I’ve been thinking a lot about female friendships, partly due to conversations with an incredible female friend of mine who has very wise thoughts and opinions on the friendships made between women – much wiser and more in depth than mine in this post – but also because of the incredible speeches given by Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders at the Glamour awards.
When I think about media representations of female friendships, to be honest I get a bit sad. Even films and tv shows that I love seem to miss the mark by a long shot. There’s a long list of films dedicated to the concept of female friendship, how it blossoms, how it fails and how it should be, but to be honest I don’t feel like there are that many true representations – certainly not of the friendships I have with women.
Some examples? I googled “top films about female friends” and so many of the results were disappointing. I could have written about so many of the films on the list but quite frankly I ramble on enough as it is, so I picked the top two, both of which I felt were ultimately flawed.
Beaches – I feel like this one isn’t as bad as it could be, the ending of the film (no spoilers, but if you haven’t seen it where have you been?!) shows the deep, incredible love between two women and the sacrifices they make for each other, but it takes a heck of a long time to get there, and of course, there’s a man they both want (because women don’t discuss politics or the economy or books or films, they just argue over who gets the hot man!) The description of the film also makes me bristle… “The tale of an unlikely friendship between rich debutante Hillary (Barbara Hershey) and brash child performer C.C. (Bette Midler), as they navigate the ups and downs of life…” The concept that the friendship is unlikely because one is rich and one is mouthy irritates me. I very much doubt that women simply look for friendships with women that are exactly the same as them, and it seems unfair that when we are told that in male/female relationships that “opposites attract” that this rule wouldn’t be applicable if both parties are female.
Bridesmaids – this one I am definitely not down with. Two women literally fight over who gets to be the best friend, while the woman they fight about lets it all happen. To me, this is not what a female friendship is. Yes, there will always be times when we get a little jealous when our BFF gets a new friend, especially when we have been around so long, but seriously? They assume that we will resort to hating the “other woman” and potentially ruining our besties hen do and wedding?! No. I love my long time girl besties, and of course they now have other close friends, but ultimately what happens is I end up with another amazing woman in my life, because of course if my awesome, cool as hell BFF makes a friend, she’s going to be just as fun to be around! And even if they’re not, I don’t know many women that care so little about their best friend that they would trash their wedding shower or any brides that would let their mate slum it in economy while everyone else sits in first class.
These films all seems to be based around “the girls end up on different paths” which basically means, one of them gets super successful and the other gets super annoyed. I mean seriously?! I get how hard it can be to watch your friends do so well when you don’t feel like you are, but I’ve been there, on both sides!
I’ve watched friends flourish as teachers when I was turned down for my teacher training, and of course you notice it more when you don’t feel like you’re doing as well, but I was the first person to be whooping down the phone when a friend got great ofsted results or got a promotion, or passed their NQT year. Similarly, I’ve got friends who are over the moon for me because I’m engaged, even when there have been some tough times in their own love lives.
For me, female friendship is about the opposite of what the film industry wants us to think. It’s about mutual flourishing, being happy for your girls when things go well, and being there to rage at the universe when it doesn’t. It’s not about back stabbing and jealousy, it’s not focused on simply talking about men (see the Bechdel test) or bitching about other women who are “doing better than us”.
This is why I am so completely obsessed with Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders’ appearance at the glamour awards. Dawn French is incredibly funny, successful, and inspiring. She wasn’t getting the award that night, and she joked about just that, but ultimately what happened was she stood there – admittedly mercilessly mocking one of her best friends – and said “look! Look at this amazing woman! She’s incredible and I love her and you should too! She’s spectacular and funny and smart and she’s even got a massive film coming out! She’s the best, and I want the whole world to know!”
And Saunders’ response to this? As French moves out of the way to let her friend accept her award, Saunders simply grabs her saying, “Don’t stand behind me you f*****g t**t!” She doesn’t need her to move aside, yes this is her moment, but she wants to share it with a woman who she calls her inspiration and states, “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you.”
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about female friendships it’s that there is no one in the world who will support you more, love you more, celebrate you more than a close female friend! They’re the ones making the banners to wave, they’re the ones pointing out all the beautiful things about you when you can only see ugliness, they’re the ones who through all the crap we wade through in life are there holding your hand and keeping you upright when all you want to do is fall apart.
There’s no relationship quite like it. And of course there are things that your boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife gives you that your friends can’t, but though they are different, I struggle with the concept that the romantic relationship is ultimately more important than the female friendship.
I have friends who now live miles away from me because that’s where they need to be for their partner, and although I am ‘squealy phone call-tell me all the details-oh my gosh you’re so grown up’ excited for them, I’m still sad.
Because that friend who at one stage saw you as their “person” has got a new person. You’re not the one she will ring at the end of the day to take the mick out of the ridiculous people she works with because when she goes home she will tell her partner. When she needs to make a big decision about a job she will look to them before you. And you’ll know, deep down, that it’s right, that their partner deserves that, and that you really are genuinely happy for her. But you’ll still grieve for the time when you were a pair, inseparable, the two of you taking on the world.
And here’s the thing… even though one of you might get married, get a job the other side of the country, move back to your home town or whatever, nothing will get in the way. Your best girls will still ring you to tell you exciting news, they’ll want you to help them pick their wedding dress, they’ll want you to fight their corner when their partner is being unreasonable and they will certainly be there to do the same for you!
I have some amazing, incredible, wonderful male friends, and goodness knows I am completely obsessed with my fiancée, but to me those female friendships are so key, so important, so special and unique that I seriously do not know where I would be without them!
So to my wonderful, inspiring, bossy, beautiful, intelligent, hilarious, outstanding ladies… I am eternally grateful because it’s you girls who have shaped me and helped me to grow into the person I am today (which is another way of saying “it’s your fault I turned out like this so I can’t be blamed!”) As Jennifer Saunders said at the end of her speech, “If I’ve made an outstanding contribution to anything I hope it’s to female friendships.” You girls have made an outstanding contribution to female friendships, and I will love you forever.