Aminatou Sou and Ann Friedman, in their book Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close, introduce us to the ‘Shine Theory’. They define it as a long-term investment in helping a friend be their best, without envy or insecurity, and with genuine happiness and excitement and expecting the same in return. Shine Theory allows us to bring our whole selves to the friendship, consciously. It is about refusing to give in to confrontation and competition, and instead, applying that power towards raising each other up. Just like the proverbial boys’ club, Shine Theory is intentional, personal, and the backbone of many female friendships.
Many of us make our first friends on the playground or via the once ubiquitous ‘building/society friends’ of the pre-internet times. From there, for the next ten years of our lives, we spend seven to nine hours a day with the same people, going through the same things as us. Bonds are created as a result of that, with no real effort to keep it going. For some of us though, that can be extremely traumatic, especially for those of us who are different. As someone who went to an all-girls school, I didn’t have a very good time. I was nerdy, nervous, and closeted; a perfect target for the bullies. However, my luck did a complete 180 when I was in the eighth grade. Our small group of six kept to ourselves, shared our dabbas every day, and generally wreaked havoc on our unsuspecting parents on the weekends. Suffice to say that I am only here today because of those five girls. At the age of 15, I realised what friendship with other women could do for me.
Through each stage of my life since then, I have formed deeply foundational and lasting friendships with women from all walks of life. I have never felt lonelier than I did at the beginning of the pandemic. I was suddenly states, countries, and continents away from my otherwise ever-present girl gang. Since then, we have stayed in touch only virtually, and haven’t yet managed to all meet in one place again. Nevertheless, our connection has only grown stronger with each passing day. Pre-pandemic 2020 found my group of undergrad classmates taking a post-exam celebration trip to Goa, most of us women. The last Sunday that we were there, we converged on a local restaurant to tipsily toast our success. There, we danced to a live band playing old English classics with a group of middle-aged women who were there on a girls’ trip with two decades of friendship between them. We gushed with each other, us telling them that they are who we want to be in our 50s, and them telling us that we reminded them of themselves in their 20s. Such is the spontaneous and enduring nature of female friendships; close and fleeting.
Mainstream media depicts female friendships as secondary to romantic relationships. Female friendships are stereotyped to sell the drama between women. But I think the difference is, that we are all simultaneously the heroes and sidekicks in our stories, and perfectly happy to play both roles.
It is a shame that society places romantic relationships and marriage at the centre of our lives, instead of friendship. By placing friendship as the number one priority of our lives, we disrupt this societal expectation of needing a man or a partner to keep us happy. In the book mentioned at the start of this article, ‘Big Friendship’ refers to the one major friendship that keeps you tethered to this world. Often incomprehensible to the people outside this friendship, it is the deliberate act of committed friendship.
Female friendships are the backbone of our support systems and it is no wonder that many women share a bond as strong as sisterhood with their closest friends. As noted feminist Gloria Steinem says, “Women understand.” Across the board, women live much of the same lives systemically. From misogyny to gender inequality to violence to harassment but also from feminism to equal pay to legal rights to rebellion –– female friendships are powerful. They are powerful enough to change lives and enact movements. They are also quiet enough to guide and support. Female friendships are amongst the most enduring, intentional, and mutual relationships of our lives. They are safe spaces for us to be authentically ourselves, without fear of judgement and retaliation. As social theorist bell hooks puts it, “We want these bonds to be honoured cherished commitments, to bind us as deeply as marriage vows.”
Feature image credits: Manasi Patankar for Homegrown
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