Desi Women’s Friendships: Explore the Dynamics
Be courteous to all, but intimate with few,
and let those few be well tried
before you give them your confidence.
True friendship is a plant of slow growth
and must undergo and withstand
the shocks of adversity
before it is entitled to the appellation.
– George Washington.
Although friendship is a gender neutral term but research shows gender is a major organizer of friendships. There are documented differences in friendship among men and friendship among women. Women report their friendship in terms of emotional attachment and proximity; they share feelings, thoughts, experiences and support. There is an element of self disclosure and intimacy. Women’s friendships are inclusive and cover a broad spectrum of social life. Like one could have a friend or two with she shares emotional stuff, family problems, professional dilemmas and even goes shopping or watching movies. Where as men’s friendships are more segmented and an activity focused. Such as men have different friends to enjoy different activities, few to play cricket with and few to discuss important stuff with but rarely intimacy. Fierce competition, masculine stereotype of non emotionality and fear of homosexuality prevent them from developing close friendships. There friendships are sort of exchange of favors but not keeping account as such.
There is historical romanticization of the male friendship be it Akbar-Birbal, Vikram Betal, David and Jonathan, Duryodhana and Karna, Krishna Sudama (readers may add their findings here). Then there is bollywood singing paeans of male friendship in super duper hits like Dosti, Yarana, Dil Chahta Hai or Three Idiots. These movies celebrated male friendship, purpose, courage, sacrifice and fun time together. No such examples are found in history about women’s friendships and when Desi Girl explored bollywood track record all she could find was Raste Pyar Ke, Dil Ashna Hai and Filhaal (readers may suggest their findings, Sex and the City is not desi, DG hasn’t watched Bach Ke Rehna Re Baba, may be she can’t survive it). Yes, few attempts are made by TV channels to copy western sitcoms but they are equally pathetic. These movies focused on how a women upheald patriarchal expectation of their gender roles and fun was only a subset of the whole friendship equation. First movie, is a love triangle so one heroine has to sacrifice, second one, is friendship between three friends who guard an out of wedlock pregnancy of one and third though is a bit different route to glorify motherhood in the form one woman surrogating for the other. In all three movies women at least one woman if not all women was unmarried. What happens to women’s friendship once they get married?
Women are considered identity markers of communities and families. Who women befriend depends on the liberties of their families be it natal or conjugal. It serves patriarchy in general and families in particular to keep women segregated and prevent any unity between them. In natal homes women share more domestic chores than their male siblings hence have less time to socialize after school. Thus their friendships are limited to school premises or to the tuition classes if they take any. Women’s friendship also depends on the social strata they belong to- class, caste, region, and religion. Where as men even if they stay at natal home still display social variety in their interactions. Another important factor in women’s friendship is who their parents consider to be worthy of her friendship (read their social status). They may disapprove of a tomboy or loud mouth friend, someone from poor family or lower caste or even daughter of a divorcee or bigamous family etc. Fear of loss of family reputation is used to herd women within the four walls where as men go around freely.
Once a woman marries she moves to live with her spouse and his family in another city or village. Earlier her contact with her childhood friends was limited to letters or when she visited her parents. If she was lucky and her friends too were visiting they could meet or else just leave messages with families. In the conjugal homes, women are considered outsiders and have to be trained and inducted into the family traditions. Not only the change of location but also control of conjugal kin on their mobility prevents them from establishing any friendships in the neighborhood. It is important for conjugal kin to keep the new bride isolated or else she’ll discover the skeletons hidden in their closets and the façade they have put up. Secondly, she’ll develop a support system that could help her if she needed to stand up against the atrocities of her in-laws. It is over time she develops any friendships with other women outside the conjugal home. Those friendships are again marred by constrains of family honor (ghar ki baat) thus are not very intimate, she may borrow groceries or few bucks here and there. A married woman’s ability to help her friend depends on the goodwill of her spouse and conjugal kin. Families discourage such helping because they fear their own women will seek help and revolt against the in-laws.
Within the conjugal family women are competitors and are struggling to gain authority over one another thus they rarely develop any strong bonds. There does develop a sorority between co-sisters if competition for authority and survival is eliminated.
With more women working outside the homes and speedy communication technology they are able to establish and sustain friendships. But still women’s friendship styles are more intimate, emotional and inclusive, all in a friend or friends as compared to those of men. Within these parameters women try to include fun. Every time life gets busy the first thing women let go of is their friendship with other women.
Although friendships for both men and women act as stress busters and reduces depression. A landmark UCLA Study on Friendship among Women suggests women’s friendship fills the emotional gaps in their marriages. Social ties reduce the risk of disease by lowering blood pressure, heart rate, and cholesterol. Another study concluded not having close friends or confidants was as detrimental to your health as smoking or carrying extra weight. In the same study researchers studied how women coped after death of their spouse, those women who had a close friend and confidante were more likely to survive the experience without any new physical impairments or permanent loss of vitality.
Distance and time constraints do take toll on friendships. As our priorities change so do our interests. The friends who were once intimate may find each other incompatible to their changed needs. It is still okay to be friends and keep in contact even if our priorities change and needs remain unmet. It is also okay to make new friends now you know why.
If a man does not make new acquaintances as he advances through life,
he will soon find himself left alone.
A man, Sir, should keep his friendship in constant repair.
Choose your friends wisely-they will make or break you.
-J. Willard Marriott