“Can Women Be Friends?”

Does the thought of another woman instantly make you dislike her? I’m not proud to admit it, but I used to be like that. I was the girl who’d feel comfortable with guy friends because “women created so much drama!” and “women hated me because I got along with the guys” I grew up in co-ed Army Schools till my teenage years, and consider myself lucky to be a part of a fairly large, secure friend circle made up of girls and boys who met every evening for sports, games and cycling.  The trouble started brewing in my teenage years when I stepped into an all-girls school.

2 things to note here: this was the first time I was stepping into an all-girls convent, and moving to a bigger city after having spent most of my childhood in smaller towns in North India. It’s not easy to imagine this level of culture shock, so let me help you with a few examples:

My first day in school got me a new name – “Girlie” Such a smart, mean-girl way of alienating someone new, isn’t it? Worked like a charm.

Nutella sandwiches and waffles were considered a quick snack before the main lunch (delivered hot by cooks and nannies in chauffer driven cars) From aloo parantha at 11am I was expected to understand the brunch rituals of a country that had only just given us independence some 50 years ago. I still remember someone explaining waffles to me – I came back to tell my mother all about it (who seemed to know about this magical bread-like breakfast snack from her days in Europe) I was shook.

Girls were discussing Britney’s latest track and singing it loudly during lunch break, seeing who knew all the lyrics till the end. I had never even heard of Britney Spears. This was July of 2000.

160 girls of a batch received an invitation to a birthday party. I was a part of this batch. My status had been upgraded from “girlie” to “girlie, come for my party!”

Boyfriends. We were 12, how were we supposed to know what to do with boys?

Girls played real sports like hockey and basketball, and I suddenly realised what a dud I had been all my life. Sporty? Ha. Been able to ride a bicycle wasn’t doing me any good in their real, mean-girl world.

Some girls had me feeling awestruck. In hindsight, I know this was because I was intimidated by their command over the language, sense of humor and great oratory skills. At that time, as a confused 14y old who was supposed to have a boyfriend by now (Aunt Irma had been visiting for a year, I even wore a sports bra now- I was falling behind on the boyfriend bandwagon!) I did overcompensate for this “guilt” by talking to every single boy I met, & telling him that I had a crush on him. This fact also went on to ruin my school life from the age of 15-17.

Ages 15- 17 were dark, and are best forgotten. But since they’re an important part of my “struggle” I feel I should give you an idea. Boys loved me because I was upfront about my alleged crush(es) on them, and girls hated me for this. High school wasn’t easy for me.

Thankfully things changed, but the premise for me to hate women had been set. I found comfort in all-boy groups and immediately had my walls up when a female entered our happy little bubble. I was constantly threatened. I was scared to trust.

You can have all the attention in the world, but nothing will satisfy you if you lack self-love.

Over the years, I’ve found my sisterhood and I am so proud of myself for that. 14-year-old Protima would have laughed at the idea, but if I were to go back in time to give some advice to my younger self, I’d tell myself that I am enough as I am. I am beautiful, I am strong, I am intelligent, I am capable. Positive self-talk could have changed a lot about my high-school years, but I’m glad this process took time and I’ve learnt so much now.

Today, I love my sisterhood because they are my hype-squad on days I’m feeling low. They’re the ones sending me cute books or outfit inspirations when I’m feeling creatively stuck. I send more memes to my girls than I do to my boyfriend, and that testifies how much they mean to me.

If you’re a woman reading this, do you feel the need to dislike other women? Let’s unpack this. For me, I disliked women because they were more confident than me, more attractive, had better hair, had a better laugh, seemed carefree compared to me. These were qualities that I envied because I wanted them so badly. This was my internalized misogyny because we’ve been taught to hate strong women, confident women, successful women who are not afraid to speak their minds. “ She was wearing lipstick to the gym” “ Why does she need to wear those heels to work” “She loves herself” “Her dress is so short!” We find it necessary to tear down another woman. We cringe when we see a woman taking a selfie. But if we had that confidence, we’d be doing it too!

The more I dig into it, the more I feel that women are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Internalized misogyny is a vast topic that I have only just brushed the surface of, but I’d like you to take this as an opportunity to reflect and think about how this is affecting your life. Remember, it’s okay if you have been doing this, it’s never too late to learn… And we’re all but students for life.

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