Calling All Girl Gangs18 April 2016
This is a love letter from one girl to all the rest.
I love girls. I love women. I always have. When I was little and my parents separated, there was a period of time post-dad and pre-stepdad when it was just my mum and me. We’d have nights in watching Bridget Jones or Love Actually and eating pizza and chocolate; our bathroom was filled with a thousand bottles of lotion and hair ties and loofahs and bubble bath sets. The place oozed femininity and comfort, and I loved every bit of it.
Fast forward a few years to high school, where I started to make my first real friends (social anxiety and a touch of nerd-itis had not been kind to me in my pre-pubescent years). From then until now, I’ve loved girls. Boys I had crushes on but girls I loved. For all the talk about how bitchy teenage girls are, I’d never experienced anything like sitting with a group of girls and being sincerely told by a friend how gorgeous I looked that day, how good my skin was, how funny or how smart I was in class.
It didn’t feel forced and it made complimenting others around me much easier. When I wasn’t wracked with the nerves and self-doubt symptomatic of puberty, I had no trouble telling Annabel how much talent showed in her drawings or letting Katie know how lovely of a singer she was. I had found myself, as a member of a female friend group, a conduit for positivity.
I got to experience nights of lying in bed with a girl friend, tucked up under doonas and talking into the night next to each other – it was a kind of intimacy so separate from the sexual and romantic relationships that teenagers are made to feel are the most important things in the world. What a shame, I thought, that I had never been taught to expect this kind of love and joy, the simple pleasure in another human’s company.
However, despite all the value I’ve found in them, female friendships are so often portrayed as secondary to romantic relationships – in films and books, the supportive girlfriend frequently exists only as a fallback for romantic involvements. It’s such a pervasive trope that a test was designed to reveal how few female characters in popular films a) actually speak, b) speak to each other and c) speak about something other than guys (go ahead and Google the Bechdel test to feel bummed out). How many conversations did the girls in Grease have that weren’t about boys or sleeping with them? The freestanding value and power of female friendships is always either understated or not portrayed at all.
I still love girls now, those who are my friends and those who aren’t. I love girls who are big, who wave their hands and talk loudly and unapologetically take up space in a world where they’re told they shouldn’t – girls who embody a kind of beautiful that we’re never taught about. I love girls who are slim and delicate and look like dolls, all the things I never was and won’t ever be.
I love being on the tram in the morning and watching women do their makeup; sitting, elegantly dressed, dabbing creams onto their cheeks and painting eyeliner onto their lids in precise strokes, sucking in their cheeks to swirl on blush and tilting their heads to the side to inspect their reflections. I love women with no makeup, with freckles and little wrinkles or creases at the corners of their eyes when their faces scrunch into a smile, evidence of the years of smiles preceding it.
Beyoncé said that girls run the world. Maybe we don’t quite run it yet but girl love has a power of its own. Romantic love is painted everywhere as the most important kind of love that a girl can have but a quick survey of the strongest relationships in my life proves that for me at least, this is false. I want a Grease where Sandy tells Danny to get fucked and goes and hangs out with Rizzo instead. I want to see ads for island holiday getaways featuring two gal pals hanging out drinking cocktails and descriptions for rental homes that have a “roomy bathroom with enough space for you to do your makeup while your best bud is still in the bath”. I’m calling for a greater appreciation of girl love and I’ll be spreading the love myself until it gets the recognition it deserves.