Women can be friends.
It’s true! Women can even be amazing friends who support each other. I’ve worked on all-female crews, and the environment is a lovely, supportive safe place where teamwork is paramount, and nobody has to worry about getting sexually harassed or made to feel insignificant. Conflicts still happen and enemies still exist, but when women work together, they can get a lot done and have a good time.
Ocean’s 8 did a great job of embracing this. In fact, the teamwork was almost TOO good. There wasn’t enough drama for my taste, and maybe that’s because it was realistic. In real life, an all-female team of thieves would just get shit done and solve problems and not try to dick measure.
We’re taught that women are catty bitches who see each other as competition, but that doesn’t match what I see in my world.
On film, female friendships are often adversarial. For every 9 to 5, you get 10 Working Girls, where women compete for the same job or the same man or both. At some point action directors realized that when you put a woman in a black leather bodysuit and make her fight another woman in a white leather body suit, that turns other men on. As I’ve written before, in any large group, there can be only one woman, which automatically makes other women competition. We’re constantly barraged in pop culture with this idea that women cannot be friends.
But the times, they are a’changin’.
Any time a woman talks about how great women are without men, she must throw in a caveat: I don’t hate men. I like men! I date men! I have male friends! Men are great! I appreciate all that they do! When I talk about “men” I am not talking about all men! I am certainly not talking about you, guy who is terrified that he may secretly be an asshole! You know who you are. And I’m just kidding. You’re definitely the guy I’m talking to.
Did that satisfy everybody except that guy? Ok. Let’s continue.
Let’s talk about some ladies who are friends, starting with Leslie Knope and Ann Perkins from Parks and Rec. They meet in the pilot, and they are best friends immediately. Even when they argue, which doesn’t happen a whole lot, there’s never a sense that their friendship is on the line. The drama on Parks and Rec doesn’t have to come from two women fighting over a boy. In fact, in the beginning of the show, Ann dates a guy Leslie is in love with. The drama lasts for half an episode before Leslie agrees that Ann should date him because she wants to see Ann happy. There is no hair-pulling or sabotaging. It’s just one woman supporting her friend. That’s what female friendship looks like, and it happens all the time in the real world.
But let’s look at a more complicated friendship that tells us a little more about the patriarchy, shall we?
Incoming spoilers for season 2 of The Handmaid’s Tale.
I’m not talking about the Handmaids or about Rita. I’m talking about June and Serena. Now you might be saying, “June and Serena HATE each other!” Yep. They sure do, whenever Fred is around. But in season 2, Fred is caught up in a bombing and severely injured. He’s in the hospital for a little while, unable to work, and Serena sees it as an opportunity. She issues decrees in Fred’s name (because we’ve all figured out by now that Serena is the brains here) and asks June to edit them, since she was an editor in her past life.
While they work together, with no commander around to get in the way, the conversation gets personal and friendly. Serena reveals that she hates knitting (which gives us a lovely call back in another episode when she lies to a Canadian woman and raves about how much she loves knitting), but in that moment, when she confesses something personal to June, they are friends. They are just two women enjoying each other’s company and being themselves, and they are only able to do that because the man in charge is out of the picture.
And of course, the minute he comes back, all that stops. He immediately puts a wedge between them that removes any possible route for friendship as long as he is around.
The lesson is clear. The reason we have this idea that women can’t be friends? Because it’s a threat to men. When we work together, we are unstoppable, and many men definitely want us to stop. They are afraid of our power, so it’s in their best interest to keep us from having it.
But fuck that. Don’t stop, my women friends (and I want to be very clear here: I am talking about ALL women, no matter what kind of equipment you’ve got or ever had in your pants). Hire women. Make friends with women. Go out on girls’ nights and start businesses together and be unapologetic about enjoying time spent with other women. They’ll call you lesbians. So fucking what. Lesbians are great, and maybe you are lesbians but you can still have female friends without it being sexual. And that shit is homophobic anyway. People in Pawnee constantly make comments about Ann and Leslie being a lesbian couple and they just laugh. They’ll tell you you’re not the “cool girl” who’s accepted by the boys if you have lots of girlfriends. So what? They don’t get to decide what’s cool. YOU do. People who are unapologetically themselves are what’s cool. Leslie Knope is cool. Be like Leslie Knope and get you an Ann.
Emily Blake is a screenwriter/producer/script supervisor/dog lover. She cohosts Chicks Who Script, a filmmaker podcast that focuses on women and minorities (Chickswhoscript.com), and tweets a lot. She is a Gryffindor.