Good female friends are hard to come by, but can appear often when one least expects them and are one of life’s ultimate blessings. Female friendships are often overlooked in American society’s tendency to pit women against each other as competition for male affection.
This pitting of women against each other is shameful because female friendship is empowering and one of the best parts of being a woman.
Until I came to college, I had few close friends. I chose Scripps College mostly because of its good academics, weather, and small student population — without anticipating the self-confidence I have now gained and good friends I have made during my nearly three years here.
I assumed, perhaps naïvely, that high school drama would carry over to college, and that the same judgments I experienced because of my weight in every part of life prior to Scripps would be the same here.
I was pleasantly surprised by how wrong I was. Some of the friends I have made here are those that I will have for life. We have good, equal relationships where we need each other and spend time together, while at the same time allowing each other to shine.
I was nervous to live in a triple room my first year. I am an only child and, apart from summer camp, had never spent an extended amount of time with people my own age. I feared that I would not become close with them, that our room would have a hostile energy and be full of unaired grievances among the three of us.
After a few weeks of acknowledging each other’s presence but not hanging out regularly, I started to form genuine relationships with both of them.
I was different from my roommates because they were both athletic and science majors. However, our friendships crossed the arbitrary borders that could have divided us. Both of them respected me enough not to make comments about my appearance, and I had never had friends before who, either coming from a place of intentional or unknowing criticism, had not discussed my weight.
I very much identified with Mae Whitman’s character in the movie “The DUFF,” where her three female friends view her as the fat, funny friend who they could use purely as a wingwoman to talk to the most attractive guys in high school. While this movie perpetuates fatphobia and other distorted notions of what is considered beautiful (because Mae Whitman is not remotely fat), I felt many times that I was in this position in my friend group, a foil to their actions and only a vessel of humor.
There are not many positive representations of female friendship in media, particularly with fat people in them. Many movies and television shows may still fail the Bechdel test, which is passed when there are multiple female characters in a movie that talk to each other about a subject that is not related to men, and the Sexy Lamp Test, a phrase about movies, coined by Kelly Sue deConnick: “if you can remove a female character from your plot and replace her with a sexy lamp and your story still works, you’re a hack.” Women are often extraneous additions to male stories — just wives, girlfriends, or romantic interests — not fully formed people with personalities.
Although there are more women in the United States in business, medical school, and movies than there have been in the past, there are not enough to accurately represent the population and make up for the numerous years in which there were incredibly few women represented. If two women or two people of color are up for the same high profile job, they could perceive themselves as being hired only to fulfill a quota.
In Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s famous TED Talk “Why We Should All Be Feminists, she says, “We are all social beings. We internalize ideas from our socialization. … We teach females that in relationships, compromise is what a woman is more likely to do. We raise girls to see each other as competitors — not for jobs or accomplishments, which in my opinion can be a good thing — but for the attention of men.”
Women have very different sets of rules and conditions imposed upon them compared to men, and those conditions from a very early age dictate how women perceive themselves and compare themselves to other women.
The dominant narrative of the female experience is one of comparison and always thinking about oneself in relation to someone else. Many people have told me not to care about what other people think, especially in relation to my weight, but it is hard when there are not many positive examples in the media that demonstrate healthy female relationships.
As women, we are socialized to view other women as competition, rather than friends first. To create another lens, we as a collective culture have to change how women view each other’s accomplishments to be a point of pride and not simply a means of comparison which inspires self-criticism.
Jo Nordhoff-Beard SC ’19 is an English major from Seattle. She enjoys Sam Hunt, flavored seltzer water, and reading memoirs written by women.