I was never one of the “girl’s girls”.
I should have been, I wish I’d been, but I was too busy, as a teenager, trying to be everything else. Namely, everything I thought I should be.
Let me set the scene for you. The year was 2007. Avril Lavigne was everyone’s favourite loner. The Pussy Cat Dolls were encouraging men to leave their ugly girlfriends to be with them and Taylor Swift was still sitting on hay bails and wearing yellow. She was yet to form her girl squad and the world was not yet head over heals obsessed with preaching the importance of the female friendship.
Now that’s not to say that it was thanks to Nicole Scherzinger hanging up the PVC, choosing instead to do every advert on television and Taylor Swift’s good PR that girls were finally able to appreciate each other’s values. Women’s friendships have always been integral; critical to everything, the means by which so many extraordinary women have had the strength to do the earth defining things that they have done.
I merely mean to say that at the age of 13, there hadn’t been that make or break moment in my life yet. It came later, and brought with it an appreciation I never thought I’d find for other women, but as a young teenager, I was yet to be knocked down to the point from which only the support from the amazing girls in my life was going to see me through. I’d never had to give myself over, entirely, to one of my friends and expect them to carry me. I was ignorant to what would one day prove to be the most defining and important relationships in my life.
And I wasn’t seeing hashtags on Instagram every two minutes either. So yeh. Being a girl’s girl? It was not my priority.
Truthfully I think I was scared of the girls that I knew. My first acknowledgeable exposure to friendship amongst the fairer sex was a baptism of fire at a time that saw us rank our friends by order of preference, publicly, via our Bebo accounts. I’d been missed off just enough lists by the time I was headed off to big school that I’d decided that rather than put myself out there and show the world how much I really cared, or wanted to be accepted and adored, I’d instead turn my attention to the boys, as the seemingly simpler sex, since I thought they’d make better friends to me.
I started to care about football, or to pretend to, at any rate, and I’d tell anyone that would listen that “yeh, I don’t know, I just think I get on better with men“, that I couldn’t be arsed with the pink bullshit and the bitching and all the trivialities that came with being a woman. I’d been bullied by a girl in year five and I’d heard my brother and dad talking about how grateful they were to be blokes because they didn’t have to deal with any of the complicated nuances that being a woman brought with it, I felt awkward and insecure and I thought that the best way to ensure that I didn’t lose the game was to remove myself from it before it really began. I don’t care and you can’t hurt me.
I suspect I’d secretly harboured the hope that this level of give-a-shitness would make me popular to the opposite sex, I thought it’d make me sexy and interesting and that boys would recognise something in me that they’d yet to see in other girls. I thought too that it would make me, in an odd sort of way, more appealing to other girls as well. I think I thought that it made me pretty cool, this ‘attitude’ of mine and that they’d eventually flock to me with the same eager reluctance that girls always showed to boys who played hard to get for long enough.
Ironically and unsurprisingly, none of this happened. Although for a long time one of the most important people in my life was a boy (he’s still ranked very highly on my mental Bebo page), the pay off to this strategy looked nothing like I thought it would. In fact, looking back at the ways in which I behaved then, I am angry that I did not make the most of the amazing women that I was surrounded by throughout my school years. It was a pivotal time and looking back now with the gift of hindsight I see quite what phenomenal women the girls that I was lucky enough to know turned into. I regret, hugely, not investing all of my attention and efforts into building bonds with them that would have followed us into adulthood.
I have subsequently made some epic friends and have been fortunate enough too, that many of the girls I didn’t appreciate fully back then have allowed me to appreciate them so massively now. But I resent that they weren’t always my priority, that I did not spend every waking moment worshiping at the feet of the epic women in my life and instead wasted my energies on feigning interest in boring football so as to have caught the eye of some totally unworthy and uninteresting boy as a means of validating myself.
To alleviate some of the blame from myself (which I must do if I want to look back at my formative years with anything other than a burning sense of ‘what a bloody waste’), I need to look back with hindsight not just to my awkward and unhappy thirteen year old frame, but to an era that, in so many ways, fucked so many of us up and look more broadly at what the noughties’ attitude towards women, and their friendships in particular, did to a generation of girls growing up.
I remember, clearly, the sensationalist tabloid stories that surrounded the Jennifer Anniston-Brad Pitt-Angelina Jolie love triangle and how we were all encouraged to pick a team. I remember laughing with my friends at the photos of Britney Spears’ meltdown without sparing a thought for the isolated anguish that’d drive a woman to behaving like that. I’d pour over trashy magazines as they asked the important questions: who wore it best?
Women have always been pitted against each other, please don’t for a minute think that I am suggesting that women in the early 2000s had it harder than any women throughout history. I merely highlight that culture as a means to say: we were not raised as allies, we were not taught to build each other up, or support each other at all costs. We were brought up to be in direct competition with one another, and it did sweet fuck all to help girls like me to value the importance of the women in my life.
I wasn’t a girl’s girl when I was at school and a combination of my insecurities and the culture in which I grew up, I think, for the most part, accounts for that.
But I am a girl’s girl now. To my very core, I am a girl’s girl. Empowered women, empower women. Girl boss. Girl power. Fucking all of it. I’m here for it. I obsess over it. I love women. I love the ones I know and the ones I don’t. I love them before I’ve met them and for all the years after that. I’m Taylor Swift without the phenomenal music career and elfin features. I live and breathe female empowerment.
Now, that’s not to say that some girls aren’t dicks, because some girls DEFINITELY are dicks, but the older I get, the more I realise that that is definitely not my problem. Nor is it, probably, their fault.
I think I was a dick in my not-being-a-girl’s-girl years. I think I was too busy thinking about myself and what other people thought of me to spare too many thoughts for how the people around me really were. I would have loved to be someone’s great friend, but I don’t think I ever put in the required effort because my focus was always me.
What I am coming to appreciate now, I think, is that happy women are the women that support others. I don’t know a girl’s girl that isn’t a fucking great power house of a person. All the girls in my life that spread joy and and love and passion and brilliance are happy in themselves, trusting of the world and people around them and crucially, they are optimistic and they are positive.
Girls that stop me in the street to tell me that they like my jeans or offer me their lipgloss in a nightclub’s bathroom or DM me on Instagram to say something nice; these women are happy and brilliant and kind and evidently, they are settled and content in themselves.
Bitchy women, nasty ones, jealous, picky, selfish women; the “not girl’s girls”, I realise now, are, above it all, desperately unhappy. And I can say that with all the confidence of a girl who probably came across as all these things at one point or other in their life as a result of my own burning insecurities.
So this chunk of writing, I hope, will serve two purposes.
One, to remind you of the extraordinary privilege it is to be a girl’s girl, and how desperately important it is to worship the wonderful women in your life and to put them above all else because they’re the dog’s fucking balls.
But the other, is not to be too hard on the girl’s that you don’t think are very good girl’s girls. Whilst you probably ought not to rely on them to carry you when you can’t carry yourself, or to tell you honestly how you look in that dress, or not to say shitty things about you to other people when you’re not there, the things that they are putting onto you are nothing but a projection of what they feel about themselves.
I’ve waited and watched and hoped that some of the girls that I have loved would put me first, and I’ve been disappointed when they’ve not been able to do that. I was confused, at first, since they didn’t seem the type to fake an interest in football and write-off shopping as a frivolous waste of feminism; they looked and talked like girl’s girls. If anything, they were overtly passionate about their love for their girl squad. But their actions never matched their words and their smiles never made it up to their eyes. And in time, I learned all I needed to know about these women. They were hurt, badly, by a society that pitted us against each other and they’re yet to shake free from the shackles the rest of us were lucky to have escaped from.
I still believe, above all else, that empowered women, empower women. And so I suppose it is easiest to look at it like this: if the women around you are not empowering you? Well there is every chance that they themselves are not yet empowered.