On the Vilification and Romanticization of Female Bonds
Recently there was a lot of buzz created around a demeaning comment by Kangana Ranaut, she in an interview had called Urmila Mantodkar, a ‘soft porn star’. And once again this instance added more substance to the already glorified tales of female rivalry.
I couldn’t help but reflect upon something so simple and beautiful; something I wish I didn’t have to write about yet knew this had to be addressed. I’m talking about female friendships. Those of you who have been lucky enough to have strong female bonds in their life know what I am talking about. Ain’t nothing like the power of your girl gang, right! Psychological studies have proven that female friendships are more nourishing than male ones; and women agree that the level of support, criticism, love, and contentment female bonds provide can’t ever be matched up with anything else. The sad part however is that most of us learn this the hard way. Since childhood, the trait of competitiveness is ingrained in all of us. When it comes to boys it is in professional contexts, to get a better job, a better salary, consequently a better bride than the other one. But when it comes to the girls, it is usually to be a better prospect, for these suitable grooms. It is conditioned in women very early that the men will marry anyone they want after settling, so when the time comes, the girls have to be ready with proper training of cooking, maintaining a household, fitting to conventional beauty standards to be the best option. Being an option here means being compared with many others. Here is the ultimate rivalry we were taught and inherited, something we didn’t realize but were conditioned to- being better than other girls. Always viewing them as competition. Many would say that things have changed, and women make choices for themselves but you have to confess that the foundations of criticism and competition remain intact.
We are given this conditioning through all sorts of medium, nothing might be better than taking cinema as an example. The popular movie series ‘Mean Girls’ perfectly shows how girls would judge each other, leave no opportunity to put each other down and very intriguingly fight over the same guy. The guy in all such movies is depicted no less than ‘angelic’. However, one girl would always be the villain. Female rivalry is fed quite young to us. And then without realizing a lot of us become a part of this bias & even perpetuate it.
I’ll give you very basic yet illogical everyday arguments. How many times have you heard people (mostly girls) say,
‘I have more guy friends yaar, there’s less drama with them’
‘Gosh yaa, these girls look so fake na, always gossiping’
‘You know girls do a lot of bitching, that’s why I don’t make many girlfriends.’
And the best one that girls proudly take as a compliment, ‘You’re not like other girls’.
In this institution we call patriarchy, the path wavers and decision-makers might always be powerful, upper-caste men, however, the soldiers that keep the citizenry in check will always be the women. You’ll easily find women policing other women and young girls who dare to differ by which I simply mean, who don’t adhere to the laid out gender roles and norms. Women unconsciously absorb beliefs about their rightful place, and those messages show up in how women judge each other. This further leads them to mistreat, underestimate and distance themselves from other women, to increase their power while standing amongst men. It’ll be the women in your colony keeping an eye on you, or judging you when you wear crop tops or shorts. In retaliation such women will be judged by girls & will be called the colony ki ‘aunties’, who have nothing better to do with their time. But don’t you think this further fuels female rivalry in a way? These women, whom we refer to as aunties, were taught that they weren’t good at anything else other than looking after the family, making sure their kids didn’t put a toe out of line but secretly made fun when others did. In fear of this embarrassment, all women would make sure their kids would adhere to patriarchal norms, else these aunties would bitch. And when you see it from afar you realize that this is nothing but a shrewd way of perpetuating gender.
You remember Ms. Sharon Norbury, the calculus teacher in Mean Girls? In the last few scenes when that diary was found with insults of every girl, she said something really powerful-
“ You girls have to stop calling each other sluts and whores! When you do that it becomes okay for the guys to call you that too!”
Maybe that’s how we can stop people from vilifying female bonds and overcome this stereotype that women can’t be friends. I personally feel sad for those who are overshadowed by this bias never get to feel the warmth of female friendships. No matter how small your win, these cheerleaders will never fail to glorify them all. And then, hysterically, people complain that these women supporting women are too dramatic. But you know what is more dramatic, deeper, and insanely stupid? Patriarchy. And this age-old tradition of pitting women against each other & morally policing each other. So if one finds your female bonds to be a little extra, fuck it! You do you, girl! Uplift each other as much as you can, make sure no one amongst your friends labels other girls in a derogatory manner. Stop your grandmothers, aunts, and mother when they speak ill of some other women deciding for herself, be it clothes, friends, having a relationship, or getting a divorce. Either the entire community upgrades their mindsets and progresses, or there is no progress at all! Pave a path for each other, help each other through mentorship, advocacy, and creating opportunities. And the next time that smarty pants compliment you for being different than other women, ask that Ph.D. scholar what are women like? Stop a sexist joke at its onset. You know, most of the time it’s not that people are not willing to listen and understand; it’s just that they were never made to look beyond their privilege and consciously made aware of their own biases.
- Kuhu Srivastava