Bechdel Badasses

“She’s such a slut. And she’s not even pretty.”

I forgot my headphones on the train today, and this is what I found myself overhearing on the ride home. From what I soon gathered, the teenage speaker behind this snippet had been rejected by her love interest. He had fallen for someone else, and it was that someone to whom this toxic sentiment was intended. The girl’s friends loyally chimed in with a chorus of agreeable murmurs.

I had a strong idea of how the speaker of these words felt. She felt jealous and hurt, but was obviously not yet comfortable taking ownership of those emotions. The result was that of grabbing a pitchfork and impaling her perceived villain upon the crux of it. I had a strong idea of how her friends felt too. Most likely, their understanding of friendship was that of passive conformity. The result was blind support.

It felt sad. It felt familiar. It felt symptomatic of youth, although scarily, not a mindset limited only to those who can claim the naivety of their life stage.

The transition into adulthood entails a steep learning curve in how much responsibility we accept over our own emotions, particularly with the more difficult ones. No human is immune from feeling hurt. No human should be. But it is an affronting indicator of juvenility when someone inflicts their unmet feelings or hurt ego as vicious blame upon others.

We reveal ourselves in the way we treat those who challenge us. Women are generally framed as each other’s competitors, but when we play into this, we are alienated from those who could otherwise be our strongest allies. Rivalry is ultimately a losing game. It serves to validate the many, many (many!) obsolete narratives that work against our best interests. It serves to validate internalised misogyny.

We are judged harshly, and encouraged to judge each other. As a result, when we feel threatened—by insecurity, by doubt, by envy, by embarrassment—the instinct is to avenge the loss of pride, rather than develop a personal sense of understanding and resilience in the vicissitudes of our emotive scope. This vengeance is a misguided endeavour and a displaced emotion.

The word slut does not merely attack the girl you envy. It attacks female sexual autonomy as a concept. To focus on a woman’s aestheticism simply reinforces the connection between female appearance and worth. If you don’t wish that on women in general, you cannot wish it upon a specific woman merely because she intimidates you.

Like most, I’ve been rejected before by men and women who wanted someone else. But I’ve also been a someone else. And been friends with a someone else. If the man or woman who rejects me is so great in the first place, then their someone else is probably pretty wonderful too. It’s not their fault I got rejected. It’s no one’s. That’s the nature of personal choice. And if anyone is blatantly cruel or hurtful within this kind of situation, they probably aren’t as great as I initially thought anyway. Even still, this wouldn’t warrant cruelty in return. Anyone who already has enough reasons to treat the world with unkindness doesn’t need to be provided with any more.

Female companionship tends to be portrayed flatly if represented at all, particularly when subject to the narrow view of the male gaze. Often these depictions only include that which panders to male or heteronormative interests – dull tropes like catfights, “hot” lesbians/bisexuals with no depth of character, and love triangles. Narratives which include more realistic female relationships tend to be written off as a niche interest such as “chick flicks”, “chick lit”, and probably any other form that is likened to a baby animal. As a result, we lack mainstream influences which promote and normalise female solidarity, and which actively reject the notion of these friendships as some kind of a male-centric ploy.

The women in my life are excellent—disgustingly, hilariously, imperfectly, authentically, beyond-belief excellent—but are also hugely diverse in personality, background and life experiences. I crave friendships that are emotionally intimate, open-minded and honest. These are qualities they all have in common, and it is enriching to love people who are equally respectful to each other, but with such a variety of perspectives to share. These differences and complexities are only intimidating if you forget that they are also just everyday people trying to be their best self, and not some cliché that a teen drama show warned you about, or a nightmarish caricature that appears in your mirror if you dare to speak its name. We will only ever misunderstand other people if we neglect to humanise them.

There is a glorious defiance in the refusal to relinquish our friendships to a world that could keep us weaker if we were to stand apart. There is power in acknowledging what has been prescribed for us by society, looking it dead in the eye and saying “no”. The only reason they want to pit us against each other is so we will be too distracted to turn on them instead. Do not chime in with an agreeable murmur. Do not fade into the drone of an insipid chorus.

Bleat out, badass.

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