Written by Ali Grutchfield, Illustration by Halle Garrett
As a film and television major with a knack for reading, I am an avid consumer of all types of media. Throughout my childhood, I often modeled myself after my favorite characters and tried to find sidekicks like theirs. However, this led to a number of toxic relationships, because of the lacking presence of positive female friendships in literature. The idea that all female friends are centered around sex, money, or general toxicity, contributes to young girls having no demonstration of what to expect of friendships.
Growing up, I thought it was normal to have friends who cheated on my boyfriends, excluded me from plans, hid secrets from me and ditched me for cooler people. It’s all I ever saw in books, TV shows and movies, with the exception of a few.
When I found my Rory Gilmore and Roseleen Daise, I was astonished by the genuine care. My college friends still constantly surprise me when I’m treated with kindness and respect. Although I conceptually understood when I used to be treated poorly, I just thought that’s how it was supposed to be for women.
In literature, women are rude to new people, and their lives are centered around exclusivity. This teaches young girls that they should either push others around or be pushed. Whereas there are ample positive male friendships that teach boys to work hard, work together, and defeat common enemies. Think Harry Potter and Ron Weasley, Samwise and Frodo and Woody and Buzz Lightyear. These are characters that everybody knows and relates to. While women are exposed to these male characters, they are always more synonymous with how men should treat us. I could acknowledge that male friendships were more positive, but I never looked up to or tried to emulate them.
I think the general lack of female friendships stems from the lack of female protagonists, beyond romance novels. Women in literature are seldom given any kind of hero’s journey or mission, and thus they never need to work together towards anything. It’s always the men who find the treasure, defeat the monster, or save the planet. Whereas the women are somewhere in the background as flat or static characters.
When women are in the forefront, they are often assisting or romantically involved with the leading man. If feminine characters were given the same depth as their masculine counterparts, then authors would be forced to further develop their relationships. Instead, women are stuck as a girlfriend or sidekick in order for authors to reach a diversity quota without giving them a second thought. Additionally, when there are multiple women in the forefront, they are pitted against one another or ranked arbitrarily.
Think “Little Women”, in which the March girls are both sisters and friends. Jo is clearly meant to be the more masculine sister, whom audiences have either a polarizing love or hate for. The other girls are synonymous with traditional, domesticated women and generally indisputable.
Overall, it’s a fact of life that young girls have fewer positive friendships on which they can base their own. While this may bring some women down, to me it is a reminder to be better than the world that raised me. When I make my own art, I want it to be the thing I always longed for as a child, I will hold the hands of the girls who will grow up alone and lost. But above all, this is a reminder to all creators, that we all need to do better so that every child has a role model.