A lot of women, especially ambitious college students and women in the working world, have wide social networks and therefore have a lot of friends. While that is absolutely not a bad thing, it also may be worth asking, how many of those friendships are close ones? With our rapid-pace lifestyles, the pressure of social media comparison, and schedules bursting with commitments, it’s easy to miss forming or maintaining these kinds of sisterhoods. But healthy, supportive friendships with other women can be some of the most fruitful relationships in our lives, and they shouldn’t be overlooked.
In my own life, female friends have been some of my most important relationships. I’m lucky enough to have childhood friends who are now lifelong, adult friends – most of whom are girls. Growing up I felt like I had not only friends but sisters. They were fun to hang out with, of course, but they were also my confidants, support system during tough times, and biggest cheerleaders during the good ones. Growing up a girl comes with certain experiences that are easier to make it through when you have friends by your side who understand exactly what you’re going through (for example, puberty).
But life can get in the way of these kinds of friendships. There’s a lot of pressure on girls to look and act a certain way. It comes from society at large through media and advertising, but it also comes from our families and social circles. Sometimes this pressure pushes us to compete with other girls. Fighting for boys’ attention, class rank, a spot in the friend group or on the soccer team – it’s normal, I’ve experienced it too, but it damages relationships. And it happens in college and the workplace too. As we get older, it can be easy to start seeing our female friends, classmates, and coworkers as competition instead of sisters and allies. Becoming aware of these thought processes can be eye-opening, because oftentimes we don’t even know we think this way or notice how we treat other women in our social spheres.
Seeing other women as competition, in my experience, tends to happen when we’re not satisfied with ourselves. And the media – especially social media – that inundates us every waking moment definitely pushes women towards low self-esteem. When you’re constantly surrounded by women with perfect jobs, grades, faces, bodies, relationships, bank accounts…you may start to view yourself negatively. Personally, the times I’ve had lowest self-esteem (in high school) have been when my relationships with my girlfriends have suffered the most. It’s hard to lift another girl up when you can’t stop comparing yourself to her, and feeling envious of everything she has that you think you don’t.
But as I grew up I grew out of that mindset (not completely, but nobody’s perfect!). When you stop comparing yourself to the other women in your life, it’s a lot easier to appreciate them. And whether it’s my childhood friends who know me inside-out, my college friends, or even just my female classmates, I really value these relationships.
As a woman in STEM, it’s also especially important for me to connect with other girls instead of compete with them. The farther along I’ve gotten in my degree, and probably the higher up I eventually make it in my career, the less women there are. Considering the other girls in my classes or the other women in my workplace, allies and friends turn us into a team, who can tackle the issues women in STEM fields face every day together. I don’t know about you, but that sounds a lot better to me than treating her like competition.
In the end, I think it’s important to emphasize female friendship because of the number of obstacles it seems are waiting to tear said friendships apart. Friendships with people of all genders are important, of course, and I think having a wide range of different friends is beneficial too. But in my life at least, having close, drama-free, supportive relationships with other women has been one of my greatest blessings. Those relationships haven’t always been perfect, but they don’t have to be. It can be pretty difficult being a woman sometimes, especially one in stressful, high-performing fields where women are outnumbered. Having female support makes a difference. Plus, there are so many really cool women out there who are doing amazing things. I’d personally like to get to know them!