One value I want both my children to incorporate into their lives is feminism. I think I do a pretty good job modeling and being conscious of setting a feminist example in the day to day, especially when it comes to demonstrating the importance of female friendships... an aspect of feminism I truly want my daughters to nurture and appreciate as they grow into women.
Every day, for a little while after school pick-up, my daughter plays with her friends around the big old oak tree in front of her school. The other parents and I have marveled at how well everyone always gets along. Everyone is friends with everyone else — no one is excluded, and my icy, cynical heart thaws just a little bit as I watch pure childhood magic. Right now, my child's friends are evenly mixed between boys and girls and I really do hope it stays that way. But, if my anecdotal experience and observations of kids are anything to go by, her friend group will probably become at least a bit more segregated by gender. And when that happens, and little gendered subcultures start to develop, I want my daughter to know that there can be a strength in the bonds that will form and deepen between her and her female friends... because the alternative messaging about what her girl/girl friendships have to be and mean can be toxic and really yucky.
Here's why I want her to know that women should support other women...
1. There's A Level On Which Only Female Peers Will "Get" Her
That's not to say one can't find connection or understanding from male peers, or from older women or men, but there's something to be said in having peers facing many of the same challenges you do on the basis of sex/gender expression. Life as a girl can be really difficult to navigate, and it's helpful to have people around you who get it and might be able to help you through it (or at least commiserate on the difficulty in a way that will be taken seriously).
2. Who Else Will Be Able To Spot You A Tampon?
OK, menstruation doesn't happen for a while for most girls and might not happen ever for others, but the tampon here is a metaphor. Yes, it can be an actual tampon, but I feel like, generally speaking, girls are really good at getting other girls' backs in a pinch. It can be something physical — like a tampon or chapstick or something — or it could be "Ahh! There's my crush! I'm frozen. What can I do right now?" A good group of girlfriends will know exactly how to maneuver this social situation, or at the very least kind of ride it out with you.
3. There's Little As Beautiful As Female Encouragement
When the world is constantly telling you you're not good enough, there is so much power and healing warmth in hearing all the beautiful, wonderful things people see in you (especially when those are people who are told they're not good enough, too). Because you know that they get it. It's just so pure and effusive. Like:
"Ugh. I suck."
"You listen to me: you. are a. QUEEN! No. You're more than that! You are a goddess! You are smart and funny and you can take on the world and I will be at your side!"
This is, I find, most pronounced between drunk women in a bar bathroom, by the way. Still, this phenomenon, beautifully, is found far and wide (soberly and among all age groups).
4. We're Stronger Together
As girls become women, we find that we bump into institutions that do not necessarily care to welcome us or make room for us to grow and succeed (while male growth and success are built into the system itself). That's when we find that our connections to other women help us. And, certainly, it's not that there aren't male allies out there (or a specific and important need for male allies) but, the truth is, history has shown we can't always depend on men in power to help us share it. A united force of women will do more for us than the largess of the privileged, and forming tight, empowering bonds with girls early on will pave the way for later organizing.
5. The World Will Tell Her A Million Lies About What Her Friendships Have To Be
There's this pervasive, yucky myth that female friendships are toxic. These myths say we're competitive and gossipy and callous and can't be trusted. Unfortunately, some people hear this so long they start to believe it and it's a self-fulfilling prophecy. Or they'll see a girl who also happens to be a total jerk and rather than think "Hey, that girl is a jerk" they'll think "Hey, girls are jerks. Guess what they say about girls being two-faced is true." I want my daughter to know, from experience, as soon as she can, that this is NOT true.
6. I Was Briefly One Of Those Self-Loathing Girls And I Don't Want That For Her
"I just get along so much better with guys. Girls are so catty."
"I'm not like other girls. I'm, like, a total guy."
Yeah. I'm not proud of it, but I once took part in this kind of performative misogyny for male approval and it's more insidiously toxic than even the most mythologically toxic female friendship. I don't want my daughter to follow in my footsteps.
7. It's Just Fun
Come on now. Feminism isn't all serious all the time. Sometimes it's about re-creating choreography from "All the Single Ladies" or joining a roller-derby league.