Sometimes I wonder if there are any spaces conducive to positive friendships between women. I will not presume to speak for all women, but I have always recognized that genuine friendships between us can be tough to navigate. We are socialized to see each other as competition—for the man, the clothes, the jobs. And the media loves to portray female friendships as catty, competitive, and dramatic. I learned this at a young age; I watched Mean Girls when I was ten years old. Now, as a twenty-something, all the drama, fighting, and gossiping seems to me as intent on keeping women in constant competition with one another. To distract us? From what?
Graduate school often feels high-stakes—maybe like women are there by chance, not because the academy ever intended for them to be there. When I began graduate school as an eager to learn and somewhat extroverted young woman excited to make new friends, I worried that the academy might be a breeding ground for competition and animosity between women. Which women got in? Which woman got the best grade in the class? Who is able to prove herself and who cannot? And maybe graduate school is this breeding ground, and I’m too naïve to see it. But, truthfully, the friendships I’ve made with women in Drown Hall have been some of the best friendships I’ve made in my life.
The friendships I have made in Drown, always supportive and frequently peppered with “I support you no matter what decision you make” texts, have shown me that academia need not be a space of constant, jealous competition that I feared it might be. And this is, in large part, because the women I have met in grad school taught me that women can unlearn and reject these expectations. Here’s a list of a few other things these friends have taught me:
- women can cheer for each other’s successes
- women can console each other when they experience bitter disappointments
- women can care for one another
- women can aid in each other’s academic development
- women can collaborate joyfully and productively
- women can celebrate birthdays and holidays together
- women can speculate about feminist utopias together
- women can send late night “this article I found in a 3am JSTOR deep dive reminded me of you” emails
- women can bake cookies together when academia is just too hard sometimes
- women can share memes in a group text to help each other ignore the more pressing homework lying ignored in their laps
And most importantly, these friendships have taught me the importance of my own support of other women. To check my own reactions to other women’s successes. To unlearn my own impulse for pettiness. To celebrate all the amazing things my fellow graduate students accomplish.
In the space of graduate study, especially within an institution that began admitting women less than fifty years ago, these friendships strike me as pretty cool. In the face of institutions that were not built for us, creating a space for female solidarity eases the difficulties of graduate study. Let my own experience of female friendship in the academy assure anyone who might share my old fears: women in academia do not have to fight or compete. Instead they can build each other up, one supportive text or shared meme at a time.
*Meme-finding credit goes to Sam Sorensen*