Why Are Female Friendships So Misunderstood? Smashing 4 Stereotypes!

When a man is a bad friend, he represents only himself as an individual. But every time a woman is a bad friend, she somehow becomes a representation of her entire gender. Is that fair?

We often look to our past relationships to help us navigate our future. But it is interesting that the way we are allowed to experience the world and bonds, especially friendships, is very different for a man and a woman.

This is a bit of a cliché but there is a lot of truth in it. Over the years, I have made many friends and I have lost several. That’s a part of our growing up I suppose. One thing I often try to make sense of is my relationship with other women. I don’t know whether it is my need to prove a point, or a genuine longing to connect with another woman without the shackles of biased notions and see where it goes.

The question still remains- Can women be friends?

Here’s my take on it. Bear with me while I examine the stereotypes that bog us down. And this is the murky bit. This is not a mud-slinging venture to point fingers at who started it. This is a brief look at the beliefs- right or wrong- we still have or pass on that may require some reconsideration at our end.

“Women are always jealous of one another”

This one feels overdone at this point and as a society, we have reached a point where we can all accept that not only it is complete nonsense but also, the intent behind that claim has started to become clear.

Let’s take an example. We still see reinforcement of the idea that a daughter-in-law is a ‘replacement’ for a mother in a man’s life, but nobody says the same about the father. Why is she never seen as a replacement for a father? Or to reverse it, can a son-in-law be seen as a replacement for a father in woman’s life?

Well, obviously NO, because men are ‘allowed’ to co-exist with others but for women, there is always only one seat at the table. So, when one comes, the other must leave.

We raise women to see other women as their replacements in one form or the other and then we wonder why are they jealous of one another? It starts at the beginning and honestly, it takes a lot of soul-searching for a woman to see clearly beyond this dirty lens.

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“Women can’t be friends”

I have heard this one and believed it to be true many times, but thankfully my good senses have always kicked in before it was too late.

This is a wide-spread assumption partly because we are only used to seeing men’s interpretation of friendships, everywhere, whether it’s media or real life.

Beer-drinking bros or the characters from Hangover is the image of friendship in our heads. And when we do think of female friendships, the reference point is always Sex and The City or closer to home, Veere Di Wedding for us. Women drinking pink cocktails and talking about men or other mildly inconvenient problems.

But the version that we see on celluloid is only a small portion of a complex relationship. Women who have been friends with one another for a long time have shared difficult times such as losing a parent, sickness, abuse, divorces, unemployment, transitions like moving to a different city or childbirth in addition to all their good times together.

There is so much more to female friendships than what we selectively choose to see

If we are to understand female friendships, we need to look beyond the conventions of how we see women and their relationships with others. When a man is a bad friend to his pal, he represents only himself as an individual. But every time a woman is a bad friend, she somehow becomes a representation of her entire gender, often eliciting comments like “women can never be friends.” Is that fair?

Women, just like men, come in all shades- good, bad, ugly. So, it is inevitable that many of them won’t make good friends, girlfriends, wives, mothers etc. And the people they have relationships with will have a few complaints eventually. But they don’t represent all women and their abilities to be friends, girlfriends, mothers, just like how #notallmen (?) are misogynists and abusers but enough of them are.

Nuances of female friendship

Jealousy, insecurity, hate are all human emotions, and we all experience them at times in our lives. We feel all these emotions when we look at photos of strangers taking vacations on Instagram and honestly, that is an exaggerated but normal reaction. Just like that, women who are friends can feel these emotions momentarily when their friends are doing amazing things and they are not. And that again is a normal human reaction for that moment. But considering only these moments to label the entire spectrum of their emotions or their shared experiences with their friends as something petty is a gross misjudgment.

Emotions like happiness when a woman sees her friend get married, the pride she feels when her friend gets a dream degree, or sadness that they share when one of them goes through a breakup are tender and raw moments, and they are lived and shared experiences in female friendships that are hardly ever spoken of or shown.

Let’s change this narrative

A new perspective into female friendships has been long overdue. My hope is that we throw away our archaic lens through which we have always viewed female friendships till now and allow the people in that relationship to have full ownership of their experiences and the range of emotions from love, jealousy, pride to contentment and everything else in between.

I believe that the time is upon us to change the age-old narrative of  female friendships and unfortunately, that change too must start with women. They need to take ownership of their relationships with other women and establish them based on the uniqueness of their connections and not by the standards and protocols of others. So, here’s hoping that we start to interpret our friendships for what they are and show others the right way to do the same.

Published here first.

Image source: by Thunyarat Klaiklang from Pexels

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