Society Discredits the Female Friendship Because it’s Frightened of its Power

Features. Posted 1 year ago

Madison Griffiths


Image: Daria and Jane! Yes! Image Source.

“Jesus Christ, you smell,” Lucinda scoffed. She wasn’t wrong—my outfit (a puffer jacket, thermals, and skinny jeans) was stuck to my skin, and I was perhaps the sweatiest I’d ever been (admittedly, I don’t engage in much exercise). I had just taken two steps out of a 23-hour ordeal. I’d travelled from thick, Scandinavian snow to Australia’s torrid summer, and was a physical embodiment of a cruel European hangover of sorts. And not the matching-tattoos, cocktail-emoji, #neverforget Contiki type of hangover. The ugly-breakup, a few-hundred-tears, #neverforget that-time-you-cried-from-Heathrow-to-Qatar type of hangover. With her phone ready to capture me at my worst, and my backpack swung over her arm, she performed her duty—being that of my best friend—with grit. Lucinda got it. She always had.

It wasn’t until Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson appeared—what, with a platonic, on-screen chemistry like nothing else performed on mainstream television before—that a relationship that symbolised Lucinda’s and mine snuck its way into the orthodox. Whilst groups of women—with love interests, and seasonal depression, and varying career paths—met and squealed over coffee and cocktails on HBO for decades (think: Sex and the City), the platonic love affair between just two multifaceted women in an intense partnership managed to slip through Hollywood’s cracks. Our connection couldn’t be captured in all-girl troupes. We were, in and of ourselves, an ensemble.

Why is it, then, that it took so long for such a partnership to be represented? And yet, women in competition with one another—women with high shoes, hollow-cheeks, and pronounced eating disorders (some absurd, comedic ‘bit’ explored in The Devil Wears Prada)—have long existed in film. Women who wear other women like embellishments; who strive only to derail one another (Mean Girls). The Blair Waldorf’s and Betty Rizzo’s of the world, and only ever that. Why is it that relationships amongst women on screen are seen only as toxic, catty and insufficient?

That is not to say that we haven’t been spoilt with healthy displays of friendship amongst groups of women before. From the uproarious household antics of three (wealthy, white, inner-city women) in Friends, to the toils and troubles of four (wealthy, white, inner-city women) in Sex and the City—we witnessed amicable interactions amongst the most ‘prosperous’ of the bunch. And even then, their ‘IRL’ friendships were deliberately vandalised because, in what world can women really, truly get along? ‘Frenemies’ Jennifer Aniston and Lisa Kudrow haven’t even thought to pick up the phone and say hello to one another post-Friends (both the sitcom, and the relationship, it seems) according to the tabloids, and Kristen Davis and Kim Cattrall have reportedly eaten at the same restaurant at the same time… and refused to sit next to one another. We knew it, folks.

The conscious decision to steer-clear of intense, one-on-one interactions amongst women is no doubt because society has long deemed women inherently erotic. Whereas, as the ‘bromance’ is laced with an intricate combination of “homophobia” and “homosociality”, as explored by Karen Boyle and Susan Berridge in their article, ‘I Love You, Man’ (2014)—there is no fear of, let’s say, James Franco and Seth Rogan getting it on after corn chips and a blunt. They’re straight guys, who are—let’s not forget—straight, guys. Did I mention that they’re straight? Their relationship is almost solidified and sustained by its active prejudice against queerness. Women only exist as sexual accessories—sub-in baked dishes—to further conserve a forced heterosexual environment on film (think: American Pie).

And when it comes to women, rather than exploring a potentially healthy adolescent, queer relationships—Hollywood has instead chosen to both ‘hetero-sexualise’, and ‘hyper-sexualise’ women on film: a decision controversially tied to a cultural fear that cis-men just aren’t necessary to the emotional, sexual and platonic fulfilment of women. Intense, one-on-one female couplings, (like that explored in Thirteen and Single White Female) that even slightly hint at queerness are therefore deemed toxic and destructive: something young girls should be afraid of.

Why films which attempt to capture the ‘female experience’ often seem fleeting, nostalgic and centralised around empty Chinese takeaway cartons, #girlsnights, and therapeutic makeovers is because the bonds that women share are regarded as stepping stones—the awkward (and often endearing) in-betweenness before ‘settling down’. What pioneering female friendships did—like that between Ilana and Abbi, Pennsatucky and Big Boo, and even Lucinda and I—is exist in spite of some heterosexual romance that ties us to the other person. In fact, even in arguably more enlightened interpretations of female friendships—as seen in Lena Dunham’s Girls—crucial to the plot is the recurring, often overlapping examples of heterosexual love that come to, if anything, dictate otherwise earnest relationships. Adam Driver’s essential quality was, in essence, his brooding masculinity: an intensity which worked not only to divide and belittle the bond between two of the main, female characters, but to distract us from the magnitude of their relationship in general.

And, the thing is, I didn’t particularly care for Adam, nor for his sweeping embrace. When Hannah started checking each corner of the room, and counting to eight—I saw myself in her haircuts. The q-tip she used to interrogate her insides. I saw the neurotic messages, calls, and last-minute dinner plans with Lucinda: the way I spelled out my obsessions like we were sharing easy-to-prepare recipes. Whilst Dunham—a woman suffering from a mental illness—courageously told her own story, Adam was gifted the role of ‘man-daid’ to make her audience comfortable. I was reminded, yet again, that the way in which Lucinda has consoled me with compassion: “this is your OCD talking”, “It’s okay; I get it”, and her own fair share of disconcerting mental health chronicles, isn’t important. And yet, we touch base every hour. We emoji-our-way-out-of panic attacks; all the while not waiting for this apparent phase to pass.

It was never about the Adam’s of the world. Not for us.

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