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Men have the ‘Bro code’, do women have a ‘Sis Code’? Yes, here are the secret rules of being the perfect female friend.
“I can’t be friends with other girls, they are too catty!” “I’d rather have more guy friends – they’re more loyal.“
From school to college, with lines like these, I have heard girls reject female friendships. I have also heard of the ‘golden standard’ of friendships – that of the ‘bros’. Male friendships are seen as uncomplicated. They’re considered more real because the general ethos is of acceptance. Bros always have each others’ backs.
This ethos is contained in the infamous Bro Code. It’s the bros over and against the world, especially against the girlfriends or wives. A significant moral law of the code is that the bhai ki bandi (bro’s girl) cannot be touched with a bargepole.
Female friendships, on the other hand, are supposedly more shallow and full of cracks that make any relationship fragile. Women judge too much and are too two-faced to experience the blanket acceptance one can apparently find in the bros, they say. They’re too jealous to truly celebrate each other and too self-centered to be there for each other. Drama is what they love so blindly that their friends are quickly thrown under the bus. Yadda yadda yadda.
And what truly separates the bros from female friendships is that the latter would never unconditionally choose the friend over the significant other.
This is what I have heard, read about, and seen in TV shows. All over the internet, skit comedy is based on shallow women versus faithful men. But what I have experienced and seen in my immediate reality differs, greatly.
I have always had girlfriends and even now, while I do have really close male friends, I would be lost without my girls. As a matter of fact, I have never really thought about friendships in a gendered way, other than the occasional eye-roll when some guy would ask me, “Do you girls even like each other?”
And then, college, where most people have their moments of enlightenment, happened. In a paper on subsistence economies and how they are rooted in the household, we learnt about women who had to manage with whatever resources they’ve had been handed. One strategy to deal with scarcity is to borrow from other women, thereby creating a nexus of exchange.
And that led me to think about the story we see everywhere but do not recognise – the story of women supporting each other.
There is a certain intensity of attachment I feel to my female friends. I may not have known them for too long or met or hung out with them too often, but once I consider someone a friend, the love is always there. It is this intensity and depth that keeps me committed to my friendships and keeps me searching for more. And with this intensity comes an urge to look out for each other – to look for signs to see if they are okay, and having conversations to open up to each other. By looking out for each other, I do not mean that we are always (only!) protecting each other from great dangers (creepy men at parties) or that we are basically glorified therapists for each other (though it is an added bonus!). But that even in the most mundane times of our lives, this bond is at work.
My favourite example is the spontaneous friendships that are formed when you need a sanitary napkin or a tampon. You ask a random girl or a practical stranger for one, and suddenly she’s your confidante and saviour. She goes the extra mile to check if your clothes are stained, and if you are, she sticks around to help you deal with it.
And so we come to rule one of the Girl Code:
A pretty specific rule which looks nothing like the basic Bro Code! While I cannot comment on whether or not male friendships are really this straightforward, I know that female friendship is multidimensional and so, oddly specific rules for the code are needed.
I always found the ‘women are fake’ conversations a little confusing because women are and can be brutally honest. They tell you what they think and feel, all the time, which I, personally, prefer. I get my healthy dose of reality checks, but also genuine validation and support when I need them. They tell you all the ways they love you and all the ways you annoy them.
Honesty does not end with just speaking the truth when asked. It requires open communication and sharing. Even casual acquaintances will make it a point to let you know they like your shoes or that they liked the way you spoke.
This leads me to Rule Two:
Of course, sometimes I just want to rant but when I need a response, I gravitate to my girlfriends. They don’t simply say what they think though. They consider who you are and empathise with you. They go back to their own experiences and tell you not to be an idiot like them. And when you do decide to be an idiot anyway, they’re still there for you, annoyed though they may be.
Now we come to loyalty. It is said that men are like dogs, blindly loyal to the bone while women are more feline i.e. catty. I won’t deny that my female friends tend to be more opinionated but they are warriors when it comes to standing up for each other. Any rumour is totally shut down, any suspicious behaviour observed in another friend or significant other is reported back and when you are your own greatest critic, they swoop in to talk you down (or up, as per the case).
Of course, there have been times I have felt betrayed by my friends, who hasn’t? Often felt confused or insecure. But those were moments against which I have volumes of memories and experiences of feeling safe. Like the women in my paper on subsistence economies, like the women in Indian households, or the stranger in the metro who stands next to you when that one man is coming too close, women project a protective force. It isn’t about keeping secrets but about keeping you going and happy, and recognising when you are about to fall.
Thus we come to Rule Three:
I believe this protection comes from an understanding. Women across the world are bound by certain universalities. Yes, some are more privileged than others, and social contexts, with a myriad of other factors, impact this experience. But womanhood is shared. Our female friendships cannot help but be coloured by these universalities.
So, what makes female friendships fun? Well, no topic is truly off-limits, at least in my experience. Women talk about everything and when they get settled into a friendship, boundaries practically disappear. My friends and I would get ready together to go out, without a hint of propriety. We would be shoved into a bathroom, sharing the mirror. Some would be in their underwear, while in the corner someone would be getting a pep talk about their outfit. Getting ready is a collaboration, not an individual exercise. (Even during the pandemic, every detail of my life is texted immediately to group chats!)
For someone like me, who tends to be anxious around men in general, female friendships are euphoric. For women in a country where every aspect of life is socially ordered and judged, these friendships can be immensely freeing.
Rule Four thus forms the bedrock of female friendships:
Women are pitted against each other everywhere – at work, in academia, and in social circles. I also cannot say that female friendships are always in an ideal state. But my belief in their lingering value comes from observing my mother’s friendships. They know everything about each other and while there are usually no taboos, there is an implicit understanding of soft spots. They see each other and listen, always reading between the lines. Like my friends, they tease each other and one can always hear them cackling on video calls.
But you also see the affection – caressing a hand when times are tough and doing everything else to support a friend when they aren’t in a position to talk. The beauty of female friendships lies in empathy and understanding.
And so we come to the fifth and final Rule –
If you make friends based purely on gender, and do not see the actual individual, piss off!
Top image is a still from the Hindi movie Veere di Wedding
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