Human beings are social animals who naturally try to find groups of people with similar tastes or beliefs. It’s not unusual for women to desire friendships with other women, but we live in a patriarchal world where every human interaction is measured against the standards of cisgender heteronormativity. “There’s a level of relatability that you can only get from people that share similar lifestyles and similar experiences with you,” Funke Olotu, a 23-year-old content creator from the UK, said.
Under patriarchy, women are thought of as nurturers while men are often thought of as providers or protectors, but these binaries don’t help us sustain healthy relationships. These ideas of what it means to be male, or female is often a direct contrast to the ways we think and talk about girls as we grow older. “I used to hear that girls were gossips and would backbite and that friendship with boys was just easier and I unconsciously believed in it,” Abolade Oluyede, a 21-year-old music curator from Lagos, said.
We hold on to these beliefs about other women, to keep us from breaking out of patriarchal boundaries. From an early age, girls are encouraged to view other girls as rivals, and this only increases as we age and begin competing for male attention. This leads to an increase in women refusing to be kind to other women, taking the sides of men against other women, or even actively rejecting feminism.
“Women are made to feel like other women are competition,” Olotu said. “We are raised like this. The men you are banking on to protect women actually hurt women the most. When you say you don’t want to be friends with women because women gossip— But men kill, abuse and rape women. A larger percentage of men that hurt women are either family or friends. So, I don’t see the protection they speak about.”
Feminism works against this conditioning, encouraging women to have more women friends. Even before the word “feminism” came to be known in Africa, women here have always tried to form distinct societies to assist themselves with raising children, saving money, and escaping from abusive situations as safely as possible.
Women who cultivate friendships with other women are a threat to patriarchy.
“It wasn’t until recently that I started seeing more pro-female friendship content,” Oluyede said. “I think that the wrong things they say about female friendships might have influenced some people on their perception of female friendships.”
Patriarchal dominance is often achieved by keeping anyone who is not a cisgender man out of societal structures, whether through economical, legal, and or social means. Women are encouraged to accept their place with the promise of stability and safety. "Continue to comply with the existing rules in the society, you’ll be rewarded with a man,” is the argument. So, women learn to protect their place by performing femininity according to patriarchal standards. They view other women as threats, and they throw other women under the bus.
“When I hear people call themselves “a boy’s girl” there’s a slight pity because I wish [they] had amazing female friends,” Olotu said. “If you have amazing w friends, you won’t want to consider being a boy’s girl. Having only male friends is just sad because as a woman, there are things that male friendships will not give, that female friendships will give you.”
However, making long-lasting, healthy friendships with women, especially in your 20s, seems to uplift women throughout their lifetimes. The more women cultivate life-changing friendships with other women, the easier it is to get rid of patriarchal systems that oppress us individually.
“I will definitely encourage more women to have female friends that they just hold in high respect and love as well. A lot of our friends are our soulmates, Olotu said.”