Throughout the years, everyone around me seemed to envy the girls who could “fit in with the boys.” In movies and in real life, I heard on multiple occasions, “I don’t know, I just get along with guys better. They’re so much less drama.” A younger me looked at those girls in amazement. I thought they had some special ability that I lacked, and for a good part of middle school and early high school, I idolized those girls.
This was heightened by my all-girls school environment that treated boys as an ethereal, mysterious object to be attained. When a boy our age would walk onto campus for any reason, the whispers and stares were common. I was asked on a regular basis, “How could you ever go to school with just girls? Isn’t there so much drama?” and it made me question the school I was going to and ask myself whether there was a void in my life because I wasn’t constantly surrounded by boys. My select guy friends were badges of honor.
When I first came to USC, I found that I had more close male friends than I did female. I was happy that I had been able to make the transition from all-girls to co-ed smoothly, but my overwhelming emotion was confusion as to why I gravitated away from girl friends despite realizing my immense appreciation for them.
I found that the hyper-idealization of girls who were “cool with the guys” and “not like other girls” made me appreciate the women in my life less for a significant part of my adolescence. I felt that I was missing out on something that wasn’t as necessary as I made it out to be. As I grew older, became a better feminist and read several articles about how media has created a culture that doesn’t recognize strong female friendships, I understood that my insecurity was completely unfounded. I was unbelievably blessed to have grown up in a community that celebrated strong women and focused on building lifelong bonds between girls.
Representation of healthy, realistic and supportive female friendships in the media has become more common, but is still greatly lacking. Movies being produced today still fail the Bechdel test at alarming levels. Years of friendship will unravel because of a boy in several shows. Women will constantly prioritize relationships over their most supportive friends. Competition between women is far more common than teamwork. I have often been disappointed with how few of the positive aspects of my female friendships are shown in the media.
What they don’t show are the countless nights my friends and I spent talking about social justice issues and the things in the world that we want to change. The number of times my best friends have pushed me to advocate for myself and reach for the opportunities that seemed too far to even fathom. How my girl friends have spent hours helping me understand some of the things I want from life and the direction I see myself going. How I can constantly tell my friends that they look beautiful — and mean it every single time — but also tell them that their beauty doesn’t define who they are. For every Blair Waldorf and Serena Van Der Woodsen, there are a million Leslie Knope and Ann Perkins. For every petty, toxic female friendship there are a million unconditionally loving, stimulating female friendships.
Along with celebrating strong female friendships, there has to be a push toward supporting women in general. Internalized misogyny is rampant, and it manifests itself especially viciously in the political and entertainment worlds. While feminism is becoming more mainstream and girls are exposed to it at an early age, attitudes of slut-shaming, double standards and unrealistic expectations detract from the fight for equality. Building and encouraging healthy individual relationships is the best way to grow this network.
In a society that pits women against each other constantly, female friendships need more recognition. I am in no way trying to undermine girl-guy relationships, and as gender becomes more fluid and people begin to feel more comfortable expressing their identity as they choose, social norms for relationships will hopefully change. But until we reach that point, I encourage all adolescent girls, especially those who want to be the “cool girl” like I did, to celebrate your strong female friendships. The intimacy, reliability and reciprocity that I’ve experienced is not something to be underappreciated.
Toss out the images of catfights, immaturity and competition that are constantly thrown at you. Enjoy each other’s company, understand what motivates each other and be there for each other when you need it. Simple nights of laughter, food and conversations will be the ones that are etched in your memory forever. The friendships that are worth it will last a lifetime and give you more happiness than you could have ever imagined.
Nayanika Kapoor is a sophomore majoring in journalism and political economy. Her column, “In-Transit,” runs every other Friday.