I never thought I would be one to question my personal level of devotion to my friends, particularly those of the girl variety. I am a champion of all the best female empowerment mantras, known to shout “uteruses before duderuses” or “Venus before penis” at the emotional peak of any and all femininity-fueled moments, including but not limited to: bachelorette parties, spurning misogynists at bars and any time Beyonce’s “Love On Top” comes on. I am a great friend to my main women. I will scream-cry if you ask me to be your bridesmaid, I will reply with a sincere YAASS if you tell me that you’re two wines in and about to do something crazy. I know when to tell my friends to live their truth and buy that top they’ve been eyeing, because both tops and truths are important to women and that is something I definitely know!
But despite the veritable pounds of Dove chocolates and swapped clothing, the thousands of sex-positive and supportive text messages with which I have showered my lovely ladies over the years, I have recently found myself worried that I might not be doing enough.
It’s no secret that the world loves female friendship. Even a Taylor Swift hater like myself has been tagged in at least one photo captioned with #squadgoals. Must I admit that my heart swelled with pride to know that I had been named as a member of someone’s ideal collection of female friends? I suppose I must, because it’s true. If Taylor Swift and her never-ending parade of celebrity friendships weren’t the thing that got me worried I wasn’t doing enough, perhaps it was the meteoric rise of Broad City, a show that champions the relationship between Abbi and Ilana as the kind of devotion that makes holding down a crappy job and attempting to date as a twentysomething in New York seem almost fun to endure.
And, well, if it wasn’t Broad City, maybe it was the fact that it’s been about two years since I’ve been able to ride the subway without seeing someone engrossed in one of Elena Ferrante’s Neopolitan novels, in which the relationship between childhood friends Lila and Lenu becomes the governing intimacy of their lives. It turns out that even men are obsessed with reading beautifully written stories about the intricacies and passions of female friendship. How could I live up to this? I don’t even live in Italy!
We’re told that our funny, smart and beautiful female friends are now, more than ever, the most important thing we women have going for us. Recently, in a New York Times article that served as a precursor to her latest book, All The Single Ladies (which is currently being optioned by Paramount Television) Rebecca Traister wrote of the the exclusive merits of female friendship that are often unrivaled by marriage:
“For many women, friends are our primary partners through life; they are the ones who move us into new homes, out of bad relationships, through births and illnesses. Even for women who do marry, this is true at the beginning of our adult lives, and at the end — after divorce or the death of a spouse.”
And while it’s comforting to know that long after any future husband has betrayed me or died before me, I will be buried in the ground by the gnarled and knuckled hands of some of my favorite women, I end up fearing that I am not doing enough to lay the groundwork for this scenario in which my girlfriends are literally the only thing I’ve got. Is it possible to show these women how much I cherish the kind of support that only a fellow ovulating and patriarchy-hating gal pal can offer? What would that expression of love even look like?
My mind flickers back to this past Galentine’s Day (a holiday which is itself a public declaration of the importance of female friendship, championed by our generation’s most devoted female friend of all time, Leslie Knope). I brunched with and wrote intimate cards of affirmation for three of my closest female friends. And then, as sickeningly sappy a showering of love as that was, I actually started to get worried about my other clusters of girlfriends: Would they know I loved them just as much? Did I? Shouldn’t I? How could I love, and appreciate, not just privately but in public, all these girls?!
Luckily, I am semi-sane enough to acknowledge that my compulsion to continuously put each friend on her own pedestal is as “too much” as it is sweet. My desire to write cards and send texts and buy gifts for my friends, though sincere, is partially borne out of this relatively recent strain of cultural pressure to showcase our friends as “proof” of our own devotion to the feminist cause. It’s a way to say both, “I am above the pettiness of female competition,” and also “I have lots of friends and am doing great, thanks, but no thanks, patriarchy.” In 2012, Molly Fischer closed an n+1 essay about the rise of women’s websites with a prophetic kicker: “The notion that women might share some fundamental experience and interests, a notion on which women’s websites would seem to depend—“sisterhood,” let’s call it—has curdled into BFF-ship.”
The fight is long, and women need each other to win it. But when friendship becomes performance, it’s hard to say if anyone wins at all. As is true of most good things in life, the celebration of female friendship is both wonderful and dangerous. It’s hard to see the line between what’s genuine and what’s externally suggested, what’s real and what’s performed for others, particularly as so much is currently suggested and performed. But the most complicated, deep, powerful moments of female friendship I’ve ever experienced have tended to be quiet. They aren’t cinematic or Instagrammable; they are totally devoted, totally spontaneous acts of love. I think about late-night phone calls, or spending all night talking about the future when your friend tells you she got the job. No bachelorette party or Galentine’s Day card compares to the moment I yanked down my pants in my kitchen and showed my friend my labia to prove to her that she’s not a freak. I don’t know if I’m doing enough, but you know what? I’d do it again, even for you, girl.
Catherine LeClair is a writer and comedian who lives in Brooklyn and comes from Maine. Find her on Twitter at @PrudentThoughts.
Image via Comedy Central.