"Men invented nepotism and practically live by it. It's okay for women to do it too."
In her collection of essays, Bad Feminist, writer Roxane Gay collates a short list of items to keep in mind when navigating the topic of female friendships. Titled, ‘How To Be Friends With Another Woman’, the chapter is brief but packed with spot on observations about the cultural mythology of women’s friendships versus the rewarding reality. And because I’ve already printed this chapter out and pasted it on my wall, I’ve decided to highlight the best five points here.
1. On cultural myths:
“Abandon the cultural myth that all female friendships must be bitchy, toxic or competitive. This myth is like heels and purses - pretty, but designed to SLOW women down.”
How often have you heard the phrase, ‘women are their own worst enemies?’ It’s a handy rejoinder for people who want to ignore the reality of systemic inequality and discrimination and somehow pretend that the consequence of centuries of sexism is actually due to the inability of women to get along. But the only reason this myth persists is because it’s in the best interests of the status quo to keep reinforcing it. If women see each other as enemies rather than allies, we will be less likely to work in solidarity.
Of course, some women are bitchy, toxic and competitive. And that’s okay too. You don’t have to like every single woman you meet. Just remember not to get carried away with hating them.
2. On criticism:
“Don’t tear other women down, because even if they’re not your friends, they are women and this is just as important. This is not to say you cannot criticise other women, but understand the difference between criticising constructively and tearing down cruelly.”
I’ll be the first to put my hand up and say that I’ve applied some shocking cruelty to other women in the past - mostly when I was younger, but it’s still not an excuse. I’ve done and said things that I deeply regret, even when I still continue to dislike the person in question. No one’s perfect and everyone gets caught up in emotions from time to time. But as Molly Lambert writes of hating on other women in her essay ‘Can’t Be Tamed: A Manifesto”, “She is not the enemy. She is never your enemy.”
Let’s face it, women already have to put up with enough name calling, undermining, professional harassment, slut shaming, victim blaming and general bull**** from the World At Large. We don’t need it from each other. And FYI, that tactic is designed to encourage women to be Enforcers. Don’t fall for it. You will never be considered a true member of the Boys Club, no matter how much you support and echo its ideology. Join your local Girl Gang instead.
3. On declaring allegiance:
“If you are the kind of woman who says, “I’m mostly friends with guys,” and act like you’re proud of that, like that makes you closer to being a man or something and less of a woman as if being a woman is a bad thing, fix it. It’s okay if most of your friends are guys, but if you champion this as a commentary on the nature of female friendships, well, soul-search a little.”
This used to be one of my favourite things to say when I was in my late teens. I took enormous pride in the fact most of my friends were guys. And yes, it did make me feel good for being ‘less of a woman’. Women were annoying, bitchy, competitive, toxic (see point 1). Guys were just simpler, maaaan. Now, my female friends probably outnumber the guys about 6 to 1. Maybe even more. I love being friends with women. I love the solidarity, the connection, the support. God, I love how hilarious most of them are. Women are BOSS. If you’re not friends with women as a rule, just try it out for a bit and see how you feel.
4. On collaboration:
"If you and your friends are in the same field and you can collaborate or help each other, do this without shame. It's not your fault your friends are awesome. Men invented nepotism and practically live by it. It's okay for women to do it too."
Unless one of my guy friends truly is an expert in his field or deserving of a bit of recognition, I have a policy of only ever suggesting women for jobs that involve writing, speaking on panels or appearing on TV or radio. I’m not going to apologise for this - the last people who need help getting a foothold in the media are cis-het white men, and I’d like to think that my guy friends understand this. The silver lining for patriarchy is that these women will always be paid less for their contributions so….eh. It’s an imperfect situation. The point is, help other women out. Even if you don’t know them very well. Even if you’re not exactly sure whether you like them very much. Help. Other. Women. And don’t apologise for it.
5. On flirting:
"Don't flirt, have sex, or engage in emotional affairs with your friends' significant others. This shouldn't need to be said, but it needs to be said. That significant other is an asshole, and you don't want to be involved with an asshole who's used goods. If you want to be with an asshole, get a fresh asshole of your very own. They are abundant."
Some women have internalised the notion that their worth not only comes from the positive sexual appraisal of others but that it comes at the expense of other women. Don’t be that woman. You know, the one who flirts with her friend’s main squeeze because it makes you feel good to think that, if you really wanted it, you could have him or her. You are being an enemy to other women. See points 1 and 2.
Now, send this list to all your girlfriends immediately. But take heed of Gay’s good advice: ‘These conversations are more fun when preceded by an emphatic GIRL.’
Roxane Gay’s ‘Bad Feminist’ is out now through Harper Collins. Buy it here. No seriously, go and buy it this very second and I promise you that you will not regret a single moment spent poring over Gay’s immense and insightful prose.