There’s a common factor binding characters in popular fiction celebrating male friendships – a loyalty that offsets the moments of moral conflict and amplifies the generosity of spirit. I always found it odd that women characters are not accorded the same respect in similar spaces.

It’s male victimhood at its prime to feel domesticated by wives after marriage

They vie for the affection of a man, are objectified even in their fiercest form, and if they share space with each other in the larger narrative, they are reduced to either the ‘plump, comic side-kick’ or the ‘gorgeous, scheming best friend’ stereotype.

SheThePeople Rituparna Chatterjee Picture by Christopher-Johnson from Unsplash
Picture by Christopher-Johnson from Unsplash

It always bothered me that there’s no enduring superhero tale of women friends banding together to save humanity; who aren’t controlled by an unseen male voice, the complexities of their lives reduced to the sum total of their collective experience. A band of girls, if you may, whose lives don’t revolve around male approbation.

Stifling female friendships – I always found it odd that women characters are not accorded the same respect as men in similar spaces

There is no dearth of badass women in pop-culture, from Selina Kyle to Diana Prince, Lara Croft to Lisbeth Salander. But portrayal of female friendships, that aren’t based on an unequal power equation, are rare.

In a column in Mint, eminent journalist Manu Joseph bemoans the suspicion with which male friendships are viewed, especially after marriage.

To collate male loneliness with women’s insecurity, given the chasm of disparity separating the lived experiences of men and women, is unfortunate.

“Most things that are dear to men are deemed nefarious or unhealthy or an addiction. Some are obvious, like porn. The attack on adult males loving their male friends is more subtle and presented as a form of moral rebuke for selfish behavior,” writes Joseph.

There are two ways to interpret Joseph’s theorizing of male bonding. Male loneliness could be the result of a hyper-masculine culture that encourages suppression of vulnerability in men from an early age. It could be the result of a society that places family above all and applauds men and women who sacrifice their personal space. But to collate male loneliness with women’s insecurity, given the chasm of disparity separating the lived experiences of men and women, is unfortunate.

Not the loss of male bonding but the stifling of female friendships

An argument, even as light-hearted critique, that reduces married women to a stereotype in 2018 is one of the many that men inevitably use to lampoon them. To acknowledge an argument that men give up or are “made to” give up their male friendships after marriage would also be to accept that women fare worse.

Women’s friendships are rooted in childhood homes and neighbourhood schools, often torn away from them after marriage. In middle-class Indian homes, these friendships are dependent on benevolence of husbands, financial independence, freedom of mobility, and access to technology.

The experiences are simply incomparable.

I have found comfort in women’s friendships. I have returned to my women friends during crisis. Not all of them have come through. But I have always found kindness and a willingness to listen.

At worst, men miss their friendships after marriage. Women, who grow up in a society that encourage their isolation and teach them to fight for the attention of men, and to denigrate each other, miss a safe emotional space.

The deliberate isolation of women from their peers serves men to control them better

Girls at Tomboys, Strong Girl
Girls, Picture Credit: Lifehack

A woman friend recently told me over a casual chat: “Men make better friends. Less drama.” It takes years of conditioning to be suspicious of an ally with similar life experiences.

In my professional life, I have found comfort in women’s friendships. I have returned to my women friends during crisis. Not all of them have come through. But I have always found kindness and a willingness to listen.

How dare a woman expect that a man pay her the courtesy of attention after marriage without reducing her to the stereotype of the possessive wife.

I find an interview of a woman called Naaz in Deepa Narayan’s book ‘Chup’ fascinating. The 49-year-old woman narrates her experience after marriage to the author: “He completely controlled my every breath and heartbeat, you know, I am not exaggerating when I say this – he controlled everything about me. He made me cut off my relations with all of my family and friends. No visitors were allowed. He never gave me money, not even to buy vegetables to put food on the bloody table.”

How dare a woman expect that a man pay her the courtesy of attention after marriage without reducing her to the stereotype of the possessive wife.

Women united are a threat to men. The deliberate isolation of women from their peers serves men to control them better, to keep them from organising and the balance of power centred away from them.

It’s male victimhood at its prime to feel domesticated by wives after marriage. Women seek to nurture the same friendships, within the restrictive framework of marriage, children, social expectations, responsibilities, and male interference. We need to find time for our lost friendships and we are expected to not always succeed. As one Twitter user helpfully points out to Joseph: “It’s called adulting.”

Rituparna Chatterjee is a feminist journalist and writes on gender parity, women’s rights and social inequality. She started her career with The Statesman newspaper in Delhi and has worked in digital and print media for the last 15 years. The views expressed are author’s own.

Feature Image Credit: Unsplash by Levi Guzman

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