my friends and me. guess which one is going to kill me for posting this?
People always ask me if being a teen feminist in high school made it difficult for me socially. I always respond that it didn’t really matter. Sure, I got the annoying comments from guys and girls in my school alike, who largely had no idea what the hell I was always going on about. But of all things (and there are a lot, I’m weird for a variety of reasons) what really made things difficult for me socially in high school was the fact that I chose to be a part of a really close group of all-female friends.
In high school, I had (still have) a group of best friends and everybody else thought we were the weirdest and most unapproachable group of people ever. There were rumors that we were actually just a lesbian cult, a theory which, aside from its ignorance, people felt uncompelled to alter even though almost all of us had boyfriends at one point or another. Maybe we weren’t the most welcoming group ever (if I could do it again, I’d make more of an effort) but the truth is we all had the exact same weird sense of humor, had fun doing weird things together (roller derby anyone?), and it’s not improbable that if people tried to approach us we may have been having a debate about Harry Potter, which I GUESS could drive somebody away (if they’re really lame). It was always confusing to me how what was a really special, close friendship was so misunderstood by our peers. Knowing that I had people who would always have my back and who would be in my life forever was the single greatest thing to emerge from my high school experience – yet it was the same thing that rendered me invisible in high school, an all but faceless member of a disdained and written off group of girls.
While I was in the midst of high school, this certainly bothered me to some extent. But now that I’m out of that hell hole educational institution, the thing that really strikes me is how uncomfortable people were with a group of girls being so close. You’d think that’d be the stereotype – girls going to the bathroom together and braiding each other’s hair and painting each other’s nails blahblahblah. But it seems that there’s a limit; at some point, there has to be a level on which female friends are competing with each other, or guys have to intervene in some way and be the priority, or other people just don’t get it. It’s also hard to ignore the role of some level of deep-set homophobia on the part of others. I’m not calling everybody who called us “lesbians” homophobic, but it seems pretty clear (as evidenced at least by my experience) that people are still seriously uncomfortable with seeing girls close in any way, and immediately interpret it as sexual. In school during break times, we sat on each other’s laps, yes. We hugged each other. It meant nothing more than that we were very close and comfortable with each other and yet people immediately jumped to another conclusion, which is just sad. It’s depressing enough to think that the way masculinity standards exist in our culture today, my experience with friendship couldn’t have occurred amongst a group of boys.
In reality, I think having a close group of female friends was one of the greatest things that ever happened to me. Now that I’ve graduated, it has become very clear that while I’ll probably stay in touch with a handful of other people from my graduating class, I’ll actually hang out with and keep up with my group of friends forever, which (I’ve been told) is a pretty rare thing. I also think having really strong female friendships shaped my own feminism. My friends never obsessed over guys or fashion or our bodies. I chose really strong, unique, hilarious, intelligent girls to be friends with and that’s who I constantly surrounded myself with, and I think it made all the difference.
If I had to give advice to girls just starting high school (in my infinite wisdom of a recent high school grad) it would be this: it’s true what they say – high school is four years short and you really don’t stay in touch with that many people when it ends. Pick people who you know will be important to you ten or twenty years down the road, even if it confuses other people. And even if everybody else calls you lesbians, the truth is those friends will mean so much more in the long run than superficial popularity. And you’ll just laugh about the ignorant insults later.