Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image

Feminspire | April 23, 2014

Scroll to top

Top

10 Comments

Sisters Before Misters: The Value of Female Friendship

Sisters Before Misters: The Value of Female Friendship

| On 09, Jul 2013

Growing up, I was always surrounded by female cousins. I have a brother, but he’s six years younger than me, whereas my cousins are around my age. We went through adolescence together; we joked about our appearances and settled into our bodies together. We dealt with religious guilt and family conflict together. Even now as young adults, spread out all over the country, we turn to each other.

I’ve come to really appreciate that female-only space. Since I go to a co-ed college, I have close male friends, and I interact every day with men who are around my age. But even after coming to college and forming significant friendships with men, many of my closest friends are female. I have a tight-knit group of girlfriends at home, I have several very close girlfriends at school—last year, I lived in a triple with two roommates that we dubbed the ‘Womb’—and I have my cousins as well. The women that I’ve surrounded myself with are some of the most important influences in my life.

Of course, I believe that men and women can be friends. I’m not saying that there are fundamental differences that prevent men and women from becoming close friends—I don’t believe that sexual tension or anything like that prevents men and women from close and lasting friendship. This article doesn’t deal with that. Instead, I want to write about a trend I’ve been seeing lately: young women angling to dismiss other women and trying to establish close friendships almost exclusively with men.

Our culture celebrates masculine friendship. Being ‘bros’ is the ultimate form of friendship. People associate friendships between men with loyalty, trust, and laid-back camaraderie. On the other hand, female friendships have the reputation of being dramatic and difficult to manage. Although there have been movies, shows, and books celebrating female friendships—Bridesmaids, Sex and the City, etc.—the celebration of masculine friendship is far more prevalent. And even in contemporary renditions of female friendship in movies and literature, female relationships are rendered in the context of men—or marriage, or babies, or fashion, or other things considered feminine and/or frivolous.

For example, the Bechdel Test discerns whether or not a work of fiction satisfies feminist critics by requiring a work of fiction to a) have two women in it b) have those women speak to one another c) have those women speak to one another about something other than a man. As of July 2013, only 53% percent of movies passed the Bechdel Test. In the media, men are presented as individuals, while women are always known in the context of their gender—or rather, gendered expectations of femininity.

So it’s easy to see why some young women want to be “one of the guys.” Girls who form close friendships with guys are known as “chill girls.” These girls are low maintenance; they aren’t like other girls. They aren’t catty or shallow—they claim to be above the petty conflicts—jealousy, backstabbing—that we as a culture associate with femininity and female friendship. I’ve heard so many young women say that girls are too dramatic, too competitive and too bitchy.

But having both close male and female friends, I’ve seen that both men and women love to gossip. Both men and women fight with their friends, and both men and women relax and joke with their friends. Both men and women can be competitive and jealous. And both men and women can have long and rewarding friendships, both with each other and within their own gender. All relationships take effort.

So when a young woman disregards feminine friendship, it is not because there is something inherent about womankind that makes it impossible for her to befriend any women. It is rather an imbibed message, a status symbol: men are cooler, more interesting, more intelligent. Their friendships are more “real.” She is trying to bypass the stereotypes associated with modern femininity. In a sense, she is trying to transcend her lower status as a woman—automatically bitchy and petty—and achieve a higher status: one of the guys.

This is a really dangerous mindset. When young women absorb the images of women they see in the media and begin to undermine the value and power of femininity, they are absorbing a dangerous sense of contempt for other women—and also for themselves. And, as I’ve mentioned before, these young women disregard the significance and complexity of a feminine space. Because in my female friendships I’ve discovered something really refreshing: a lack of expectations, a very liberating sense of acceptance.

As I’ve said several times before, I’m all for connecting with guys on a platonic level. I think it’s important and healthy to break down gendered barriers and stereotypes. Men and women can definitely be friends. But oftentimes when men and women become friends they bring gendered expectations to the table. In my experience, young women don’t make sex jokes when men are present, while young men talk loudly about politics. Most importantly, women speak less when men are around.

Of course, this doesn’t apply to all male-female friendships, but it’s definitely the trend. When men and women are together, they tend to fall into a preconceived script as to how they should behave.

Having a female-only space changes that. I’ve always been shy, and my voice doesn’t carry. Even as an outspoken feminist, I find myself falling silent when my male friends are speaking. I internally tell myself that I don’t know what they are talking about, that I’ll trip over my words or say the wrong thing. I realize that I’m not speaking very much and I hate it, but I do it anyways. There’s a part of me that’s somehow intimidated and believes I should stay silent. And because of this, while it’s very important to make co-ed spaces like this more accessible to women, I also believe that it’s really important to have a female-only space in your life.

With my female friends, I talk loudly and freely. We ask each other questions and collaborate on answers. No topic is too lewd or uncomfortable: my friends and I have talked about everything from yeast infections to Kim Kardashian’s sex tape to what we’re wearing later tonight to masturbation. Young women often experience a sense of disconnect with femininity, particularly during adolescence: you don’t feel comfortable in your body or your sexuality. Having other women to laugh with, to worry with, and to talk with really helps reconcile that disconnect.

Parks and Rec Hoes Before Bros Parks and Rec Hoes Before Bros Parks and Rec Hoes Before Bros Parks and Rec Hoes Before Bros

Even if you have a significant other, that all-female space is really refreshing. You can vent, cry, and laugh freely with other women. It’s a unique space—a place where the performance of modern femininity ends and women explore themselves and what it means to be female with no affectations or pressure. An all-female friendship space is a place of love and support. There’s so much pressure on hooking up and pairing off in our society. It’s nice to have a significant other, but that shouldn’t lessen the value of having several—or even just one—good female friend.

Just being perceived as a woman in today’s world comes with a loaded set of expectations (which are often conflicting). Every woman should be able to experience a space where these expectations are gone. A lot of the time, this space comes in the form of an all-female friend group. Women’s friendships are life affirming, enjoyable, and important. They shouldn’t be belittled or overlooked. With my girlfriends, I’m not the representation of femininity I sometimes still feel like I have to be: I can just be a person.

Written by Zoya Haroon

Header image courtesy of: Brienne Walsh

  • diello kane

    “only 53%”? that’s over half.

    • Stella

      “Only 53%” because it should be 100%.

  • Dune

    “So it’s easy to see why some young women want to be “one of the guys.” Girls who form close friendships with guys are known as “chill girls.” These girls are low maintenance; they aren’t like other girls. They aren’t catty or shallow—they claim to be above the petty conflicts—jealousy, backstabbing—that we as a culture associate with femininity and female friendship. I’ve heard so many young women say that girls are too dramatic, too competitive and too bitchy.

    [...]

    In my experience, young women don’t make sex jokes when men are present, while young men talk loudly about politics. Most importantly, women speak less when men are around.

    Of course, this doesn’t apply to all male-female friendships, but it’s definitely the trend. When men and women are together, they tend to fall into a preconceived script as to how they should behave.”

    ~~~~~~

    Speaking as a young male college student with pretty decent amount of friendship circles, I can tell you that this is not at all “definitely the trend.” “One of the guys”-type girls definitely exist, I’m close friends with a few of them. They crack sex jokes. They have equal conversational input. (I don’t know where you got the idea that young men like to talk loudly about politics. Maybe being a political blogger means you tend to run with that crowd.)

    “One of the guys” is just a phrase. I don’t actually think my friend S is a man. When guys are hanging out with guys, the thought “we’re all guys” rarely actually crosses our minds. And when I’m hanging out with S, I rarely think “you’re a girl!” That’s what that means. The fact that S is a girl has no effect on how I act when I’m with her, and I’d like to believe that it’s the same for her.

    “Chill girls” are a thing, too, but that only applies to girls who are actually abnormally chill.

  • Emily B.

    Besties before testes.

  • Sully

    I’ve never felt that female friendships are given less value than male friendships, though I have met women who claim it is too hard for them to be friends with other women (how do they know, have they met every woman in the world?). The one thing that bothers me is when women bond over putting another woman down, I always try to put a stop to it when I’m present.

  • DLZ

    I thought that feminism was strictly against same sex only spaces?

  • JT

    “Just being perceived as a woman in today’s world comes with a loaded set of expectations (which are often conflicting). Every woman should be able to experience a space where these expectations are gone. A lot of the time, this space comes in the form of an all-female friend group.”

    You clearly, clearly grew up a girl’s girl. The whole talking quieter and being all worried about shit like that thing is EXACTLY what us “chill girls” don’t give a fuck about. And you clearly have very little experience with us. You think that because a girl prefers male friends, she makes sex jokes and booms her voice out to fit in? Have you MET many men? This is such a generalization of how male friend groups are and is so blindly shallow that it leads me to believe you haven’t spent much time with them.

    Some of us grew up with brothers like others grew up with sisters (blood related or not). Try and understand that.

  • silver376

    I´ve found the exact opposite to be true. I hang out with more guys because I can be myself. Men don´t get offended when I make rude sex jokes, etc., and they don´t make me feel like I have to fit into some pre-comcieved notion of femininity. Women (generally) make me feel quite uncomfortable, because they have expectations of what a female should act like, and I definitely do not fit that norm. Of course this all started from a very young age… I´ve always preferred to have male friends, I personally feel that this is because my personality simply meshes better with men (and I don´t think I´ve ever been intimidated by anyone!), rather than thinking male friendships are “cool” or that my “bros” are the ultimate form of friendship.

    Just saying that there is no particular type of friendship that is better/more important/more fulfilling. Friends should be the people you feel most comfortable spending time with, period.

  • Billiam

    “Sisters before misters” is sexist in itself, saying that friendships can be valued based on gender.

    My girlfriend and I are best friends. We tell each other everything and feel totally comfortable around each other. Neither of us have that kind of thing with any of our other friends, male or female.

  • Laura

    Most of my life I’ve felt better around men. I had a lot of girlfriends growing up, but my family was prominently composed of males, and at my school 70% were boys and 30% were girls. Also, in my culture I felt that men and women mixed a lot more.

    After I moved to the U.S. I felt it became more challenging to make girlfriends. I’m not masculine at all, but I don’t enjoy shopping (I’m not trendy so I still wear clothes I bought 12 years ago and they look good), make-up (almost never wear any), doing my hair (I just make a braid when my hair is wet and go out), I don’t care about many things women in the U.S. seem to care about, I don’t like/wear jewelry (except earrings), I don’t care about weddings and would not use my hard-earned savings to have one, and I feel the American culture deeply ingrains what it deems “feminine” traits to women.

    I already felt comfortable around males, and they always seemed so friendly to me (little did I know about their real intentions), so it was easy to befriend them. I thought the male friends I had value me and respected me as a friend because I was cool or something like that. But little by little, I started noticing that the segregation between males and females in the U.S. is greater than in my culture. Now I even have doubts about the legitimacy of the friendships between males and females in my culture because of what I see in the U.S.

    Pretty much males here will only befriend you if they like you as more than a friend. If they finally realize you don’t like them, they will usually stop being your friends. That has made me resent men a little, and not value them as much because I see that they can’t value women as friends. They won’t drop their guy friends, but a female friend they will drop if she doesn’t like them as more than a friend. Is like, if they can’t have you, then you are not worth it to them. So now, I’m putting all my energy into making female friends.

    There are some things I like a lot about friendships with males (when they act as your friend) such as being more laid back and much less emotional. But mature females can be a lot more empathetic and listen to you a lot more. I would enjoy having male and female friends, but I’ve given up on male friendships, so unless it is for dating purposes, I see no point in putting any energy into a friendship with a guy (except for the few guys that have remained my friends after many years). Now I put all my energy into having female friends, but I tell you that in the U.S. it seems a little difficult, but I won’t give up. Us females have to learn to respect and value each other, because men already think very high of themselves. We need to think high of ourselves, become good friends to each other, and stick together as true friends.