My greatest takeaway from my first year at college—aside from the fact that classes before 10 am aren’t a good idea—is that it’s not necessarily the institution itself that makes college so enjoyable—it’s the people within it.
Notably, the people I grew closest to, the ones whom I found I could share everything with and turn to for support and encouragement no matter what, were all women. While it’s certainly possible for women to form strong platonic connections with men, I personally find my female friendships to be the most rewarding.
Genuine female friendships can be an integral and beautiful component of every woman’s life, should these women choose to take advantage of them and recognize them as the rewarding source of energy, emotional fulfillment, and power that they are. Unfortunately, more often than not, these friendships are discouraged by our patriarchal society.
Whether in the workplace, on the silver screen, or on prominent social media platforms, women are often pitted against each other and expected to vie for male attention and validation. “For so long,” feminist writer Audre Lorde wrote in 1984, “we have been encouraged to view each other with suspicion, as eternal competitors, or as the visible face of our own self-rejection” (Sister Outsider, Lorde 49). Although we women have made great strides since then, her words still ring true today.
In order to move towards a more equitable society, one in which women are celebrated and respected to the same degree that men are, we must start by reclaiming the power of sisterhood in our own personal lives. In this way, we can empower each other and begin to make real progress in our collective fight for equity as well as in our day-to-day lives.
So how exactly can the power of sisterhood be used to improve our lives? Let’s take a look.
5 reasons to actively seek out female friendships
1. The fostering of creative, academic, and professional growth.
In schools and workplaces riddled with gender discrimination, it can be hard for women to fully develop their personal skills and reach their true potential. This fact becomes especially apparent when examining women-only schools and colleges, in which female students are proven to score higher on academic exams and to be more confident overall than their counterparts at co-ed institutions. This is particularly true in classes on traditionally “male” subjects, like mathematics, in which research has proven that women perform better in same-sex environments as a result of reduced anxiety and fear of judgment.
Clearly, many women thrive around other women. While not every woman has the privilege or the desire to work and learn in a same-sex environment, every woman can benefit from surrounding herself with other women and building rich friendships and communities in which she can comfortably grow.
“The Sisterhood” is a strong example of this. This group of Black women writers—including Toni Morrison and Alice Walker, among others—was formed in the late 1970s. For two years, the group convened once a month to share their writing, discuss their ideas, and work toward publication. By supporting each other in this way, they were able to produce and publish brilliant works of literature despite being widely discriminated against for their gender, race, and sexuality.
2. The embracing of femininity.
In a patriarchal society, stereotypically feminine qualities—things like sensitivity, empathy, nurturance, and compassion—are often viewed as signs of weakness. Consequently, many women feel compelled to avoid demonstrating these qualities in an effort to prove their strength.
This compulsion can be amplified when one is constantly surrounded by men, specifically those men burdened by toxic masculinity, as feminine qualities tend to be especially frowned upon in these environments. In these situations, some women may feel that they must reject their more feminine tendencies in order to be respected and valued as individuals.
By forming strong female friendships, however, women can more freely exhibit their feminine qualities without fear of judgment, thus learning to embrace and celebrate their femininity. I myself have found this to be true; my closest female friends really ground me, and my admiration for them heightens my admiration for myself and for my own feminine qualities. Seeing how beautiful these qualities are in other people reminds me that it’s perfectly okay to be “like other women,” because other women are pretty cool.
3. The sharing of deep emotional connections.
Psychology Today describes male friendships as being transactional and based on shared activities, whereas female friendships are largely grounded in intimacy and emotional connection. This is perhaps a result of the higher emotional intelligence that women tend to exhibit.
As a result, secret sharing, emotional exploration, physical affection, and face-to-face contact are all important components of many female friendships. Thinking back on the hours my friends and I can spend lying on the floor and talking about even the most minor details of our lives, I can clearly see these components at work.
Experiences like these, often unique to woman-to-woman relationships, are highly fulfilling and should be viewed as instrumental to leading an emotionally satisfactory life. Building and prioritizing strong female friendships can allow women to stay in tune with their emotions and form deep and personal connections with other human beings, thus bringing them more joy and satisfaction overall.
4. The improvement of overall well-being.
While many of us are familiar with the “fight or flight” response exhibited by humans and other organisms under stressful situations, not as many of us have heard of the “tend and befriend” response, which is specific to women. When people are stressed, they release the hormone oxytocin. Women, however, react differently to this release than men do. Instead of experiencing a rise in aggression levels or a desire to flee, women tend to experience an urge to seek social contact, specifically in other women. In this way, engaging in female friendships can be a major stress reliever in ways that engaging in male friendships cannot be.
Studies have also shown that social interactions between women increase serotonin levels, thus improving their overall well-being.
5. The building of a strong support network.
Having a strong support network is extremely important, and while these networks can include both men and women, there is something to be said about having a group of women to rely on and look to for encouragement.
Oftentimes, the best support comes from people who can relate to our experiences. For women, growing up and existing in a male-dominated society brings about a plethora of experiences that simply cannot be understood by men. This is not to say that men and women should not seek to sympathize with each other; rather, it is saying that men can never fully know what it is to be a woman in this society.
Having a solid support network consisting entirely of women can help women feel heard and understood. More than that, it can actually prolong a woman’s life. A 2011 study found that women in the early stages of breast cancer without many female friends were four times more likely to die than other women. This speaks volumes about the importance of female friendship, which has physical as well as emotional effects.
While friendships of all kinds should be welcomed and celebrated, there is no substitute for female friendship. By building strong female friendships and harnessing the power of sisterhood, us women can empower each other and push back against the denial of this power as a tool of oppression.
Annabelle Ink is a student at Pomona College studying English and environmental analysis. She loves to spend her time reading novels, baking for her friends and family, exploring the outdoors, and playing hide-and-seek with her border collie.