The power of women’s friendships: Do people really still devalue it?

This weekend, it seemed all of my lady friends on Facebook were linking to this piece by Emily Rapp. It’s a lovingly-rendered tribute to the older mentors who’ve shaped her and the current friends who’ve saved her–and a beautiful articulation of the power of female friendship.

Recently I overheard a man say at a yoga class, “Yeah, well, you get two women together and it’s like bitch central.” I could have told him he only needed one, in fact, and that would be me, but it also made me realize how much people diminish and poo-poo the real power and strength of female friendship, especially between women, which is either supposed to descend into some kind of male lesbian love scene porn fantasy or be dismissed as meaningless or be re-written as a story of competition. Here’s the truth: friendships between women are often the deepest and most profound love stories, but they are often discussed as if they are ancillary, “bonus” relationships to the truly important ones. Women’s friendships outlast jobs, parents, husbands, boyfriends, lovers, and sometimes children.

It’s a great piece and you should read all of it. But I’m also curious: Do people really dismiss women’s friendships these days? Is that seriously still a thing? I wrote a couple years ago, in a partial defense of Sex and The City, that we still live in a “culture that prioritizes romantic love and familial ties over friendship” and that women are still taught to “to hate each other, to compete for male attention, to bring each other down.”

I still think that’s largely true, of course. But I guess I’m more optimistic than ever that people my age–women and men–are succeeding in imagining and living out alternatives. If there’s one thing I took away from Niobe Way’s excellent book on boys’ friendships, it’s that it’s easy to overlook the ways that people resist their culture’s expectations. I really believe that my generation will defeat couple-talism, learn to value guys’ friendships, prove that men and women can be friends, and build such strong lady friendships that they will literally change the world.

Granted, pop culture–which always tends to be a little behind the times–seems to be a mixed bag these days when it comes to female friendship. We’ve got Liz Lemon, who is a cool, smart lady who has somehow managed to go far in life without making friends with a single other woman. But up next on NBC, Leslie Knope gives us some of the best portrayals of lady friendship I’ve seen on TV in awhile. Bridesmaids offered a refreshing take–but ultimately couldn’t break out of the marriage-centric mode to be particularly radical.

But whether or not sit-coms and rom-coms are delivering accurate portrayals on screen, women are building and working hard to maintain these important relationships–even in the face of cultural structures that make it difficult. Because clearly it’s worth it.

Maya and Martha
Me and my best friend Martha

St. Paul, MN

Maya Dusenbery is executive director in charge of editorial at Feministing. She is the author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick (HarperOne, March 2018). She has been a fellow at Mother Jones magazine and a columnist at Pacific Standard magazine. Her work has appeared in publications like,, Bitch Magazine, as well as the anthology The Feminist Utopia Project. Before become a full-time journalist, she worked at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. A Minnesota native, she received her B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. After living in Brooklyn, Oakland, and Atlanta, she is currently based in the Twin Cities.

Maya Dusenbery is an executive director of Feministing and author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm on sexism in medicine.

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