There’s a slow but exciting change occurring in popular media, these days: lots of creators are finally beginning to show female friendships in their works. That’s not to say that there have never been friendships between ladies in the public eye before the last few years—Wicked comes to mind, among other things—but the message seems to finally have gotten out to the world at large. We want more than one lady in things, and we want those ladies to understand each other, not for them to antagonize each other.
My most recent example, of course, is the friendship between Angie and Peggy in Marvel’s Agent Carter; despite Angie not being in on Peggy’s secret spy life, she’s still a supportive and encouraging presence, and Peggy uses her espionage training to sneakily defend Angie from awful, sexist customers. In actuality, though, all of the superhero shows I watch are pretty awesome about this. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has Bobbi Morse taking Jemma under her wing (no bird pun intended) and being there for her post-Hydra undercover op, and Arrow’s Felicity has made easy friendships with Caitlin and Iris from The Flash during their crossover episodes—in spite of their being sometimes framed as love interests for the same guy. Superhero movies are less on top of this, but Jane and Darcy’s friendship in the Thor franchise is definitely a stand-out example—Darcy, despite not really understanding Jane’s work, is always ready to defend Jane to her naysayers. And in comics, we have the relationship between Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel and Jessica Drew/Spider-woman, among others; Carol and Jess are BFFs even when Carol’s lost part of her memories.
Looking at non-superpowered media, we’ve still got plenty of examples. Gravity Falls’s Mabel has three whole female friends: there’s Wendy, of course, but also Candy and Grenda, who are closer to her age and share more of her interests. I think that’s especially important, because otherwise Mabel’s only female peer in her age group would be the snobby Pacifica Northwest, who’s mostly framed as her antagonist. (The Season 2 episode “Golf War” did hint that that might eventually change, though—yay, more female friends!)
Lumberjanes is one big girls-being-friends extravaganza, and indeed, was pretty much created with the goal of celebrating that very thing. Homestuck is teeming with them; Jane and Roxy and Jade and Callie immediately come to mind as characters who support each other through thick and thin. And of course Sailor Moon Crystal is just plain drowning in girls empowering other girls—hell, befriending Usagi is how everyone ends up Sailor Guardians to begin with.
It should, at first glance, seem silly to get excited over something as simple portrayals of two or more women being friends. But, like a Bechdel test pass, female friendships are still shockingly hard to find. First of all, showing such a friendship requires that there be more than one woman in a series at the same time, and that they interact. For series like Supernatural or movies like The Hobbit/The Lord of the Rings franchises, those criteria are not met.
There are even some shows like Adventure Time that do feature a decent number of female characters, but don’t have any friendships among them. While the antagonism between Adventure Time’s ladies makes sense for their characters, it would be nice to have at least one pair of women who wasn’t warring over political power or past misunderstandings. We’re constantly fed the message that we should be at odds with other women, competing with them for everything but especially for the affection and attention of men. Showing female friendships in media is therefore subversive, because it challenges the norm that women ought to hate each other. Women who support and empower each other help to break down the system, and act as examples to women who still need the message that it’s not a competition.
There’s something also to be said about female friendships and queer representation: a healthy queer lady romance must needs develop out of a friendship, as that is what provides the common ground for a relationship outside of attraction. While the portrayal of such a friendship can sometimes come off as queerbaiting, there can, in rare cases, be a reward at the end in actual queer romance.
Look at Korrasami and think: we could have that in so much media if we had more female friendships to begin with. I don’t say that to mean that female relationships are only okay if they end in queer romance; rather, there’s a need for representation on both the platonic and romantic fronts, and the two (like awesome female friends) should support and empower each other rather than being a one-or-the-other scenario.
Thankfully, we’ve got a ton of burgeoning friendships between women happening in media right now, and hopefully there will be more on the way. There is, of course, always room for more ladies in things, creators! Having everyone be friends is not necessarily realistic writing, but the more ladies writers include in their works, the more room there is for both enmities and friendships (and romances) to arise. In the end, we may actually get media that portrays women as the complex and diverse beings we actually are.