Feminism is, first and foremost, a political movement that fights for political, social, and economic equality for women — but feminism is also personal, and that means that we wind up looking at the implications of our personal lives through a feminist lens. There are a lot of things people will tell you aren't feminist — but there are some things that don't seem feminist but actually really are. And that goes double in friendships.
There are a lot of stereotypes about women's friendships, including friendships involving men and other women. Because why on earth would there be any aspect of women's lives that isn't subject to strict gender roles?
Because a lot of feminist effort has gone into breaking down stereotypes and highlighting that women don't need to be confined to so-called "traditional" gender roles, sometimes it can feel like anything that conforms to feminine gender stereotypes is anti-feminist. But, of course, the point of breaking down gender roles isn't to just replace them with a whole new set of prescriptive requirements based on gender. And the whole point of friendship is to have people with whom you can be yourself — no matter who your genuine self may be.
There are a lot of things in your friendships that don't seem feminist — either because they seem to conform to gender roles or because they seem to be just normal aspects of friendship — but actually really are. Here are six examples:
Doing Each Other's Hair And Makeup
Feminism spends a lot of time trying to advance the idea that women's worth as people shouldn't be based on our physical appearance, and that can make it seem sometimes like spending a lot of time on your appearance isn't feminist. But actually, there's nothing wrong with women doing whatever we want with our appearance. And when you think about it, the control that makeup gives you over your appearance is pretty cool. Most importantly, having fun with hair and makeup helps reframe it not as something oppressive, but communal and enjoyable.
Should women feel obligated to spend lots of time on hair and makeup? No. But is spending time with your friends, doing something you all enjoy, anti-feminist just because it involves your appearance? Also no. In fact, I'd argue that reclaiming hair and makeup as things women enjoy rather than are obligated to do is in truth pretty feminist.
Being Friends With Guys
There are a lot of women who don't want to be friends with their fellow women because of internalized misogyny. These tend to be the same women who try to portray themselves as "not like other girls." And all of this is obviously silly because women are awesome. But there are lots of guys out there who are also awesome. So obviously if you genuinely to just happen to mostly be friends with guys, there's nothing wrong with that.
Moreover, being friends with guys might not break down gender stereotypes about women, but it does break down the stereotype that men and women can't be "real" friends. Which is obviously false, and advancing that idea is another way of helping demonstrate that men and women aren't a collection of socially defined roles, but are actually just people. And that's a pretty feminist message.
Being Friends With Women
Just because being friends with guys can be feminist (provided you're not actually picking your friends for their gender), that doesn't mean being friends with women isn't. In the feminist movement, most people are so used to collaborating and working with women that being mutually-supportive friends with women seems less revolutionary than it kind of is in wider culture. Even though women being friends with women is actually kind of the norm, it's still a feminist thing to do.
Shopping, Makeovers, And Chick Flicks
Just like with appearance, feminism often pushed back hard against the idea that women are inherently or exclusively interested in things labeled traditionally feminine, and that can make it seem feminism is somehow against them. That isn't true. And actually, groups of female friends engaging in stereotypically feminine behavior can be actively feminist.
Our society has a tendency to not only try to confine women to stereotypically feminine things, but also to belittle them — and even belittle women who enjoy them, which makes no sense either. So when a group of women enjoy so-called "feminine" things and refuse to buy into the idea that there's something wrong with enjoying stuff like shopping trips or romantic comedies, that's breaking down the stigma around the stereotypically feminine. Which is absolutely feminist.
People often say that women are "gossips" and the instinct can be to try to avoid that stereotype. But the truth is that "gossip" is, firstly, an unnecessarily gendered term (in our culture, people don't say men "gossip"; they "trash talk" or "network"). And secondly, gossip is also an important way that women maintain our social networks, and often share information important to our safety. Is some gossip mean-spirited and probably not the most enlightened thing we've ever done? Sure, and we should probably try to cut down on that. But gossip can also provide important information about dates who are potentially violent or former partners that might have STDs or bosses who might get hands-y. Gossip can help us develop strategies to successfully navigate our personal and professional lives.
And thus "gossiping" with friends is actually a way to help women stay safe, healthy, and successful, making it pretty feminist in my book.
Supporting One Another
As feminists, we can forget just how revolutionary it can be to be supportive of the people around us. And this doesn't just apply to our female friends. In our patriarchal society, cultural values favor things like dominance and ambition and success at any cost. Being supportive and kind and compassionate don't rank nearly as high, for all that we like to pay lip service to them.
Thus, supporting your friends and being there when they need you is actually a very feminist thing.