What struck me the most in the booker longlisted Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid was the omnipresence of female friendships in both the protagonists’ lives, the rich white blogger and black babysitter. Their everydays were cushioned with a supportive and non-judgemental league of female friends with whom they were constantly sharing their lives. Those conversations were also self-doubting meditation on feminism, adulthood, companionship, balancing personal-professional space etc. Cleansing one of all the dust off the mundane lives, these became spaces of rejuvenation, sanctuaries that facilitated daily survival. It inadvertently reminded me of the wonderful women I have the privilege of sharing my life with and the valuable female friendships in my life.
I remember sitting in office on the first day of my work and texting these women, “Girls, do you think naukri was a good idea?” And they overwhelmingly came back with their LOLs and questions and concerns. The fleeting thought straightened itself out in another minute, but it was endearing to be able to share it with someone. People who are standing by for each other’s call, trying to iron out the creases on each other’s foreheads. We express as we live life, things important and otherwise. We don’t have to think about the kind of woman it would make us. Being a woman, in fact, becomes irrelevant in our women’s groups and within the circles of our female friendships. But what about man? What about them really. Our standing together need not be assumed as that against men. We already share half the world with them.
The pandemic further cemented our female friendships. In creating spaces for work in our domestic settings, we got a chance to reflect on this domesticity itself. Housework, the substance of feminist pamphlets and the life we had left behind, stared right in our face. Our social milieu, distant and distanced, also evoked a feeling of helplessness in us. People walking back to their homes miles away in the scorched heat, rising domestic violence, increased labour of women, failing health systems, a house to be cleaned, food to be prepared, work to be done- everything enmeshed in the long-distance conversations in our female friendships. This companionship, along with help from our housemates and workmates and family, formed a steady scaffolding.
These group texts (Girls, I can’t sleep; Girls, what do you think about that movie; Do you have any story ideas) are our declarations while we don’t owe each other pieces of news (we ultimately tell each other everything though). We are in incessant conversations in our female friendships. With no his and byes, we always pick from the middle. It is just the nonchalance of these conversations that make them indispensably important. Is this gendered? Oh yes, it is. Female friendships are tethered to our womanhood. Our context is gendered enough to make us gendered. The usual insecurities of being a woman. Are your parents pressuring you to marry a random guy? Are you disrespected in your workspace? Do you think we’ll be single forever? Should we exercise together? I don’t think there should be any death penalty, even for rape? Did you see those people? And often times, we slip in our judgement of our own feminism, reminding us of Fleabag’s doubt: I’m not even a good feminist. These female friendships manifesting as WhatsApp groups allow us to defy any normative brackets, including that of ideal feminists. So, we share recipes, cute baby pictures, articles, movies, ideas, music, anxieties, rants and so much motivation.
This is such a pleasant departure from the portrayal of female friendships in the mainstream. We were always told that women can’t be good friends as we were growing up. Who can forget the archetypical representation of female friends as homewreckers (remember Mamta’s three friends in Hum Saath Saath Hain), or just herding around the lead actress with no personality of their own? But here are we amiably and independently lifting each other up every single day.
Love is showered so unshyly in female friendships that it has lost its exclusivity. In our togetherness, we are defeating the perfectly buyable capitalist idea of couplehood. We are seeking more than validation or resonance; in female friendships we are sharing a group-based companionship. That dethrones the sacredness of romantic love and challenges the hegemony of conjugality. It rubbishes the hierarchy of intimacy that we are expected to adhere to. It creates space for affinity and love that can exist outside the heteronormative institutions of the binding contract. Female friendships pave a way for remaining together in society without breaching the individualism of their members. And most importantly, female friendships break the homogenised template of togetherness at the centre of which is a married couple and so, this way of together empowering women to be by themselves.
It is not an alternative to the status quo; it rather shakes the status quo itself.
Featured Image Source: Indian Express