When Cyndi Lauper wrote Girls just wanna have fun, she was just half-stating the truth. It’s true that girls want to have fun when they are together, but there’s more to their camaraderie than that. Female bonding is about sharing, talking, comforting each other and a whole lot of listening. “Friendship between women is a mix of the feel good factor, a feeling of emancipation and a whole lot of ‘being yourself’,” says Anchal Ghosh, a corporate professional who swears by the group of women friends in her life.And now scientists have made it official. UK’s The Daily Telegraph recently reported that scientists believe the sense of closeness that women friends feel for each other comes down to happy hormones. A girly lunch, watching a chick-flick together or a gossip in the powder room all help increase the level of progesterone (the hormone that drives mood changes) in the body. In other words, nothing can replace girl bonding, except perhaps sex (another activity that increases progesterone)! "Female friends share a very strong bond with each other," says actress Mahie Gill. "You could have the best job, a steady boyfriend and all that money can buy, but nothing can replace a good group of girlfriends."
LOOK WHO’S LISTENING
Talking to another woman, whether she’s a close friend or even an acquaintance, is much more therapeutic than than talking to a man. Don’t believe me? Try it.
“Women listen to each other and just venting to a woman makes one feel so much lighter and less stressed,” says actress and model Gul Panag. “That’s because women go through similar situations. You may be hassled about house hunting. A woman would immediately know what you are going through, whereas a man would wonder what the big deal is. Even a mad hunt for brown rice is something another woman can relate to. Only another woman could participate in an hour-long discussion on the stress of finding the right brand. Men would think you are crazy.”
And as Anchal says, “Beyond a point, men become dismissive of over analysis of anyone or anything. Their approach is ‘we’ll cross the bridge when we come to it’, whereas women would discuss every brick and molecule of mortar in that bridge, even if it is in another continent.”
This is why it’s easier for women to converse with their female friends than even with their spouses. Social analyst Dr Syed Moubin Zehra says that it’s a woman’s intuitive ability that makes her a great listener. “Women are more proficient than men at all forms of communication, verbal and non-verbal, more socially skilled, better at spotting and ‘reading’ the nuances in people’s reactions and behaviour and generally more interested in people and relationships,” Dr Zehra says. “This makes them perfect sounding boards, even for each other.”And of course, women hanging out with women have fun. It’s a guarantee. That’s because of bitching. Yes, women are bitchy and they love it. The best bonding happens over bitching sessions, says Gul Panag, and it means no harm.
Women are increasingly relying on their women friends – college, workmates, or even that kitty party gang – for comfort and emotional support. “It’s happening more often now because of the breaking-up of the joint family system. Women bonding with each other is an old concept. Earlier, women had other women in the house to talk to, vent to and derive support from. Now, it’s the friends,” says Dr Zehra.
According to Social Issues Research, US, such a link is only natural. Way back in our hunter-gatherer days, women as gatherers with responsibility for bearing and raising children, had a critical need to build cooperation and trust with other women. Their relationship was based on emotional support. Millions of years later, Alankrita Srivastav, 31-year-old director of the movie Turning 30, agrees that her women friends are a great source of comfort.
“I have very close male friends but I can open up more with women,” she says. “After a bad day, all I want to do is meet up with my girlfriends, chat, have dinner and I feel so much better.” Actress and TV presenter Koel Puri is Gul Panag’s 2 am friend. “I can pick up the phone and call her and even if I don’t give her any background, she would know where I am coming from,” says Panag.
“Women feel better after a good chin-wag”
Bestselling author Jaishree Misra discusses women and dosti. She should know. Her book Secrets & Lies celebrates four friends.
What is female friendship all about?
Most women tend to think in terms of sharing and giving when they talk about friendship, whereas men think in terms of having fun.
What is it built on?
Mutual trust and generosity.
What do women provide to each other in a friendship?
Comfort and advice.
Are they mood boosters for each other? How?
Absolutely. Women often confess to feeling much better after a good old chin-wag with a friend if they’re worrying about something.
With age, how does friendship grow?
I found it really interesting to observe the growing importance of female friendship when my own group of friends and contemporaries were approaching their forties. Probably because most of us spend our twenties and thirties consolidating careers and relationships and, of course, bringing up children, it’s in our forties that we start getting more time for friends.
Besides, the very nature of life is such that, by and large, we have all faced some crisis or the other by that age. It’s quite natural to be turning to friends for support as parents are getting on a bit by then and partners ... well, they are the problem sometimes!Are women bitchy?
Of course, women are capable of being bitchy and untrustworthy but I find that most never let their friends down. There is a kind of sisterhood at work and it gets better with age!
What are the things that girls or women enjoy doing together?
Good old ‘jawing’ must come very high on the list. And going out to movies, cafes, restaurants. I would have said shopping too but this is something I prefer to do on my own as I’m less prone to indecisiveness that way.
Vis-a-vis men, how different are women friends?
My men friends offer a different kind of friendship, usually occupying a more intellectual rather than emotional plane. The conversations are more factual, I think. Current affairs and politics and books play a bigger part. Define friendship among women. It’s like those safety nets used by trapeze artistes. You can go off and execute all kinds of adventurous high-flying loops safe in the knowledge that you will be rescued if you fall.
Big screen bonds
Hollywood movies on female friendship
Steel Magnolias: About the bond among a group of women from a parish in Louisiana.
Now And Then: Four childhood friends reminisce about when they were kids.
Sex and the City: Four 40-something female friends deal with their lives in New York. Divine Secrets Of The Ya-Ya Sisterhood Siddalee receives a scrapbook detailing the adventures of the “Ya-Yas”, her mother’s girlhood friends.
Mystic Pizza: The movie talks about the coming of age of two sisters and their friend.
“Women are inherently compassionate. This holds them together”
Paro Anand, Author
Author of 18 books for children and young adults, Paro Anand’s first book for grown-ups, Pure Sequence, is about four 60 plus women friends who rediscover their bonds over card games and more. What is the book about?
Pure Sequence is a story of women in their twilight years. The four women in the book cherish their present and do not worry much about the future. The book confronts the realities that we all have to face sooner or later. Those who leave their parents to lead their own lives; those whose own children are flying out of the nest; those who are forced into believing that their life is behind them; those who admire the fortitude of their grandmothers. Pure Sequence is about the quiet confidence of women growing old gracefully or otherwise, realising that they are in yet another prime of their lives – with their circle of friends.
A story of women in their twilight years. Why?
Through their lives, these women were brought up to be perfect in their roles. They fulfilled all with grace. Then they reach a stage when they have done their bit – married off children, looked after an ailing husband and parents and had grandkids – and now they are left on their own. That is when they discover the support their friendship gives to them. One cribs about her grandchildren creating havoc in the house, the other about the son and daughter-in-law leaving her behind and going off on a holiday and another about being alone and lonely. Look around, these are common issues women face at some points in their lives. But nobody talks about them. The story says, why should we expect women of that age to go for satsangs and walks? Why can’t they live their lives for themselves? With this book, I wanted to push the boundaries. Many people have been uncomfortable with certain parts of it. But women of that generation are loving the concept. Maybe they see what they can do too.
Do you have friends like these?
I have lots of friends and groups but nothing like this.
What makes the friendship between these four women so special?
Shared moments, memories and a history between the four friends are what make their bonds so wonderful. They have been together as each goes through life, hurt, love, marriage, loss, children. Sheila dresses up in her wedding saree when her husband dies. Her three friends can remember the first time she had worn it at her wedding. Satya can say that she feels relived when her grandchildren leave the home only in front of these friends. No one judges anyone. They feel safe talking to each other.
What is at the basis of bonds between women?
Yes, they are gossipy and they do bitch a lot, even about each other. But women are inherently compassionate creatures. This holds them together.
The response to your book?
It has touched a chord with everyone. The younger lot told me they could see their mothers, grandmothers in my book. The older lot identified with the characters. At the Jaipur Literary Festival, after my book reading, a lady held my hand and started to cry. She told me, “How did you know I go through the same things? The only difference is that I go to the movies alone, unlike the women in the book”. The connect happened because I weaved in a lot of women I know and have seen around me.
The idea for the story came from?
I grew up with interesting women – chachis, nani, mother – and then mother-in-law. I had so many tales but didn’t know how I would turn them into a book. The story came to me in a strange way: I was very close to my aunt (maasi) and she was dying of cancer. Before I was to go on a trip to Jaipur, she called me and instructed me to get her rubies. She was exact about the size, shape and colour as she wanted to bead them into earrings herself. “I want to match them to my face-cut,” she told me. She was elegant even as she knew she was dying. It struck me that as long as there is life, one should live it. It’s never too late to look good or enjoy life. That’s the heart of the book.
At different stages of life women talk of different things/issues with each other
Teens: School, Gossipy.
20s: College: Boys, boys, boys and a whole lot of clothes and fashion. A bit of career in between. Experiments with sex.
30s: Work. Men, men, men. Relationship issues, advice, feelings, commitment, heartache – all to do with men. Work pressure, weight, biological clock and sex.
40s: Post marriage: Worries about husbands and in-laws; later on children become the concern. And yes, maids and cooks occupy a whole lot of conversation time too. Also, from now on, weight loss, gain, diets, exercises, yoga are all ‘must talk’ topics. Sex. This is the time most women are through with their responsibilities. They rediscover themselves, their friends and friendship. A lot of the conversation is about new hobbies, children leaving the nest and ‘the past’.
From HT Brunch, July 3
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