I was at work the other day and I saw two young girls, probably of elementary school age, run up to each other, hug and jump up and down with joy. It was not too long ago that I was their age, just as blissful and naive.
When I was their age, my friendships looked exactly the same. We would practically center our lives around play dates, sharing stories at recess and sitting next to each other in class. At my current age, it is no longer socially acceptable to center my life around friendships. Growing up, I believe my friendships with other girls and women have evolved and been molded by gender roles and gendered double standards.
As women, friendship is the last experience of childhood that we have.
We often hear people say “girls mature so much faster than boys.” But is this true? Do we as women simply have an innate instinct to grow up fast or does the world put pressure on girls to suddenly be women?
Girls are always expected to be civil and well-behaved. On the other hand, rambunctious and sometimes rude behavior in boys is excused as part of their nature. “Boys will be boys.” They are allowed, even ensured, a full childhood while simultaneously, girls experience the rude awakening of misogyny.
We are expected to be passive about the things going on around us. We are expected to never be problem causers but sometimes problem solvers. We are expected to be the mediators of the world.
“Be nice,” was something that has always echoed around in my head, not because I’m a mean-spirited person and I need the reminder, but because it’s something so ingrained in our heads as women.
There are whole industries that capitalize on the excused behavior of men and the fear that women have because of it — self defense classes, drink covers, those little pink pepper sprays. They are all sold to girls who suddenly became women.
I think this fear forces us into the phenomenon of “maturing so much faster than boys.” But misogyny runs deeper than just fear.
Anything associated with girls is dismissed as childish, immature or unprofessional.
I make sure to never wear a dress or a skirt during a job interview, worrying that any sort of expressed femininity would not be taken seriously.
I think the only thing “innate” about girlhood is the hatred of it.
I used to get angry with my younger self for not soaking in my childhood but rather constantly wishing to be older, to be taken seriously. But now I know that this was not an isolated experience. Femininity is demonized to the point where we purposefully try and escape our childhood.
I think just as much as we might sway away from boy-bands and dolls and even the color pink, we start to sway away from our friendships. I wish I stopped to smell the roses, so to speak, or lived in the moment. Feeling the pressure of the world weighing down on us cracks open the seams of our girlhood as well as our friendships.
Misogyny thrives on the divide between women. We are entertained by “cat fights” on reality TV shows and battles online. Of course conflicts are natural in any relationship, but I believe that conflict is almost encouraged in friendship between women, diminishing the importance of these relationships.
I was told one day in my youth, by someone much older than me, that I would eventually have to marry rich.
Why could I not exist as a feminine being with imagination and feelings and struggles? Why could I not simply just exist as a girl without being diminished? Why was I only held to the standard of a future romantic and political relationship?
I think friendships with other women allow us to experience child-like joy. We can escape from the stress of fear and romantics and the stress of the past and the stress of the future. This type of friendship allows us to create an intimate space where we can enjoy the simple pleasures of girlhood again.
We can speak freely about the mundane things in life, be imaginative, gossip and cry without judgment. We can do all the things that we were doing as children. Essentially, we still have play dates and share stories at recess and sit next to each other in class, just in different, evolved ways.
I would argue that a friendship is just as important as any other bond in our life — a lover, a parental figure, a sibling. They all bring more meaning and love into your life. This is also true for a friend.
Our recreation and feelings that were deemed unimportant because of femininity are brought back to life. Time with my friends are (usually) moments of peace.
Living with my friends for the past two and a half years feels like an extended sleepover. I think the fact that I have had friends to come home to everyday has genuinely made my days better. Friendship is not only an important bond, but a sense of comfort and something that is important to maintain.
It’s normalized and encouraged for people of all genders, but especially women, to move across the country or even the world for a significant other. But when it comes to friends, it’s normalized to simply part ways.
In my house, which I share with a group of friends, we have a collection of Calico Critters stored below the TV. Some of them, from my childhood, are probably close to 20 years old. It’s almost like a little pocket of reconciliation.
As I think about the next generation of girls, I hope that their reunions continue to be joyful. I hope that they never stop savoring their friendship.