Recently I read Beauty Queens, Libba Bray's newest novel and a by turns hilarious and sad tale of beauty contestants whose plane crashes on a tropical island. I zoomed through it--could hardly put it down--and now am rereading it to savor it, because oh my the umami is strong with this one. I gave it a quick review over at my respectable blog, but the thing I'm finding most enjoyable about it right now is its treatment of friendships between girls.
There are many hurtful stereotypes about women and their relationships with each other--that girls backbite, that women are more dangerous to be friends with than men, the concept of the "frenemy." I am guilty of repeating these to myself and others as a younger person, though I try hard to avoid and expunge them now. And yes--the girls in Beauty Queens do their share of sniping, snarking, and shaming, but the core of their experience is one of strengthening bonds and allowing themselves to be friends in spite of what their society wants them to do (which is be enemies and islands). One scene in particular struck me hard, a scene in which the girls talk about the things they miss from home: boys, French fries, basketball, real beds, etc: and also what they want for their futures. It is a lovely scene of camaraderie and longing, whispers and admissions, and it reminded me exactly of such scenes I have been a participant in, particularly within the LDS church.
Because if there's one thing the church does ok, it's give girls opportunities to hang out and gossip and figure things out sans intruding male presence. I'm not even being sarcastic--my memories of Girls' Camp, as it's called in the US (and I'm not actually sure if there are similar programs in other countries) are the rosiest memories I have of being raised in the church. There are definite issues with Girls' Camp, such as the truly awful songs we had to sing and suspect gospel messages being shoehorned in at every occasion, but there's no point in kidding myself that a bunch of teenage girls and their female leaders would be allowed to go off by themselves for a week and leave the patriarchal mess ENTIRELY behind. And yet the camp experience was definitely the closest I got while in the church to pure feminism. Call me a Sapphist at heart but there's a lot to be said for hanging out with only ladies for seven days straight. The appearance of priesthood holders on the last night felt like exactly what it was: an intrusion, a reminder of the world we had to go back to when camp was over, a world where we wouldn't and couldn't experience the kind of bonding that had taken place during the past week--where we would be afraid of being overheard and chastised, where we would be influenced by both religious and secular doctrine.
Our society doesn't want to see women sticking together, bonding, hanging out, enjoying each other's company. We are supposed to backbite and distrust, because divisions among an oppressed populace makes the oppressed easier to control.
I heard a phrase a lot when I was a kid growing up Mormon: "when Saints meet, angels weep," meaning that when members gather together, the heavens are pleased because these people, these Saints, they're just so darn righteous! Regardless of the truthiness of this platitude, it IS true that when women meet, the patriarchs tremble.