I’ve long been surprised when I hear women say that they don’t have women friends, they don’t like women and they simply find men to be better friends. In my life, friendships with women have been and are immensely valuable. Today I am thinking on the importance of women’s friendships.
In my experience, building close connections with fellow women is an immensely powerful feminist act. Communicating, laughing, growing stronger with each other is a form of resistance. It is a strengthening of bonds between women where patriarchy has sought to keep us apart, rivals, without coherent community. In forming such connections there’s a centring of women’s wishes and concerns. That is, it’s about women valuing women, a rare emotional space in which we aren’t considered less than (that is, if all parties are doing friendship right!) or centring men.
In friendship, we hold ourselves accountable to each other in ways we don’t when we’re just interacting with someone on a casual basis. We’re uniquely invested in overcoming problems, making things work. I think about how useful that particular accountability can be when it’s present in political work. In doing activism, we need to rely on each other, we need to be able to communicate our needs and trust they’ll be met. I think about how movements such as feminism by and large centre a particular kind (white, straight, middle class…) of woman’s experience, how more marginalised voices come to the fore often only after a great deal of pressure, and how frustrating that is. It’s partly because particular kinds of women do not feel sufficiently accountable to other kinds. This is not to say that activists should be friends, or that that’s even possible or desirable under all circumstances. Rather I’m thinking that the kindness and compassion we employ in dealing with our friends can also well be applied in interacting with fellow social justice activists, particularly in acknowledging and working with the intersections of oppressions.
And women’s friendships centre women’s experiences. No one’s going to think you ridiculous for being scared to walk home alone at night. Women can support each other in these patriarchy-shaped elements of our lives; it’s a means of having one’s feelings and experiences confirmed and legitimised where we are usually told they aren’t valid, didn’t quite happen like that, it’s just you. And of course in hanging out with women there’s an escape from many of the manners of interacting as prescribed by patriarchy, as any woman who has to put up with the likes of being interrupted constantly by men will know.
Now, I recognise that there’s not a place for friendships with fellow women in every woman’s life. I’m not saying it’s wrong to have lots of male friends (I think that’s fantastic) or that having them means you don’t like women (that’d be silly and, you know, assuming there aren’t any other genders). Sometimes, where a woman has mostly or exclusively male friends, she says it’s because she doesn’t like women. That is where I see a component of misogyny, because we are told that women are silly, uninteresting, that it’s better to be in with the blokes. That sort of thing is far from being free of its context, patriarchal influence and all.
For me personally, women have been the ones I’ve relied on and shaped myself through interacting with. They’ve been of immense support in a scary world in which I’ve found it most difficult to trust men. Coming from that perspective, it has been very important to me to have these strong connections. My friendships with women have been a site of foundational change and goodness.
If I may finish with a quote, I’m finding a connection with what Audre Lorde said in “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House”:
For women, the need and desire to nurture each other is not pathological but redemptive, and it is within that knowledge that our real power is rediscovered. It is this real connection which is so feared by a patriarchal world. Only within a patriarchal structure is maternity the only social power open to women.