Updated: Mar 11, 2021
By Palwasha A.
I think it’s time we unpack why exactly, when we see female friendships, they make us cringe. In our current digital age, female friendships are flaunted on social media with a carefully-crafted, aspirational look to them, capturing the most superficial aspects of friendship while offering nothing of the depth. The scripts that have come alive on our TV and film screens throughout our lives are largely crafted by men, depicting sisterhood as “frenzies of shopping and brunching,” gossiping and catfighting, and so it makes sense that we undervalue them ourselves. We never see their true essence, how female friendships are a necessity for all
women, for their growth, their sense of self and their agency.
The term ‘chit-chat’ is often used to describe conversations between women, and has the effect of reducing their talk to something superficial and unimportant. Every woman can think back on conversations where they’ve jumped between the most superficial to soul-crushing topics with ease, a way of communicating akin to therapy, allowing unloading of thoughts and burdens. This devaluing of the way women speak to each other, is an example of the complete refusal to acknowledge the importance of relationships between women, and how we are, even in our everyday language, taught to trivialise them.
Our friendships are reduced to stepping stones to the emotional completion we will inevitably reach when we eventually find a romantic male partner. In fact, it has now been found that close female friendships are a catalyst for self authorship - which is the ability to confidently, rationally and wisely make difficult decisions about ourselves and our lives.
THROWING OFF EXPECTATIONS
Growing up, the adult friendships I saw between women were framed as burden-sharing, where they would confide in each other, unloading the struggles that they couldn’t speak to their husbands about. Their companionship was not friendship exactly, but the familiarity and intimacy that naturally arises from speaking to, or with, a woman. These conversations were almost like a balm, a way of healing from the trauma and hardships of their everyday lives as wives and mothers, people who had been uprooted from their own countries and faced the unique challenges of being immigrants, women who didn’t have the privilege of accessing therapy or other support services.
My mother and her generation didn’t always have the luxury of picking their own friends, or if they did, didn’t have time to spend with them. If lack of time, responsibility or life pressures were not issues, they also never saw spending time with their friends as something they deserved. It wasn’t seen as fruitful and it was the lowest priority. I have the freedom today to choose my own friends. My privilege in this shines through when I think of all the time I spend nurturing and enjoying my friendships, when my own mother can only justify seeing her closest friends once or twice a year, if at all. A generation of women not afforded the self care that they deserve.
FINDING YOUR REAL SUPPORT NETWORK
Growing up, I attended a school where by circumstance, the majority of my friends were white. Though we had fun together, our relationship lacked the depth that they had with each other. When my school environment became more diverse, I naturally gravitated towards the only group of “brown” girls in school, and it was with them I learned that I could confide in people who mirrored my own experiences.
It’s been proven that around the time we become adults, women of colour begin to turn to women like themselves to combat the constant and steady erosion of their ethnic identities. Going into adult life and having so many new environments open up, I was able to choose people that I actually connected with the most to be around me, rather than sticking to friends by circumstance and then by familiarity. Using self - empowering language, we reframe our understanding of our own racial and ethnic identity, which is usually sidelined for the majority of our formative experiences. Alemán's study points to the larger truth that women of colour predominantly rely on their female friendships to find a sense of self in a society that inevitably pushes them towards assimilation and self-denial [referenced at the end].
I can map clearly through my life how so much of the healing and things I’m able to do now with minimal effort are a direct result of the strong female friendships I’ve formed. It's in my friends’ consistent refusal to laugh at my self-deprecating jokes that I’ve stopped making them. It’s in their urging to read my work and the feedback and encouragement they give, that has worked towards breaking the long - held fears and anxieties that I’ve struggled with when trying to write.
Since I was thirteen years old, I would fry each curl of my hair under my straightener’s highest heat to kill off it’s wildness and frizz, in my head making me look less Afghan. A year ago, for the first time, a few close friends accidentally saw my naturally curly hair. They were in disbelief that for years of knowing me they’d only seen what I’d forced it to into. One of them commented that she couldn’t believe the ungratefulness of straightening hair like mine.
I began to like the unruliness I’d once hated so much that I’d spend hours trying to tame it into submission. By learning to accept my hair, I was allowing myself to be seen as more obviously Afghan and started accepting a part of myself that had been sidelined and neglected for the better part of my life. It also lead to greater introspection, and the kindness with which I’m now able to speak to myself comes from uplifting streams of love like this, directed at me from the women around me. I hadn’t even realised that this was cracking the concrete I’d unknowingly built around my way of thinking and of doing things for years. You don’t notice the changes happening gradually within yourself until you look back at certain memories of the past and can’t recognise yourself in them.
The first time I shared my writing with my friends, I was terrified. I’d had an insane fear of sharing work my whole life, a natural instinct developed from the paralysing fear of failure. After ten minutes of resisting, I handed over my laptop, giving disclaimers every second about how bad it was and how I never do this. And then they were reading my words. And the sky hadn’t fallen down on my head. I could tell they didn’t like the first part. Then they flicked to the next one, the initial version of this piece and they loved it.
This experience was one of my first times understanding the necessity of sisterhood for personal growth. I hadn’t been challenged that way ever, and putting myself into that discomfort meant taking the first step to climbing out of it and stepping unknowingly into a stronger self. It’s fitting that it happened with the first draft of this piece. I think anyone who has seen the purity of a true female friendship knows what I mean when I say that it emanates light.
Pure light, a warm golden-yellow colour.
The colour of the sun mixed with magic.
Lead Editor: Irisa R.
Alemán, A, College Women's Female Friendships: A Longitudinal View,The Journal of Higher Education (2010) pp.553-582.
Susan B, How stories of female friendship construct a sense of self, Aeon Essays [online] Available at: https://aeon.co/essays/how-stories-of-female-friendship-construct-a-sense-of-self [Accessed 25 Nov. 2019].
Buchanan, D, Cate Blanchett is right. Female friendships can be more potent than any love affair [online] Available at: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-life/11612517/Cate-Blanchett-lesbian-row-Female-friendship-beats-any-love-affair.html [Accessed 25 Nov. 2019].
Spangler, L, A Historical Overview of Female Friendships on Prime-Time Television,The Journal of Popular Culture (1989) pp.13-23.