When I was 10, I was a cool girl. How can I know? Because I only had male friends. I was not like the ‘girly girls‘, and having male friendships gave me street cred. Of course, I had to become a girly girl for my Rahul to finally like me (cue Kuch Kuch Hota Hai bgm) but for now, my cropped hair and interest in cricket would do.
Then the most indescribable horror happened in the form of my time at an all-girls school for my ninth year. Armed with pop culture references (pretty little liars, mean girls) about how a girl group works, I braced myself for some little drama. Surprisingly, the girls were warm and welcoming – they didn’t feel the need to be mean to look cool. They showed their disagreement with respect and honesty. The all-girls school was an eye opener – it allowed me to reflect on my male friendships and my distorted understanding of friendship itself.
Pop culture and the catfight narrative
When the locker room controversy erupted, our society was forced to introspect what was seen as ‘common‘ in male friendship circles. Such gendered expectations of friendship portray women as obnoxious to express their interests or complaints while men can comment on anything and be saved by the punchline of Imperial Blue advertising – “Men will be men”.
It was also a time when a lot of women, myself included, were taking stock of everything they had let say about other women in the name of friendship. When the media and socializing patterns tell us that male friendships are easier because they’re easy going, what many women miss is an incredible chance to bond with other women.
This narrative thrives through the patriarchal lens that is reinforced by the media that dissects Taylor Swift’s girl squad and their ‘cat fights‘ and delves into the reason behind Jesy Nelson’s departure from ‘small mixture‘ disproportionate; while the breakup of boy bands like A direction and NSYNC is treated as perfectly normal – a decision matured by individuals who have reached the end of their journey together.
An Indian counterpart is the infamous Coffee with Karan, who constantly asks the guests about their opinion of their female colleagues. Uncomfortable questions about mutual ex-lovers, inducing so-called catfights are repeatedly brought up to make the show’fun‘.
Our society has been conditioned to pit women against women as competitors to each other. The race to be good enough ensures that there is no trust between women and perpetuates the zero-sum conception (one must lose for the other to win) of patriarchal approval. But hey, if women are emotional and respond to such issues with questions about how this game was made, that’s basically their fault, isn’t it?
Like Gahana Kataria writing“Female friendships, if any, are fierce because they were born on the foundation of rebellion because we had been pitted against each other from the day we were born and bonded despite it. No more bloodshed and past trauma. On threads, needles and wax strips. On our very will to survive. This one is for them.“
Characteristics of male friendships
The gendered construction of friendship goals and their manifestation in popular media made me think that the onus is on women to prove that female friendships are just as supportive and fulfilling as male friendships. But due to the relentless analysis of feminists and their friendships, men have found the need to mansplain why male friendships are obviously better.
In such an effort by a lifestyle blog for men, there is a checklist of features that improve male friendships. The first characteristic is that men support each other. What makes it more interesting is the explanation they give for the same thing. The article argues that the lack of engagement in female friendship is often a by-product of women’s family devotion and other societal constraints in a nation like India where they are under extreme social pressure. However, the authors conclude that men actually go a little further when it comes to friendships.
Read also : On-screen female friendships: We need more realistic, layered depictions
Another interesting feature is the bro-code, which the men strictly follow. The bro code has been defined as the ultimate code of honor that men follow in friendships, bar none. An interesting watch for such men would be the documentary titled “The Bro Code: How Contemporary Culture Creates Sexist Men”.
This examined how popular culture, including movies, sports, TV shows, and advertisements, objectifies and sexualizes women, subtly pushing men to internalize their gender stereotypes and legitimize sexual assault. The bro code of silence is costing many people their security. This misinterpreted notion of brotherhood prevents men from calling out other men for their sexist, misogynistic and downright violent behavior.
Then again, why make the effort, when you already have’boring women‘ in your circle of friends, who can’t stand a joke and who are not easy to live with, to denounce this behavior? But the sad thing is that we don’t have enough boring women among us to do that. In fact, there are quite a few women who have internalized this misogynistic notion of friendship.
Sharing his bitter experience of being friendless in personal difficulty, author Carol Mason said the only ones who were really there for her were her husband and mother. However, what’s unclear is why she felt the need to attribute this only to female friendships when it’s obvious the male friends weren’t there as well. It is also important to note that the Daily mail felt the need to call it a ‘go bold say selfless brotherhood is a myth‘. We wonder how Daily mail would respond to the countless songs written about the glories of brotherhood.
The choice presented to women when faced with problematic male behavior is between ignoring red flags or engaging in emotionally draining conversations. A Reddit thread which deals with this particular topic asked the ladies for their response to misogynistic male friends. One user shared how her roommate came back and asked if he was misogynistic because a girl told him. When she replied in the affirmative, the guy turned to the other male roommate and asked her opinion because it was “more valuable to him.” The guy was only ready to change when the other guy also agreed with the friend.
Whatever the reasons, the responsibility for reporting problematic behavior from male friends is overwhelming for women. One of the characteristics mentioned in the previous checklist is the personal space available in male friendships. However, this space tends to translate into emotional distance, which makes it even harder for women to keep male friends.
The patriarchal factory that produces bro code also creates the toxic male mold, which prevents men from having deep emotional connections with their male friends. This often means that girlfriends take on the burden of being the only emotional support for men. But overall, how difficult can it be for women to take on such emotional gold diggers when they already take responsibility for criticizing Ronaldo’s hero worship and Amber Heard’s disproportionate cyber-hate?
This is perhaps what Kishwar Naheed meant in her poem, when she said: “It’s us sinful women who come out waving the banner of truth”.
Read also : Let Us Walk & Talk: What Happens in the “Locker Room” of Female Friendships?
Featured Image Sohurce: live wire