female friendships
Female representation in media is a must. (Illustration by Julianne Griepp, Laguna College of Art and Design)

If there’s anything that makes a movie worth watching, it’s drama, and due to traditional gender roles and stereotypes, there’s a wealth of drama to be captured in the depictions of friendships between women. But while media rushes to encapsulate and sell the drama between women, there’s an even more marketable aspect of female friendship and that’s the feelings of understanding, camaraderie and empathy that permeate the screen when the heroines ultimately make up.

There are, of course, countless depictions of women in catty, petty relationships who delight in gossiping about any and all of their friends. “Mean Girls,” for example, is a quotable cult classic that revolves around the toxicity that can be found in adolescent female friendships and the difficulty of opposing popularity and all of its gilded wretchedness. But at the end of it all, every girl finds the fault in herself through the mass intervention-style assembly.

Despite the toxic outlook on female friendship present in most of “Mean Girls,” several other movies have done well to showcase the way that occasional immaturity, communication issues or human imperfection can be worked on to create lasting and fulfilling female friendships.

“Bridesmaids” is another classic comedy about how a pair of friends, Annie and Lillian, deal with their issues when they’re chafing under the weight of extreme change as Lillian makes new friends and gets engaged, while Annie’s life is romantically and professionally stunted. Surrounding the blowout fight and scenes of Annie’s despondency, it’s clear that their lifelong friendship is important to them, and it’s ultimately proven when they make up.

As entertaining as it is to watch drama unfold between characters and see how resentments will come to light, there’s a specific feel-good feeling that accompanies watching movies like this. There’s a sense that, no matter how bad it gets or if you have a huge fight, the friendships that are worth your time can be salvaged. Not only are these relationships salvageable, but they should be saved. There’s no one that can understand women better than other women.

Several studies have explored same-sex and cross-sex relationships. More often than not, friendships with women are more fulfilling than those that are not. One study found that men found their friendships with women were more fulfilling than their friendships with men, in addition to women finding more fulfillment in their female friendships. A big reason for this, as found in another study, is that women are more likely to treat friends like family while men are more likely to treat friends like relative strangers.

Movies like the extremely popular, black-led “Girls Trip” show better than others the way that your girlfriends can be like family. No matter what happens, when you link up it’s even better than before. “Girls Trip” also showed how a healthy group dynamic can be encumbered by the past despite the will of the members to forget it. But despite the cheating drama and the friction between two of the friends that resulted in a group-wide fight, each and every character realized the importance of that friendship.

Ryan, the character who was cheated on, also finds the strength through her relationship with her friends to leave the relationship she was in and walk away from a career-making deal. Not only did that decision get her an even better professional deal, but she used it to make amends with one of her friends.

Despite the never-changing classic quality in “Mean Girls,” movies like “Girls Trip” and their booming popularity prove the changing taste of the audience. Where viewers used to tune in for cat fights and gossip, now they stay to see stories about imperfect women trying, and sometimes failing, in their friendships but ultimately finding out how to be better people and better friends.

Take “Wine Country” as another example of a “Girls Trip”-style movie, where a group of women who have been friends for about 20 years gather to celebrate one friend’s 50th birthday at a weekend getaway. The ensemble comedy showcases each woman’s personal issues and their fever pitch culmination during the trip.

“Wine Country” takes a step away from “Mean Girls” or even “Bridesmaids” in the way the ultimate resolution of each woman’s problems is depicted. After a bit of a tiff, they all double down on the sanctity of their friendship, pour into each other in a way that enriches them and end the movie with nighttime girl talk over more wine.

There’s a certain realism to the female friendships depicted in these movies. As imperfect people, every woman is bound to fall prey to resentment, jealousy or other toxic feelings and behaviors in her friendships at some point or another. But even more realistically, they make up or address their issues and become even closer as a result.

Take “Pitch Perfect 2,” where the Barden Bellas rediscover their unique sound after a bonding trip strips them to their cores and forces them to address their interpersonal issues. Movies with this mindset are increasingly important for a younger generation of women, since female friendships have been proven to be beneficial.

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Women are socialized to be more empathetic, emotional and nurturing while men are usually taught not to be, so female friendships are not only fulfilling but are wholly enriching for other women. One study found that there is a therapeutic component to female friendships, while another study found that they are generally good for a woman’s well-being.

In a time where society could be facing a fourth feminist wave, specifically with the start of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, women want to see themselves better represented, both as humans with flaws and fiercely loyal friends.

The joining of those two important aspects of female friendships makes for movies like “Girls Trip” that have an undeniable quality of female camaraderie. Where women used to be praised for being just one of the guys, women are finding the value in their relationships with each other and treasuring them in way that tells Hollywood to keep it coming.

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