I have passed out of a women’s college and stayed in female paying guess accommodation. My closest friends are women and I am not in contact with more than 1-2 men in my life apart from my family members. But my family has been asking me since then that because I don’t have male friends, do I hate them? And since I know only women, am I lesbian? although I am not. Let me also make it clear that if I did identify as a lesbian, the prejudice in my family wouldn’t have helped me in any way to come out in front of them about my sexuality and expect that they will accept me. Why is it necessary to sexualise a female friendship? Just because a woman likes to be around other women or shares intimate moment, is she a lesbian or sexually attracted to women? Doesn’t this showcase our lack of understanding about lesbianism as a sexual orientation?
This inclination of the society to label women friends as lesbians point out two major problems, first is that patriarchy cannot stand the idea of women friendships or sisterhood because of the overarching stereotype that aurat hi aurat ki dushman hai, which also reeks of the age-old misogyny. Secondly, homophobia which is being used now to limit the extent to which women or men share a platonic relationship with one’s own sex as it is a rich ground of support, radicalism and therapeutic bonds. Rewind your favourite sit-com F.R.I.E.N.D.S. where all the episodes in which both female and male friends share an intimate moment with friends of their own sex usually had homophobic undertone. And thirdly, it is assumed that women cannot seek pleasure in a space where there are no men.
Certainly, research has shown that there is an evident possibility that women who are heterosexual might be aroused or have a crush on a woman but that did not mean they were lesbians. 2016 National Health Statistics report reveals that 17 per cent of women under the age group 18 to 40 have experienced sexual contact with other women but only 6.8 per cent identified as lesbians. Even, in the movie Parched, Lajjo and Rani shared an intimate moment when Lajjo visits her after being abused by her husband. But we cannot conclude that they were lesbians. Leena Yadav, the director of the movie, herself confirmed in an interview, “It’s a scene that makes a lot of people uncomfortable because they call it a lesbian scene, but in fact, it’s a mother-daughter scene, or a friends scene—it takes on every role between two women,”
What the scene definitely depicted is that friendship among women is an empathetic space where they share their experience of oppression, which are often common, help each other to get over the resultant traumas and know and love their own body and life. Sexualising such bonds is almost equal to restricting them considering the taboo around the homosexuality and sex that still exists in our society. Many women themselves refrain from befriending women and especially those who are lesbians because they have also internalised the sexualisation of female friendship. It is always assumed that women friends can either fight, bitch each other or talk about men. And anything other than this is viewed with suspicion by patriarchy. Moreover, it should not be forgotten, that “women on women” whether fighting or having sexual contact is objectified by male-gaze as arousing. So doesn’t patriarchy once again restricts the effort towards empowerment by objectifying and wrapping in tab boss the female friendship?
Even if women explore their sexuality in the liberated space that friendship provides, it doesn’t give society any reason and right to restrict it.
Dear society, stop sexualising and repressing female friendship because it has the ability to challenge the dominant sexism and homophobia. It is important to normalise female friendships in the society, explore it beyond the stereotypes that have been set for a long time because not all women friends are enemies to each other and not all of them are lesbians.