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Can We Say That Sisterhoods On Screen Have Finally Come Of Age?

Posted: April 24, 2020

The recent Four More Shots Please, Veere Di Wedding, Sex and the City and Desparate Housewives – what do they all have in common? Sisterhoods on screen.

All of these challenged and changed one of the most powerful spheres where the notions of ideal femininity and female friendships gets constructed- their depiction in films and television.

Earliest of sisterhoods on screen

In its Season 2, Desperate Housewives said this: “Beautiful lawns, spacious homes, happy families. These are the hallmarks of suburbia. But if you look beneath the veneer of gracious living, you will see a battle raging. A battle for control. You see the combatants everywhere, engaged in their routine skirmishes, fighting fiercely to have dominion over the world around them.”

Desperate Housewives being the oldest of these, ran up to 9 seasons from 2004 to 2012. The four leading characters Lynette Scavo, Gabrielle Solis, Susan Mayer, and Bree Van de Kamp were depicted to challenge conventional gender roles. While the title may suggest ‘desperation’ to the point of unhappiness these women also reclaim their power in concrete ways while still being depicted as mere housewives. Also for the first time ever it brought women who were married and mothers and in a certain age group out as “interesting people.”

Sisterhood of soulmates

Charlotte from Sex And The City once beautifully said, “Don’t laugh at me, but maybe we could be each other’s soulmates? And then we could let men be just these great, nice guys to have fun with?” It became a motto and sentiment echoed by many real-life girlfriends after the show.

Unlike the name the show was much more than just sex and New York, the city where it is based. The show passed the Bechdel test, had more than two women characters with names and well-defined personalities and the women talked often about things other than men- cancer, post-partum loneliness, fertility and unfair expectations as women age. It broke the myth of women being women’s worst foes at least on the silver screen.

India’s sisterhoods on screen?

India took a while to catch up with the blueprint of four strong women as close friends, and out came Veere di Wedding. While “veere” is just the Punjabi word for bro, it did delve into the complexity of female friendships in the Indian context.

I watched it with two of my longest standing women friends (more than 3 decades now) in a small theatre in Shimla, and while the glam life of the filmy characters seemed far away from our own, some of their struggles with marriage, motherhood, sex, body image and reproductive rights seemed so much our own.

Before this only Parched had explored similar female friendships in Indian cinema as its central theme but the context was rural, themes much more grim like child marriage, domestic violence and caste system, and it did not adhere to the 4 women formula so to say. However both films talked boldly about sexuality and depicted women masturbating, a rare sight in Indian films.

The latest in these – Four More Shots Please

The girl gang of Indian screens seems to have come of age in the latest Season 2 of Four More Shots Please on Amazon Prime, as it almost has a lesbian wedding on a screen that has been so homophobic for centuries.

What is most intriguing however to me as a viewer is that for the first time it talks about sisterhoods hence considered impossible- like the one between a woman and her ex’s current wife, an emotionally abusive mother who wants to change for her daughter, a girl who can call her mom back home in Punjab and say I am marrying my girlfriend! Also it doesn’t shy away from depicting internalized misogyny too where these very women are extremely critical also of each other’s choices before they accept and see their own biases.

A little too ‘glamourised’, though?

What also binds these four shows is the highly glamorized portrayal of the protagonists and hence takes it a little away from real women and real lives.

With all their flaws however, these are all a big leap from FRIENDS, Big Bang Theory, Two and a Half Men, Dil Chahta Hai and the like, which are more in the bromance category. Finally women’s friendships are being depicted with no shame and no fear, and issues like Bipolar Disorder (Lisa Ray’s Character in Four More Shots Please) being shown as they are without taboo and stigma is a good direction to follow.

Cheer to sisterhoods – both real ones and sisterhoods on screen!

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Pooja Priyamvada is a columnist, professional translator and an online content and Social Media consultant.

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