For women, navigating or maintaining female friendships can be difficult, especially in adulthood. This challenge of sustaining platonic relationships between women can be attributed to an underlying competitive nature within them. Notably, it’s not healthy competition either. Women may compete with each other for the attention of men. We’ll compete with each other for feelings of superiority; additionally, we also aren’t as understanding towards our female friends or as supportive of their endeavors.
There’s a famous quote, featured in Beyoncé’s song “Flawless,” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie that states, “Women are taught to see each other as competitors, not for jobs or accomplishments, but for the attention of men.” Oppressive, patriarchal standards influence all aspects of our lives and psyche, and w|w relationships aren’t excluded from being negatively impacted. To combat the urge to see your female friends as competitors rather than companions, we must examine why we value the opinion or approval of men more than the allyship from fellow women.
I’ve known women who say things like, “I don’t get along with other women. They’re too much drama. I get along better with men.” I get it. However, I also feel women who rally behind the sentiment that male friendships are inherently more valuable than female friendships may be doing themselves a disservice. Women can offer other women a level of empathy that men simply cannot. For example, women know exactly what it’s like to experience sexism in the workplace or classroom; women know what it’s like to not feel safe walking alone to our car at night; women know the frustrations of our humanity and body being a constant political debate.
In adulthood, I think it’s time we collectively let the Mean Girls narrative of female friendships go. Sure, female friendships can be messy. But whoever said men can’t be just as messy as friends lied. Women can provide great and necessary friendship to each other. It’s even been shown that female friendships help women combat potentially life threatening diseases like breast cancer. However, w|w friendships may get clouded by unrealistic expectations.
In an article for Refinery 29, Poorna Bell examined female friendships between cis, straight women. She found that the reason w|w friendships fail is perhaps because women place burdening expectations on relationships with each other. Bell suspects “the increasingly pervasive narrative that women’s relationships with one another can be all-sustaining love stories” is partly to blame.
To remove the competitive nature within female friendships, we need to view friendships as they are: mutual companionship built on an interpersonal bond. Which sounds simple enough but it can sometimes be difficult to preserve those boundaries. To view friendships as anything more, might be allowing room for competition. Anything further, we’ll then begin to view friends as replacements for romantic soulmates or as extensions of ourselves. Bell further concludes in her analysis, “Perhaps the hardest thing to acknowledge with any friendship is that sometimes relationships end, and friendships are no exception.”
It’s true, sometimes friendships end; however the end of a friendship doesn’t have to be messy or vindictive. In an article written for The Atlantic titled, “Why Women’s Friendships Are So Complicated,” former staff writer Alia Wong ultimately concludes the reason is because, “Women are simply competitive in a way that’s less obvious [compared to men]—they’re competitive about connection.” Our need to put down or not fully support women we claim as friends (or former friends) may stem from a place to view other women either from a patriarchal lens, as a replacement for a male companion, or as we view ourselves. Correspondingly, all these projections breed unnecessary comparisons, which in turn fuels unwarranted competition.
That male approval, that I mentioned earlier, that drives women to see each other as competitors, sometimes manifests itself as internalized misogyny. As women, we too often perpetuate oppressive, patriarchal standards onto other women. In addition, we place an over value on male approval, which in some cases reflects our standards of approval. This need to feel superior over your female friends may come from a personal insecurity you’re projecting onto someone you view as an extension of yourself.
Maybe you don’t view yourself highly. So, your way of having those confident feelings you desire, come at the expense of your friend’s feelings. Therefore causing you to not support her or hold her to impossible standards of perfection. Whatever the case, it’s important to remember that our female friends are just that: friends. The real way to combat uninvited patriarchy within female friendships is to find security within ourselves as well as comfort (not competition) in the supportive, empathetic shoulder us women can effectively provide each other.
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