Radical Female Friendships against Monstrous Patriarchy

Collective article by Anjali Chauhan and Khushbu Sharma

“Female friendships are amongst the most enduring, intentional, and mutual relationships of our lives. They are safe spaces for us to be authentically ourselves, without fear of judgment and retaliation”, writes Ava Gilder. 

Living as a woman and navigating through a man’s world is extremely taxing physically and emotionally, especially when you have the baggage of generational assault and trauma. Being constantly excluded in public spaces of academics, frightened in dimly lit streets, abused in metros, harassed in buses, exploited in labour, and gaslighted in private spaces of family, dominated in marriages – there is so much that women across times and spaces share and experience together. Our collective pain and sorrow, frustration and rage, success against odds and happiness snatched at the face of oppression, often becomes fertile ground for the seeds of female friendship to grow into tender saplings and eventually blossom provided the love, care and solidarity it receives. In the following part, we will discuss how such female friendships serve as toolkits and meditative spaces against the harms inflicted by patriarchy.

Female Friendships as Toolkits against Patriarchal Harms

Where do we go when the scars on our flesh are so deep that they start fading from the surface and begin eating our insides? Where do we go when the scream in our skulls is so loud that it numbs our brains? We go to each other.

How many times have you heard stories of women sticking with each other, where a friend accompanies the other to her divorce trial, supports her to leave an abusive relationship, supports her to pursue the career she loves, to take up that job she is ready to give up for the sake of family or women randomly intervening in an abusive scene in the public, calling the police, becoming the witness, complaining on her behalf or simply compassionately consoling her when she doesn’t feel enough, when she feels uncomfortable in her skin but still you choose to hold on to the horrendous dictum of Aurat he Aurat ki Dushman –that’s your generationally internalized misogyny speaking. And you are equally at fault for still being blinded by it and preparing the grounds to pass it onto the next generation.

Often what we can’t do for ourselves, we can do for our sisters. That’s the power of our friendship, of our comradeship. And thus we call our friendship a toolkit against the harms that patriarchy inflicts on us on a daily basis; it’s part of our survival mechanism. In the present environment of discontent and discomfort where brahminical patriarchy has joined hands with capitalism, women are facing multiple assaults of caste, religion, and market fundamentalism simultaneously. In the face of this, women, together, are coming stronger, as evidenced by numerous mass movements and protests melting the hate and misogyny down. We know our strengths. We are our strength. We are together, holding hands walking down the garden waving red flags in protest.


Female Friendships as Meditative Spaces for Healing 

The trauma which we as women experience is collective and shared, hence the deeply felt empathy and unconditional solidarity towards each other. There is something very soothing and calm about sisterhood which makes them affectionate meditative space for healing. The most unusual characteristic about female friendships is that, unlike others bonds and relations, they don’t require an incubation period to develop. We as women connect instinctively at moments when making connections are the most difficult task otherwise- raising an eyebrow at each other after sensing the danger, holding hands while crossing roads, sending congratulatory messages after a scary presentation, offering sanitary napkins at the oddest moments; there is so much that women do for each other even without asking. The sense of doing it for the other and yet for ourselves, without any conditions and expectations has a deeply healing effect. Living in societies which inflict a lot of physical, mental and emotional trauma on women, holding hands and empathetically listening to each other in the face of forced capitalistic competitive individualization has a deep meditating effect. The most magical quality of such bonds is that they allow women to transcend their immediate pain and plight and imagine a utopian world which is safer, and brighter, where colourful futures can be collectively imagined. Sisterhood allows us to build not only radical solidarities among women of different locations but also provides hope for radical transformation for the world at large. The very idea of us envisioning such a transformation together and locating hopes in each other is so calming and intimate. This inexplicable intimacy between women, even among those who are strangers to each other is the thrust that keeps all of us going despite hundreds of everyday struggles. It acts as not only a source of strength but also of hope and promises that this unwelcoming, patriarchal and misogynistic world can be transformed.

The very fact that two women who have hardly met except a few times glancing at each other during a couple of conferences, have sit together to pen down their thoughts on female friendship and sisterhood explains the inherent force that it carries. It empowers all of us together and gives us a collective strength to be able to say and articulate our own experiences of being pushed at the margins not only as individuals but as a shared identity.

The tales of female friendships are not only accounts of shared pain and sorrow but are also the stories of resistance, of fights and struggles finished and unfinished, of battles half won and of longings for a better and beautiful world. 

(Anjali Chauhan is a Doctoral Fellow at the Department of Political Science, University of Delhi. Khushbu Sharma is a Doctoral Fellow at the Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi.)


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