When I was seven, my best friend Madeline forgot to bring a hat to school and the teacher made her sit in the shade at recess while all of the other kids played tag. There was nothing I loved more back then than running around being chased. So instead of giving up the game to sit with her, I recruited my frenemy for the job (a freckled fiery red head who was much girlier than me). The two of them sat in the shade playing barbies while I ran my self dizzy with the boys… Madeline hated playing with barbies.
As per the fiery red head, can seven year olds even have frenemies? She was a ‘friend’ that lived in my neighbourhood, but I recall us fighting a lot. I think maybe I was jealous of her. For having more dolls than me, for having more princess clothes. At least I assume that’s what my seven year old brain concluded.
In high school, I spent a lot of time worrying that I wasn’t as pretty as my best friend. With tan skin and long silky hair, she was beautiful, well dressed and had that bubbly kind of personality that we assume most (if not all) guys are attracted to. If I had a crush on someone, I’d be afraid to introduce the two of them just in case he liked her better. And if I was having a bad hair day, I’d secretly pray that she was having a worse one. So when I found myself kissing her ex boyfriend at the end of grade twelve, the ultimatum she gave me felt like nothing. I dropped my best friend of four years for a boy that made me feel good, because standing beside her made me feel less attractive. At the time I thought this was a sound decision and maybe even a healthy one, but I realize now that I was only encouraging my insecurities. I justified my need for male validation at the time by claiming that her reaction was over dramatic.
I didn’t realize at the time that I was enforcing such an anti-female culture, under which romantic relationships always take precedence over platonic ones and compliments from a man are more valuable than those from a woman. I allowed myself to believe that a guy who had been in my life for two weeks was more important than a girl who had been in it for four years. For the very reason, that he was a man.
And it continued to happen when I started University.
I even tried to kiss a guy that had a girlfriend.
I used male attention to suppress my own insecurities, at the expense of the insecurities of the girls around me. I didn’t consider how those girls felt because my fear of being alone seemed more important than anything that was happening in their lives.
In February of this year, I dated a guy who came with an entire friend group of amazing people that I’m entirely grateful to have met and have since become very close with. But even with an entire group of supporting friends, I continued to hold my relationship with him at a higher level.
It overpowered most other relationships in my life, including that of the girl I considered my best friend at the time. She had tried to help me, addressing my insecurities and my need for male validation as a problem in our friendship, but I continued to believe that it didn’t matter because something about my friendship with him was just more important.
Only recently has the disparity in how I view female and male friendships become really clear to me. Three weeks prior to today, I was disregarding my female roommate just as much as all the other girls in my life because I felt more validated by hanging out with our male friends. I didn’t even notice how hard she was trying to help me, how strong she was for being able to do that despite the circumstance of my sadness and any that she was feeling herself. (She is also the ex girlfriend of the ex boyfriend whose attention I continued to seek in spite of the friends I already had). I continued to act as if the compliments she gave me held zero weight in comparison to the compliments I got from him. I did the same thing with the roommate before, but made even less effort to be her friend.
While I’m easily a dramatic example of this anti-female culture, it’s a problem that all young women face. There’s a weight placed on the opinion of males that seems to overshadow our own. We brush off the compliments that we receive from our mothers because they’re biased (which of course they are) but we neglect to acknowledge the weight of those compliments. What about the compliments a young woman receives from her girl friends when she’s crying because a guy she likes is ignoring her or a boy at school called her ugly? Why do these compliments not mean anything to us, while one man’s opinion is enough to draw tears.
In light of the male opinion, I recently attempted to explain my insecurities to my (male) therapist and his response was to tell me that I was beautiful over and over again, in an attempt to burn the thought into my brain. He was playing on my need for male validation of course, unknowingly supporting the anti-female culture that I’ve been developing for so many years. The truth is that I need to learn how to find beauty in myself without hearing it from a man. And a part of that is being able to look at other woman and see their beauty without comparative thoughts.
I’ve since come to realize that comparison, jealousy, and insecurity– the exact reasons that I struggle with female friendships- are reflections of myself and that my inability to look past them is also an inability to support women. What I didn’t realize before was this-
When we’re jealous of our female friends, we fail to encourage another woman’s success and when we refuse to acknowledge the validity of another woman’s compliments, we’re placing the value of a male opinion above our own.
This is what it took for me to begin to change my perspective on female relationships. The next step is to apply that perspective and change the relationships themselves. Starting with this:
To my best friend in elementary school, I regret every day that I let us drift a part in high school and I’m sorry that I wasn’t able to show you how much you meant to me.
To my best friend in high school, I’m sorry that I refused to believe your love was enough for me. I’m sorry that I made his touch more important than your tears.
To my best friend in University, I’m sorry that I blew you off for him and that I didn’t fight harder to show you how important you were (are) to me.
To my sister, I’m sorry for not spending enough time with you; for making you feel less important than the guys I dated. You are more important and there is nobody in the world that I would choose over you.
To all the girls that I’ve let down: I hope that with time I can make up for my absence. I’m incredibly sorry that I didn’t value your presence as much as a mans and that in turn I made you feel less valuable as a person.