I’m the kind of person who tells just about anyone who’s willing to listen about how amazing my female friends are.
And they are – despite popular culture’s shallow perception, most female friendships are wholesome, fulfilling and important. People think it just revolves around sleepovers, gossip and bitching about boys, and it does to some extent, but there’s so much more to it than the cookie-cutter version we see in films.
In convincing each other that men and romantic relationships (or their lack) do not define our worth or that we’re more than the sum of our trauma and the things we have been through; or in affording each other safe, judgement-free spaces to talk about our feelings and our fears and joy, we replenish our emotional piggy banks. A lot of people underestimate the emotional labour done by women living in patriarchal societies, and having a safe space to take a break from gendered expectations allows for catharsis and a sense of mental and physical security.
Female friendships also extend far beyond the stereotypical cattiness and backstabbing that is so often portrayed in popular culture. Misrepresentations of friendships between girls play a large role in fostering internalised misogyny. For the most part, my friendships with other girls have been some of the healthiest and most supportive relationships of my life, and I hope that every woman gets to experience that kind of love and support.
This is not to say that men cannot be good and considerate friends to women. I have had several men in my life who have been compassionate, empathetic and understanding, and I am grateful for them. Yet, in my friendships with women, I’ve always found a deeper level of solidarity, empathy and fierce, fierce love.
There’s a common joke among women about strangers turning into best friends in the girls’ loo at clubs, and despite it seeming like a comedic exaggeration, many of us have experienced it firsthand. There’s a level of relatability and understanding that simply exists between women, even women who don’t know each other.
I can’t discuss female friendships without talking about Rhiannon McGavin’s poem, Things That Could Happen To A Girl Wearing Jeans, written to raise awareness about abuse and assault. It’s clearly an ode to her female friends and my favourite line from the poem is “I like my body best when I am dancing with my best friends”.
In a world where women’s bodies are sexualised, politicised and regulated by governments, families and societal expectations, sisterhood enables women to create safe spaces for each other. When I am dancing with my best friends, I am not thinking about how fat my arms look, whether my shorts show too much thigh or what other people are going to think of my body and its flaws.
When we’re together, it’s relieving to have the space to be vulnerable and not have it be mistaken for weakness. There is a sense of relief in being believed, and in not having legitimate concerns and fears (however minuscule) be dismissed as ‘attention seeking’, ‘overly dramatic’ or, worst of all being met with ‘Are you like, PMSing, or something?’ There is a sense of relief in being understood and validated with a level of empathy that could only come from someone who’s been in a similar place and dealt with similar circumstances.
People often joke about how women always travel in groups. You see it everywhere – from schoolgirls walking home to grandmothers sitting together for an evening chat. In my experience, these ‘gaggles of women’ – so often turned into the punchline of a joke – form because of the principle of safety in numbers, because of the level of security that women feel in each other’s company.
Even as upper class, upper caste women in urban areas, there is a level of fear each time we step out into the world. The way even our progressive, but concerned parents ask us to ditch our favourite dresses for jeans and a jacket, the way every time a man on the street walks behind me for an extended period of time, I automatically assume the worst, what with crimes against women actually increasing every year, according to data from the National Crime Record Bureau. Constantly reading about and witnessing gendered violence and harassment in my immediate environment – fuelled by the ever-updating social-media based reporting – triggers a lot of paranoia and anxiety in me.
And so, there is a type of rebellion and healing in existing together with my female friends, the way we want to. Having a support system is especially helpful in the current socio-political context, and female friendships create spaces for us to live unrestricted and unrestrained. In short, they afford us the luxury of simply being – together.
Yamini Krishnan is a 17-year-old from Pune, who writes poetry and will be pursuing a liberal arts degree come August. You can find her on Instagram at yaminikrishnan_