Last night, I found myself in a crowded bar, sweaty and covered in beer from moments when people had sprayed bottles around every time the U.S. men’s national soccer team scored a goal. I was still a little drunk, and was dancing with my friends and with a few other people who joined in. One girl, who I’d assumed was a friend of a friend, turned to me and thanked me for letting her group of friends join in with ours. I didn’t understand why she was even mentioning it, but she went on to say that “girls can get so weird about friend groups, they get so protective over the guys they’re with.” I shrugged and hugged her and kept dancing. We were having fun, and though I’d never see this girl again, there was absolutely no reason to claim ownership over a bunch of friends just because I didn’t want female competition.
Girls can be friendly that way, and strike up camaraderie in the strangest of ways. Funnily enough, it always seems to me that we’re at our most “girls’ girl” when talking about profoundly un-ladylike things – talking loudly in the bathroom about breaking the seal with anyone else in the same predicament, discussing the trials and tribulations of boob sweat and thigh chafe, complaining about our heels, giggling over the beer burps that we don’t even know we have in us, fixing each other’s makeup and reassuring each other that yes, you’re beautiful and no, he doesn’t deserve you and I love you so much even though I just met you and we will be friends forever, won’t we? Even if— and maybe especially when — we never see each other again.
Later that night, I overheard people in the group saying they were going to get pizza, got excited, wheeled around, and was met with the nastiest look from another girl. Maybe it was because I was already talking to a few guys, and trying to join in on another situation was greedy and rude and invasive. Maybe I was being a little clueless and drunk. To be honest, pizza just sounded like a good idea. But her look was absolutely withering, as if to say, how dare you? As if I’d done something worse than simply wonder who had pizza and where. And I remembered that sometimes, the drama between girls can be terrifying and harsh, that we pit ourselves against the people we decide are our enemies.
There’s an evolutionary basis in it, of course. To go to war over someone with whom we might procreate is in our basal instincts, but the thing is, we’re not cavepeople anymore. You’d think we’d have overridden that by now, but of course we haven’t. It’s saddening, sometimes, and sobering, but a tough pill we have to swallow sooner or later.
And it was something that conditioned an aversion to all the “drama” in me early. For a very long time growing up, I prided myself on being a “guys’ girl.” Not that I didn’t have girlfriends — I did, and do, and am close with a fair number of wonderful women, and I treasure their wit and kindness and outlook on life very much — but I didn’t “get” girls. I said I didn’t, anyway. And I had the same complaints as so many other girls: that girls created drama; that girls were too high-maintenance; that girls were catty and bitchy (though now I understand it was ironic that I was being catty about girls I thought were catty); that I just wanted to sit around and watch sports and chill out. And girls were decidedly un-chill, and so I prided myself on “not being like other girls,” and my female friends and I would joke that we were just like dudes but without the equipment.
It suffices to say that we were deeply misguided. Because you see, other girls have rarely ever been the problem. Guys weren’t even the problem. Maybe the problem was me, or society, or the strangely pervasive notion that girls were supposed to be cutthroat and at each other’s backs.
And, of course, it doesn’t help that you can’t look anywhere in the media without coming across the notion that “mean girls” and fights between women are the norm — and that, most likely, these fights are being wrought over guys. There’s countless reality shows devoted to the idea that women can, will, and (most troublingly) want to go to blows over a man, whether or not the man is interested in either of them to begin with. Girls challenge each other, try to be the ones to reach the glass ceilings first, while looking beautiful and thin and made up and in the best clothes and… and it’s exhausting, really, to look like you have it all, and to fight each other all the time when it comes to who has it all the most.
The fact of the matter is, being your best self isn’t a matter of being only as good as you are better than someone else. You’re not a better woman by being above any other women, nor are you a better woman if you’re that much less feminine. It’s not better to be “one of the guys,” because that is to say that it’s better to be a guy, and, well, that’s a falsity. It may be easier to be a man sometimes, but it is no better, no worse. It is just different.
It is debatable that she ever said this, but Marilyn Monroe was once quoted as saying, “I don’t mind living in a man’s world, as long as I can be a woman in it.” But though it feels sometimes like we have a long way to go (what with the pay gap, the fact that women in leadership positions are still the minority, and constant harassment for the simple reason of being a woman and having a woman’s body, among a very many other things) it’s slowly becoming less and less of a “man’s world.” You can hope it is, anyway, and it’s invigorating to see where this brave new world of ours ends up — a world of equals, for men, for women, for everyone who falls somewhere on the spectrum of one or the other or both or neither or somewhere in between.
You can dress up and take pride in looking feminine, and that doesn’t deter you from being able to be serious and get a job done. (Nor does it often deter men, who, for all their talk about preferring the “natural” look, still seem more than willing to talk about how they want “women who look like women,” whatever that means. I’ve been a woman for a few years now and I am still not sure.) And you can wear jeans and talk like a sailor and not need to disparage any woman who doesn’t join in.
Because you can party and dance around in a bar and make friends with people you’ll never see again and get pizza afterward and not encroach on anyone else’s space. You can also go home at the end of the night with or without another person and your life will not be made more or less for either. You can get along with guys, and like the things guys like, but you can like the things girls like, too. This is called being a well-rounded person. And, well, that’s something that’s appealing to just about everyone.