the various female characters and relationships present. She discerned that most literature, especially that within the canon, does not feature an honest portrayal of female friendship. Instead, female characters are often pitted against each other: used to prompt themes jealousy or competition. I found this a shameful thing, because I’ve experienced first hand the power of a strong relationship between women. So why aren’t we promoting that?
For awhile I thought everyone had heard of the Bechdel Test, where works of fiction (mainly movies) are judged on three criteria: whether a work features (1) at least two women who (2) speak to each other and (3) talk about something other than a man. You’d be amazed at what doesn’t pass.
The world needs more female voices, sharing stories of honest connection and support. Thankfully, people are starting to catch on. Reese Witherspoon was so fed up with the roles she was auditioning for in Hollywood, that she started her own production company to create films that feature strong female leads and characters and relationships. Now, an action that drastic may not be achievable by us ‘everyday’ women, but all the same, there are steps to be taken. In selecting the stories you read, watch, and support, you are playing a part in the greater system. In standing up for your friends, sisters, and daughters, you are allowing women to share who they are confidently, without holding back.
Leaving school and the girls I lived with for the past four years opened my eyes to a lot. Most importantly, it showed me how important they are to me. It showed me how important all my female friends are to me. I wouldn’t be where I am today without them, or who I am today without them. Consider the women in your life- is it the same for you? If so, show them a little extra love. Us women have to stick together.