What Hollywood gets wrong with Female Friendships
I’ve been thinking a lot about friendship between women lately: what it means, and why the world seems to be so captivated by it. So when I got a group Facebook message from my boss (slash mentor, slash friend), Komal Minhas, it felt a bit serendipitous.
“I’ve been feeling a bit off,” she wrote. “I haven’t really spent meaningful and quality time with women I love and adore recently. I mean women who are passionate about their lives and work, and who at one time or another in my life, sparked a curiosity and admiration that I haven’t been able to shake.”
So she invited us all to get together at her house, and, as women do, we rallied. When the night came, we all sat around Komal’s dining room table, squished in, using an ottoman and bar stools as extra seating, and talked. At one point, someone looked up at the clock on the microwave and realized none of us had moved from our spots for five hours.
Nicole Belanger told us she’d founded her media company, Fourth Hour on this very concept. She wanted to create a space on the internet that feels like the fourth hour of a dinner party, when we’re passed the small-talk, past resume-reciting like we’re in a job interview, and onto the messier, real experiences that women share.
“The Fourth Hour is what sustains us as we do the hard work of being women. It leaves us feeling connected and supported and seen and strong. Most importantly, it is our reminder that we are never alone and that we are in this together,” Nicole’s company’s about page reads.
“Sharing the truth of your experience with another woman, whether it’s one-on-one or shouting it out loud on the internet, is one of the most important and generous ways that women support each other,” she told me later in an email.
It’s the kind of universal truth every woman knows. But at a time when people are so quick to dismiss women’s friendships as just for show (read: likes on Instagram (read also: Taylor Swift’s #squadgoals)), it bears repeating that what’s behind the photos are very often sacred safe places for women.
It’s also important to examine why people are so quick to want to tear down women’s friendships when for years, we’ve been lamenting that women are catty, manipulative, ‘fake’ friends to one another. Can’t we just be happy that there are women who are working, whether consciously or not, to change that narrative? Even when we see Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Schumer team up to make a hilarious movie or Beyonce and Nicki Minaj collaborate on an insanely popular song (and also just in life), why are some still so quick to discredit their relationships?
To be fair, popular media doesn’t exactly normalize healthy female friendship, which could explain the skepticism. I’ve been rewatching Gossip Girl this fall at the same time as I’ve been building personal and professional networks of women like the ones at Komal’s that night — and the difference between the ways women interact on the show and the kinds of connections I’m seeing more and more in real life are glaring.
And I’m not the only one who notices. A 2008 study on “teen films” (like Mean Girls, etc.) and our reactions to them found that female characters in these movies are rewarded for “socially aggressive acts” more than male characters are. What’s more, the researchers found that watching these films causes “increasingly negative attitudes toward female friendships and women in general.”
Hollywood is doing better on this front lately, though: we now have shows like Broad City and Parks and Recreation (wait, maybe it’s not Hollywood, but just that everything Amy Poehler does is perfection?) to which women are flocking, because they give us a glimpse of what we know female friendship is really like: safe, supportive, and, above all, places we can just be without judgement.
As writer Ann Friedman wrote when Broad City came out last year, “Ilana and Abbi are our people. They are truly casual about sex, not simply feigning detachment in the name of empowerment. They are feminists who call each other “dude”. They have so many inside jokes that listening to them can be like trying to decipher a code. They wear a combination of “flea market vintage, American Apparel, H&M.” They smoke so much weed. But for all of their immature hedonism, they manage to come off as not entirely selfish… They are more obsessed with each other than they are with men.”
Friedman and her best friend Aminatou Sow host a podcast called Call Your Girlfriend, where they often cite a concept they came up with called Shine Theory: “When you meet a woman who is intimidatingly witty, stylish, beautiful, and professionally accomplished, befriend her. Surrounding yourself with the best people doesn’t make you look worse by comparison. It makes you better,” Friedman wrote.
I sometimes think about how I used to say things like, ‘I just get along better with guys.’ I’d proudly proclaim that girls were too catty, I didn’t have time for that, I was, instead, decidedly low-maintenance. I did all but say I thought I was better than other women, and that’s why I didn’t associate with them.
Evidently, I would have benefitted from Roxanne Gay’s wisdom: “If you feel like it’s hard to be friends with women, consider that maybe women aren’t the problem. Maybe it’s you.”
And as a feminist, looking back, I feel a combination of embarrassment and sadness for my younger self, but it’s also a bit confusing since it was a flat-out lie. In high school, my female friends taught me how to be a person, in the way that friendship can only do in those formative years. There are things I still do and say because my best friends did and said those things, and I admired them so much.
But I do think it was more than just inside jokes and shared favourite movies — I think the level of closeness between women starts to solidify in high school. We start to take care of each other then, looking out for each other as we’re first introduced to the dangers that come with being women. Maybe that’s where the stereotype of catty high school girls comes from: we’re just scratching the surface at that age of what will become, for many of us, an essential life force. Can you blame a 15-year-old girl if she gets a little overwhelmed?
Another wise lady, Jemima Kirke of Girls fame, once said: “So many times young girls will be like, ‘I’m a guy’s girl.’ And I’m like, ‘No, you’re not. There’s no way a man can understand you like a woman, and you’re a guy’s girl because you’re threatened by other women.’ I was like that. I was only men. But that’s because I felt special around men, and with a woman I can really be put in my place, and I’m on the same level as them.”
This world is so full of incredible women, and we’re lucky to be on the same level as one another. It seems cliche to say we’re stronger together, but I’m going to say it anyway: in a world where being a woman is often, as Nicole says, hard work, that women are so great at coming together in support of one another makes it a little less hard.
“At the end of the day, my friendships make it so that I never, ever have to go it alone. And that has made all the difference in my life,” she told me. “I know that I will not be exempt from the hard stuff in life, but knowing that I have people there to walk with me through the inevitable hard times make me brave.”