With Galentine’s rivalling Valentine’s and stories of platonic love between women continuing to hit screens, it seems like female friendship is finally having its moment. But only by providing multiple perspectives can we get close to understanding it.
It’s been a blockbuster couple of years for female friendship. 2019 saw both the big-screen debut of Booksmart and the film adaptation of literary sensation Animals. In 2018, we had the ‘love letter to teenagers’ that is Ladybird, and the year before that we were gifted with Girls Trip, equal parts raucous and warm-hearted. With both Marvel and DC getting in on the action – Birds of Prey documenting how a kick-ass girl gang helps Harley Quinn gain her independence, and Captain Marvel an intergalactic bond between two women – the appetite for stories about women’s friendships is undeniably growing.
But it’s not just on screen we’ve seen the relationships between women begin to move out of sassy subplot territory to become the main event. In the past couple of years, the rise of Galentine’s Day has led to an influx of available greetings cards to mark the occasion, a hashtag overflowing with sponsored giveaways and a hundred events you can attend on the thirteenth of February. It really seems like female friendship has redefined itself as a topic worthy of attention.
As the co-host of one such Galentine’s event and co-founder of this very platform sharing women’s stories, I can only see this rise in opportunities to celebrate our friendships as a good thing. However, the increasingly commercial nature of last year’s Galentine’s Day had many – including BBC Woman’s Hour – debating whether this wasn’t just an opportunity to sell stuff.
I can see their point. The problem with setting aside one day to celebrate female friendship is that it reduces it to a single thing – not all that dissimilar to the Spice Girls’ Girl Power. This high-fiving version of gal pals looks great on a greeting card or tote bag, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. In fact, it tells only one story and presents it as truth, leaving the women who have experienced something difficult or complex feeling more alone and more disconnected, not less. Perhaps the same be said of these well-timed films.
“In so many ways, platonic love is more complex than romantic love – and it’s only right that we’re finally waking up to its stories, setting aside space in our calendar to celebrate it.”
If you really want to know the truth, female friendship isn’t always easy to come by. It isn’t always supportive. Sometimes it’s competitive, painful, messy, jealous. Often, it’s hard to find in the first place (the girl gangs of our childhood are a lot less common in adulthood than sitcoms might lead us to believe), and it’s even harder to keep.
In fact, a large part of friendship involves navigating these stereotypes and resisting the idea that one size fits all – that if we don’t have a best friend who understands us deeply then we’re doing it wrong, or if our main group aren’t a gaggle of four wildly different personalities, they’re not worthy of our attention.
In so many ways, platonic love is more complex than romantic love – and it’s only right that we’re finally waking up to its stories, setting aside space in our calendar to celebrate it. I am all for Galentine’s. But in producing these narratives we have to be careful: no two friendships are the same, no one book could tell the story. Maybe that’s why Elena Ferrante (arguably the female friendship laureate) wrote four in her Neapolitan series. There is just no way these stories can be contained by a single book, film, event or day.
This is the reason we must keep sharing these stories of women’s friendships and why we need even more of them, representing everything that these relationships can be, in all circumstances. It’s been a good year for female friendship, but here’s hoping 2020 will be even better – starting with a Galentine’s Day that celebrates every kind.
Discovered a story of friendship you want to share? We’d love to hear about it. Tweet us @deardamsels.
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