On Female Friendship, and its Absence

I am 31-years-old, and I am terrified of women.

The thing is, I’m not specifically terrified of women – I’ve just ended up that way. What I’m actually terrified of is failing. This means that I am, in turn, afraid of competition. I also spent a sizeable amount of my life being bullied (not, as it happens, by women) – so I’m also afraid of anyone that I’m ‘supposed to be at odds with’.

Society, lovely and patriarchal as it is, has taught me that I should compete with other women and that I should view them as adversaries. We could unpick this more if we had time – talk about how what we’re competing for is basically the attention of men, and how we only exist in relation to them, not one another – but for now, let’s just talk about me.

Ahahaha.

So what effect does this have?

All of my close friends, bar one or two, are male. The vast majority of the people I spend my time with in person are male (my online friends are much more even). I’m marrying into a family of many sisters, and the experience of having sisters – I grew up with just brothers – has been incredible.

It’s taught me that my world is very skewed. It’s very male. I don’t have a lot of female voices present in my life, and I don’t have a lot of exposure to female friendship. Of my two closest female friends, I don’t get to see one enough, and the other is in a different country to me. They are present in my life, but they’re not the people I see regularly.

This exacerbates my fear of other women, because I’m not around them enough to move past it. It also doesn’t give me the female connection that, honestly, I’ve started to crave.

But things are changing.

I play in a bunch of tabletop roleplaying games. Several months ago we started playing alongside a new group of friends, and suddenly – for the first time in years – I was not the only woman at the table. It’s been awesome. Just being around women is awesome.

Because the thing is, I find other women fascinating, and interesting, and incredible, and even just existing in the same place as them is transformative. Let alone then becoming closer to them.

A few years ago, I used to love being the only woman at LARP games. I would get all of the female roleplay parts, which were often more interesting because they were specifically written to be plot-movers. Impressively, I’ve never had to play a lot of damsels in distress. 

This has changed (fortunately!) and whilst the games I go to are still really bad in terms of gender representation, there are more women and that means I’m getting to roleplay with them more and, in turn, spend more time with them. I no longer hope I’m the only one when I go to an event; I hope for all of them to be there.

Why does being around women matter, exactly?

Our lives are enhanced by being exposed to varied opinions.

I’m a woman, and I want to share that experience with other women. I want to learn what life is like for them, and enrich my understanding of the world that way. My understanding of myself, even. I want to learn these experiences to be better as a writer, but most importantly to be better as a person.

I want to meet more women and in doing so meet women whose experiences are radically different to my own. Trans women, women of colour, physically disabled women. I want to hear their voices – voices that I don’t know, that are new to me.

Natalie Portman gave an amazing speech recently – you can watch it here – where she gives a call to action. One of those calls to action is to look at your communities and see if they’re homogenised, and if they are, change it. For me, it was a realisation that I need to get some primarily female communities.

Which is terrifying. The idea of meeting new people is terrifying. But if I have to confront one fear to face another? Well, at least it’s two birds with one stone, then.

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