The natural world is host to a number of ugly, unspeakable social behaviors – praying mantises eating each other’s heads, mother hamsters eating their own babies, those mountain rams who brutally fuck each other up with their horns – and all of them gets slapped with a hearty dose of “sit your amateur ass down” by the complicated social mess that is the twenty-something female tribe.
Juvenile girlbeasts co-exist more than peacefully. In fact, the pre-pubescent friendships between girls in the 90s will go down in the annals of modern social anthropology as some of the purest, most complete devotion ever shared between any humans. You don’t know real friend love until you’ve seen Titanic 9 times at the dollar theater on consecutive Saturdays, had sleepovers where you choreographed dances to the entire debut Spice Girls album, kept a joint journal for you and your mains to share your most soulful secrets, and written L.Y.L.A.S. on each other’s arms during recess (if you have to ask, you’ll never know.)
In an effort to protect the rest of the species from the volatility of women during their transition from little lady-babies into their mature, grown state, humans have established specific structures for housing girls during this unstable time from ages 11-14 years. They call these places “middle school”, and only highly trained professionals are permitted to interact with the pubescent she-beasts up close. And even the pros get bitten from time to time. Undoubtedly, segregating kids this age from the rest of the general population is one of the smartest moves humans have made since inventing bagels. There’s good reason for all the chaos; going from children to teenagers changes absolutely everything for girls. Boobs start poppin’, vaginas start bleeding, crushes start crushing, and as these things happen at different times for girls in a group, thus begins the first of many instances where we start comparing ourselves to one another, quantifying our progress, experiencing feelings of competitiveness, inadequacy or superiority. Our unwavering us-against-the-world commitment to each other starts to become weakened and fractured by shockingly powerful forces – hormones and the bigger cultural / media monsters, all prying at our impressionable minds to turn us against each other, which begins by making us doubt, and then hate, ourselves.
By now, Millenial women have just enough age and perspective to start examining the things that pitted them against each other in opposition to their childhood allegiances. The overwhelming, far-reaching influence of sexism and discrimination has done more than blatantly oppress women – it’s been operating on basic psychological levels to make us destroy ourselves, starting with severing our connections to each other. But we’re getting wise to that whole shady game. If there’s one powerful skill that Millenial women possess more than any generation before us, it’s a very pro-active willingness to examine our behaviors and biases, trace what fuels and informs them, and have a bold openness to shutting out bullshit and changing for the better. I mean, it’s pretty fucking hard to do in reality, but at least that’s the idea.
When it comes to how we relate to each other, we’re starting to not only understand why, as adults, it’s so much harder for women to have super solid friendships, but also how essential it is to our future survival to retie those lost connections. We have to actively re-learn how to love each other. In any wild habitat, groups of animals will respond to outside aggressors in one of two ways: they either circle up and work together for their collective survival, or they scatter and let the slow ones get picked off. Twenty-something womanimals are sometimes the predators, and sometimes the prey, and in either case, we’re starting to realize that defending, hunting, and feasting together is a hell of a lot more effective than falling subject to in-fighting and going it alone. And when we trace our behavior back to a time when we were acting according to our natural instincts to team up and be united in mutual support, we realize that the choice to turn against each other was never our choice at all. Our biggest threat is not, as we’ve come to be told, each other – it’s the people who have convinced us we’re each other’s enemies.
During my freshman year of college, I had the tightest group of friends imaginable. Upon arriving in the collegiate Noah’s Ark that is Boston (seriously, that city has two of every kind of college student possible), I merged with them seamlessly, immediately. Within a few days of hanging our Radiohead posters on our cinderblock dorm walls, we were family; there was no academic, romantic, sexual, social, anxious, or menstrual detail too intimate to be shared. It was like Girls meets Friends with a lot more dining hall food and recreational drug use, all during 2005’s last moment of quiet before social media came to rule our lives. In other words, it was idyllic.
I don’t think I ever failed to consciously appreciate how fortunate I was to have moved 1,000 miles away from everyone I knew and been able to stumble into the fully open arms of a solid handful of women who would keep my secrets, hold my purse while I peed in alleys, not tell the cop that the cocaine was mine, and sit me with for nights on end at the hospital during a post-LSD breakdown. I was lucky to have such a buffer of friendship. If you’re an 18-year-old girl who is successfully processing her newfound, fumbling independence without good friends to provide constant validation for all your poor choices, then cheers to you because I sure as fuck wouldn’t have made it.
There’s no point in trying to rank all the possible factors that have contributed to newly-adult women’s inability to forge meaningful connections with each other; they’re all valid. Here are the big ones:
The “How To Win All The Guys With Your Sparkly Vagina and Non-Threatening but Adequate Intelligence” mentality
This is the obvious one. It’s hard to see 40 billion headlines like “27 Ways To Keep A Guy From Realizing You’re Smarter Than Him So He’ll Marry Your Rapidly-Aging Ass” and “12 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Trust Your Best Friend Alone With Your Boyfriend” without getting the impression that we should be spending the bulk of our energy obsessing over our relationships with men, how our behavior makes us appear to men, and how much all the other women in the world are trying to fuck our boyfriend and our boyfriend only. And so we do. This, clearly, is not the best. And yes, the media is largely responsible perpetuating these mindsets and misplaced preoccupations, but that doesn’t mean we get to shirk all accountability. Sure, let’s blame the hell out of Cosmopolitan, but then let’s also realize that we are fully aware of this shit now, and the internet is a thing that we all know how to use, so it’s more or less on us now. We decide what we choose to read, and what we choose to believe, and how we choose to shape our minds.
TL;DR: Our awful feelings about ourselves, men, and each other is totally the fault of a misogynistic media, but it’s our job to un-brainwash ourselves and move on with life and be awesome.
The sexualization of female intimacy
If there’s one thing that has infused girl friendships with completely unnecessary weirdness more than anything else, it’s the nauseating sexualizing of platonic relationships between women. It’s nearly impossible to watch a movie or TV show that doesn’t depict an intimate female friendship from the perspective of a male who is getting off on what he perceives as a sexual element to their interactions. There is an unspoken suspicion that as soon as the dudes leaves the room, the female characters’ innocent, banal, normal interactions are going to culminate in them making out. This is one of the most prevalent, vaguely porny things happening just beneath of surface of mainstream sitcoms (among other venues.) Pardon my inability to discuss this in more elegant terms: this is really fucking icky. It’s a hidden-then-inescapable-once-you-notice-it form of objectifying women; the “all close gal-pals are half an appletini away from lezzing out” undercurrent to Hollywood’s portrayal of female friendships embodies the notion that a woman can never experience excitement, happiness, or interpersonal intimacy that doesn’t eventually lead to sexual activity.
It’s bullshit, and after a few decades of relentless exposure to a normalized view on this totally jacked up equation, the consequences in how men view women and how we view each other is upsettingly real. It reinforces the idea that females are exclusively sexual, as opposed to being able to exist in a wide range of non-sexual states (does this sounds like a frightening way to view women? Fucking duh. More later on how this kind of dehumanizing of women feeds rape culture and other fun favorites.) This media-driven perspective on the female friendship isn’t just throwing kindling on other sexist constructs – it has gotten into our heads too.
At this point, the faux-lesbian thing has been pushed on girls as such a playful, silly, sexy, fun thing to do to get male attention that post-Millenial teenagers (our little sisters, you guys) are going for it with more disturbing gusto than ever. So, this sucks for a few reasons. First, it falsely convinces young women that going to 2nd base with your bestie and Snapchatting it to your boyfriend (and all his friends DON’T KID YOURSELF) is a legitimate path to sexual liberation. You’re free, little girl! You don’t have to be constrained by the acceptable hetero behaviors as defined by The Man! You are a brave pioneer of the whole sexual spectrum! Congratulations! This would be totally cool if it wasn’t so horrifically misguided. All any of that really teaches girls is how easy it is to leverage their bodies and their friendships to get attention from guys. And ladybros, I know – there is a lot you can do if you can captivate the attention of all the dicks in the room. But that kind of gratification? Only sourcing your own sexuality as a means to attaining power? It gets stale and empty real fuckin’ quick if you have half a brain. And if you don’t have a brain, you’re eventually going to get old and stop appealing to mainstream beauty ideals. So whether it’s because you wised-up at 25 or sagged-out at 50, eventually you’ll be left with the hollow awareness that you got duped, sold yourself out, and now have to begin the process of truly learning how to be sexually empowered after erroneously believing you had been doing that for a decade or so.
To be clear, I’m not saying not to make out with girls. Fuck man, MAKE OUT WITH GIRLS. It’s so great. But only if you want to. Debasing our female friendships for the enjoyment or approval of men really just needs to be very over. That’s the bottom line of all of this: as women, our relationships with each other, and how we conduct ourselves in those relationships, should be completely and solely defined by what we want, and what is healthy, respectful, and genuine between us. Maybe that’s starting a company together, or sharing a mutual obsession for thai food and talking about art, or having lots of sex. Regardless, for all of our sakes, I hope it still includes spending long nights meticulously choreographing dance routines to Spice Girls songs.
The culture of girl-on-girl competition
I have to imagine that somewhere, there’s a bunker where old men in expensive suits (that don’t to anything to compensate for the physical ramifications of the 50+ years of immorality and imbibing) all hang out on Friday nights after long weeks of being Captains of Industry like their fathers and grandfathers before them. They sit around drinking scotch and smoking cigars (even though none of them really likes cigars, and all of their cardiologists would be pissed, and their wives bitch about the smell when they get home) in this bunker, and yes, it’s an actual bunker because their self-important asses were convinced that a bunker was necessary. What they do here is basically get “old rich white man drunk” and see who can come up with the most batshit crazy ways to suppress women (and also poor people and people of color…they really cover their bases when it comes to marginalizing folks, but we’re just talking about women for now because, fuck, we haven’t got all day.) and then see if they can sell the rest of the world on it. And they successfully do sell us on these ideas, almost every single time.
In a stroke of drunk bunker genius several decades ago, these aging woman-haters came up with an admittedly inspired answer to the ever-growing demand for equal professional opportunities for women, a problem that threatened their long-standing supremacy, and as such, clearly needed to be dealt with: convince those pushy broads that they are enemies instead of allies, and let them eat each other alive. The idea is that, okay sure, it might be permissible now for women to attempt to climb the corporate ladder, but there’s not room for everyone, so if you want all the ladypower your heart craves, better start taking out the knees of all the bitches running alongside you. Women bought that lie big time, and to be clear, are buying it still. Is the mystifying fog surrounding our inability to be good friends to each other is starting to thin a bit? Yeah, this sucks. Let’s keep going. Maybe let’s start drinking now.
As the second generation to come of age with a post-feminism concept of our theoretically limitless professional potential, the current crop of power suit-wearing young women (my brain will never stop picturing all of us as Melanie Griffith in Working Girl every time we go to a job interview, always and forever, even though I was literally 2 years old when that movie came out) get the benefit of having an engrained-since-birth sense of possibility. I of course mean “limitless” if you’re willing to settle of making a fuck ton less money than comparably qualified men who do your same job, and bear easily twice the doubt on your abilities. But the other side of that is an equally intrinsic view of other women as threats to your “token successful girl” status in any field of work. Because we still subconsciously feel like we can’t all win. Because we still subconsciously think that our the uniqueness of being a woman in a man’s working world is a crucial part to achievement, that if the “equal opportunity” quota gets filled by someone else, our other merits alone won’t be enough to get us by.
Man, this topic could spiral off forever. This is a meaty, big problem. If the professional sexism facing 20-something ladies right now was an ass, it wouldn’t be a J. Lo ass; It would be that nutcase who injected her booty with, like, cement and shit. It’s huge and painful and you almost can’t believe it exists. So let’s just put the whole “gender inequity in the workplace is still a massive goddamn problem” conversation to happen later; In terms of creating an environment for healthy female friendships to flourish, this culture of hyper-competition is hurting us so hard. And it’s one of those things that won’t lose power the longer it exists. The fact that we, the current generation, are largely the first to grow up watching women being cutthroat with each other means that our tendency to look at each other warily wasn’t learned in opposition to a more benevolent, friendly outlook that our younger selves held – it’s fucking in us. It’s kind of all we’ve known, making it that much more difficult to identify, reject, and start to move past. And it gets sold to us as a positive thing, which is Ludacris (I’m from Atlanta and I don’t know how else to spell that word) when you think about it.
More options for male relationships
There was once a time when twenty-somethings saw themselves divided more clearly along gender lines than people of any other age. This was back in the days when your post-graduate years were largely aimed at securing a mate before you got old, dried up, and basically dead, which back then, happened around age 28 for women and 32 for men. Needless to say, people were not fucking around. Given the complexity and marriage-or-death seriousness of the inter-sex mating rituals, it felt quite natural for women and men to interact only when the game was actively in play, while otherwise sticking to their gender-specific team to take breaks, retreat, tend to injuries incurred on the field, celebrate successes, bemoan losses, and generally seek camaraderie. For women, men were simultaneously the opposition and the prize if you won. It was pretty stressful and everyone’s periods synched up. This gender dynamic wasn’t completely unique to being in one’s twenties – there was a lingering semblance of this division well into later adulthood, although after partnering up and getting babied out, people tended to get a bit more laid back about their friendships with people of the opposite sex. And as little kids, none of this division really existed. Sure, we played “girls chase boys” and vice versa as some way to physically exorcise some harmless, pre-sexual tension we didn’t quite understand, but mostly, we just hung out with whoever’s parents packed them the best snacks. Snack foods should really still be the basis of any friendship.
But time moved us forward, and gender relations became a much more nuanced situation; women evolved as a whole into having goals other than racing gravity to lock down a dude, and men (at least in theory) started viewing their boob-bearing counterparts as more than trophies, domestic aids, and mamas to their progeny. By the time Millenials hit the post-adolescent dating arena, it was a perfectly viable option for men and women to be friends, and we’re all pretty excited about it. But why, exactly? As a woman, why is it so appealing to be best buds with a dude? Is it because we’ve been so trained to be as sexually appealing as possible, or that we’ve spent so much more time perfectly our interactions with men instead of other women that, even if we aren’t actively trying to sleep with a guy, it’s still easier to nurture a relationship with a man? I mean, it makes sense; you still get to use a lot of the “how to make boys like you” tricks that we all spent a cringe-worthy number of hours practicing, but since you don’t actually want a romantic thing with this boy pal, there’s a refreshing lack of pressure. Clearly, I’m not saying all boy-girl friendships are like this. I have plenty that aren’t. But I also have a lot that are. I’m also not saying that just because you have guy friends, even if they are your best friends, that it makes you a shitty woman or a bad person. We have more than one friend because it’s impossible to get everything we need from just one person, and it’s unreasonable to ever expect to. In fact, that kind of expectation will eventually kill any relationship, romantic or platonic, male or female. The point is, be friends with boys. Just don’t be so wrapped up in the quirky cuteness of being “that girl” who only hangs out with guys that you fail to realize how utterly invaluable girlfriends really are.
Oh, and when you (not throwing stones here; I’m talking to myself too right now) attempt to make yourself look “super cool and down to earth and not like other girls” to guys by saying shit like “all my friends are guys. I just don’t really get or like other girls. They’re so *insert awful stereotype here*”, all you are really doing is telling guys that it’s okay to generalize and hate women. Please don’t forget that you are a woman too…because those guys you’re trying to impress sure as hell won’t.