On Fictional Female Friendship

Before I say anything else, let me draw your attention to the title and clarify that when I say “Fictional Female Friendship” (whoa the alliteration), I’m talking about female friendship that appears in fiction and not implying that female friendship is fictional (which if you read enough YA novels can persuade you is true). Right? Right!

A week or so ago, I was browsing my feed on Instagram and I saw that my friend Brigid had posted the picture below and added the sad fact that while friendships between boys can be described as done below, friendship between female characters in books, particularly YA as that is the genre I am most familiar with, rarely gets the same attention and acceptance. (The book is The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater and is most excellent.)

 

Photo Credit: She_is_Brigid
Photo Credit: She_is_Brigid

We’ve all heard of the Bechdel Test, right? No?

5540832_orig

Where communication between two or more women is limited/constrained/bound by the men in their lives. As in, the subject of every conversation they ever have is about a man and not, say, books. Ahem. This is not a tough test to pass; in fact, it is so ridiculously easy that you could pass even without intending to. And yet, modern media keeps on failing this test thereby perpetuating the idea that the most important things to women are the men in their lives, or the men they want to be in their lives or the men who used to be in their lives. Women are not real persons unless they are somehow attached to men which is an idea I find deeply offensive.

Without naming names, many YA novels fail The Bechdel Test because there are only twice the female protagonist seems to need her female friend: once when she is having romantic troubles and again when she needs to be encouraged to go after the love of her life.

The Bechdel Test aside, there is a far more insidious way in which female friendship is not just undermined but made very improbable in a lot of the YA novels I have read. This is when every other female character becomes the standard by which the protagonist measures herself. That is, for the protagonist to be something, the other female characters have to not be that something. If the protagonist goes au natural, then the other females will all belong to the makeup users club. If the protagonist is clumsy, the other females will be full of grace. The other female’s sexual empowerment will be seen as promiscuity (read: slut shaming) in order to make the protagonist seem pure and as such more deserving of the Brooding YA Hero. Now that I think about it, any time a female is assertive, confident about her looks and sexuality, she is somehow…evil.

mean-girls-21

Hmmm….

There is no room for friendship when the only way two females can relate to each other is as rivals. There is no room for friendship when one character is developed at the expense of tearing down the other. And there is definitely no room for friendship when two female characters have only one true goal to their lives which is: winning the love interest’s attentions. The one who wins him wins everything and the one who doesn’t has nothing. And the one who wasn’t able to win the hero has nothing to offer the protagonist who is too busy redefining her values and person to suit the changes in her position now that she is Ms. Girlfriend.

It is sadly difficult to find examples of friendships where both people are actualized and capable people in their own right and not used as foils for the other. Examples where both girls have their own people and not used to build up or break down the other female characters.A friendship of equals rather than a lopsided friendship where one friend is the more desirable/sexy/slutty/whatever one.

am generalizing though and YA has taken great strides to portray friendship in a better manner than it used to. However, there are still too few examples of genuine friendship between fictional female characters. Some of the more notable ones that I can remember off the top of my head are:

  1. Zuzana and Kaoru from Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy.
    They are a fantastic pair and I wish more friendships like theirs existed.
  2. Jo and Meda from the Soul Eater trilogy by Eliza Crewe
    This series needs to get more attention from readers. True, Meda and Jo have their problems, one of them is a demon and the other a crusader sworn to kill all demons…but the friendship is real and all the more splendid for the realness.
  3. Cat and Bee from The Spiritwalker trilogy by Kate Elliott.
    I’ve said this a hundred million times but Cat and Bee are probably my one platonic OTP. And yes, I am cheating because the trilogy is not YA but hey, my post, my rules.

And there you have it. My thoughts. I hope they give you something to think about.