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Women's Outreach and Resource Collective | A collaborative community for advocates of gender equity and social justice

Bridging the Gap: Feminism and Female Friendships

By: Savannah Downing

Ladies, we need each other.

Not for our closets. Not for fixing make-up lines. Not for giving hugs every time we see each other. Not for crying about breakups or congratulating accomplishments. Not for having someone to post in #tbt pictures. Not for drinking wine or dinner dates. Not for any other reason that Buzzfeed tells us are the 20 or 25 or 32 why we love our “girlfriends.”

(See some of the things that your close female friends “just get” here.)

Let me clarify that wine, food, and congratulations are all in good taste within a friendship. What I aim to highlight, however, is the degree to which we minimize the importance of fostering meaningful relationships with other women. We emphasize the more trivial aspects and fail to consider the richness that extends beyond, “Thanks for being my friend and letting me have access to your tampon stash.”

Much of our time as feminists is spent bridge-building, with men in particular. For many of us who seek to reconcile the idea that feminists do not want relationships with men, success in this endeavor depends on bridging with men and keeping those bridges intact. While this is not necessarily problematic, if it comes at the expense of developing and maintaining relationships with women, it is certainly problematic. A simple Google search helps unpack what I realize is a risky way of framing this problem from the onset. Typing in “female friendships” elicits a number of articles, namely one titled “Surviving Female Friendships,” another about how Carrie and Samantha of Sex and the City had a great friendship despite “most female friendships com[ing] with fewer frills,” and one about being concerned when a woman’s [heterosexual] partner has female friendships. Why might a search about “female friendships” produce so many concerns with the phenomenon of female friends rather than equally junk-mail-kind-of-articles such as “10 Fun Things You Must Do On a Rainy Saturday in April with Your Female Friends That Costs Less Than $10 and Won’t Give You a Hangover”? (Note: For anyone interested in writing this article, feel free; I would probably read it.)

WORC Boardwalk Bridge

I typed “female friends” into my search bar instead, just to see if there were any variances, and indeed there were. I learned via Urban Dictionary, the source of the sixth hit, that a female friend is “the friend of a male who is female.” This was listed after’s “Keep Your Female Friend and Your Girlfriend,” “How to Make a Female Friend Love You,” courtesy of wikihow, and finally, a preview that tells us, “The female friend is a sociological phenomenon that occasionally intrudes upon the lives of twenty-something males.”

Not particularly keen to make too much out of unreliable sources that plague the Internet all too often, I do think there is something significant about the fact that these are the kinds of results found on the first page when there is a selection 900,000+ results from which the first page could have been comprised. What this simple search tells me, in short, is this: the notion of female friendships sounds like a problem.

In many ways, though, depicting female friendships as problematic is particularly productive because systemic oppressions, such as patriarchy, get their lifeblood from pitting people against one another. Whether it is positioning factory workers next to other workers who speak different languages or reinforcing the problems of female friendships in mainstream media through Mean Girls or Vines of “cat-fights,” this is all quite strategic. If we, as women, make one another the enemy, the problem, and make communication – literally and figuratively – difficult or impossible by situating our societal framework in such a way where collectivism among the oppressed feels like something of an anomaly, then oppressive systems can thrive. Put another way, oppression is insidious in that much of the way it is able to function comes from our own perpetuation of it. Seeing other women, other workers, or other people of color as enemies, rather than collaborators, stunts possibilities of changing the system; we have such disproportionately less power than those at “the top” of our society. There are more of us at the bottom, feeling the weight of those above us, but it would take a collective effort to hold that weight and allow the structures to shift or break. So long as we posit one another as enemies, there is little we could ever expect to change.

As such, when I read these search results about “female friends” and “female friendships,” it makes sense why both are presented as problems, difficult, perhaps even so concerning that they can only be talked about in relation to males. This merely reflects our social conditioning to view female friendships as inherently problematic, something we have to learn how to “survive.”

Yet when I say that we need each other, ladies, I mean it.

If we continue to buy into this idea of the woman who “hangs out with guys ‘because they’re less drama,’” if we continue to slut shame other women, if we allow ourselves to view other women as potential competitors, and if we pretend like women are naturally incompatible suitors for friendship, we fail ourselves. Each of these scenarios merely reinforces the structures that keep us bound, and how could we ever make any radical changes without the support and collective effort of other women working with us?

Perhaps our social conditioning has truly made forming some of these relationships difficult. What I would like to suggest, at the very least, is to remember that we are not inherently competitors. We are not naturally disagreeable in relationships with each other. We simply need to learn the importance of a collectivist approach that depends on a solid foundation of women who do feminist work for and about other women.

Feminism needs female friendships. And you do, too.

worcuga • November 20, 2014

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