Women have all at once been the most fearsome and most comforting figures in my life. They have been the nemesis that plagued during my middle school years and are the many loves of my life. There are these women in my life, some I see everyday, some I may never see again, but they have created a nurturing space for me in which I can learn and grow. This is not to say that some manfriends haven’t also done this for me, but there is something about being in the companionship of trusted women that gives me a distinct sense of power I have not found elsewhere.
It’s in moments of hysteria when I am certain my cheek muscles have cramped and frozen from explosive laughter. It’s in moments of secrecy, which taught me more about my body and sex than I could have ever gathered in Health 101. It’s in darker moments of heartbreak and deceit when no one else can understand.
These will be the moments I will hold on to dearly. Or should I say grasp for dear life, because more often than not I see these memories and these relationships get tested, second-guessed, and tainted. Not by my womanfriends, not even by the middle-school nemesis, but when I turn on the TV, when I peruse the teen-lit section of Barnes and Noble, when I check out for groceries.
At first it never occurred to me to consider the relationships between the girls of Mean Girls, friends, or the women of the Real Housewives of Wherever, pals. There is nothing of any similarity to my experience of friendship between those women, yet somehow these are the only female relationships I can find on the screen. So.. they have to be each other’s friends, right? But the hissing, slapping, “Bitch” dropping and deceit doesn’t remind me of my womenfriendships. This isn’t the definition of womanfriends as I know it.
And even in its final moments of seeming ‘peace in the kingdom’ the girls of Mean Girls couldn’t be friends, not really. They had to keep a safe distance – so as not to pounce on each other. And the House Wives, even in their reconciling group therapy reunions, are unable to help themselves.
So why is it all I can find? Why is every popular take on female friendship tainted by bickering, fighting, name-calling, and treachery? Women in the media are often being separated by various distractions that keep them from coming together to support each other the way the women in my life have supported me. Mothers and daughters are plagued by this phenomenon as well. I can’t help but wonder what effect this must have on our friendships. When these are the only examples found in the media saturated world we live in how can it not?
Roxane Gay says it best in her (incredible) book, Bad Feminist, when she gives us some guidelines on how to be friends with other women. My personal favorite is #1: “Abandon the cultural myth that all female friendships must be bitchy, toxic, or competitive. This myth is like heels and purses – pretty but designed to SLOW women down.”
I firmly believe women need other women, to be confidants, allies, friends. Yet more and more I hear women boasting about their lack of female friends (particularly when talking to men) as if this is some feat they are so very proud of. They say things like “girls are just too hard to get along with”, well maybe they would be if you were dealing with the caricature of women you saw in Regina George. But I assure you we are not all like that. I feel genuine sorrow for anyone who has been unable or unwilling to find womenfriends because despite popular myth, they are a source of light, joy, and tranquility in a world that seems to try so hard to dim us down.
Written by Madison Snider
Artwork by Kelly Parks Snider, as part of Hidden in Plain Site exhibition (http://www.hidden-in-plain-sight.org/)