Twisted Sisterhood

By Manal Ali

Women sing the praises of female friendship, feminism, Girl Power and even ‘sisterhood.’ But let’s stop and look at the darkness lurking beneath all the good stuff – an undercurrent of aggression, competition and negativity. Let’s invite all women to pay more attention to what is going on with our gender – hold up a mirror to this dark side.

Female friendships are uniquely rewarding as women are able to share a lot and just talk talk talk, creating a close sense of intimacy. But how much of being there for one another is just telling our friend what we know she wants to hear. Why has being a good friend become being the first one to say, “OMG hottie you’re so gorgeous, I love you, MUAH,” to the latest Facebook photo. It’s wonderful of course to compliment a photograph, but really is every duck face pose in every room of one’s house actually gorgeous? ( I also question the authenticity of the love being bandied around excessively.) Saying, “No you do not look like a watermelon head in that pink and green hijab,” when clearly the head of said friend resembles a fruit of the melon family.

When seeking the advice of other friends we often just need another voice to validate our own opinions. For example in an argument with another person girls will often console their friend with positive feedback such as, “Of course you were right, you’re just stressed, which is why you lashed out at her, she should have understood not to provoke you!”  Some of us knowingly enable questionable behaviour in a friend all for the sake of being “supportive.” Some friends just end up being one another’s ‘yes woman.’ We need to be careful that while being each other’s cheerleaders we don’t allow consolation to balloon into chronic ego-inflation. Sometimes we can ‘yes’ our friends into false presumptions and bad decisions. Go ahead buy those $200 boots you definitely need them this winter, yes your boss is a cruel critical being it’s not your shoddy workmanship. We convince each other anyone who disagrees with us is wrong as we are always right! Nurturing self-delusion is not the way – we need more truth telling.

It’s hard to tell an overweight friend that a certain dress does bring out every single bulge they ever had and its great aunt. We believe we are sparing their feelings by glossing over the truth. If you do happen to be one of the blunt and brave ones you aren’t always rewarded for the truth. No-one wants honesty when they ask for it. The response they seek is their own carefully crafted opinion repeated right back. Why would we want to make our friend feel bad, we don’t, hence the truth while being altruistic could lead to be ostracized. We all hold the desire to avoid the worst form of female interaction – cattiness!

If a female friend does dole out some sage advice: stop waiting for some perfect prince charming, the next Mustafa Zamani, it’s not going to happen! This friend will not be considered as a good friend but rather the one that placates you with the incessant Mr. Perfect is waiting for you tales are the reassuring ones. It has become part of female habit to try and be consensus builders because we won’t be on the same team if we deign to disagree. From a friend contradictions, and negative responses feel like a criticism. Often girls feed the script and set up the responses they expect with rhetorical questions, like, “Is it just me? Am I the crazy one?” Of course the appropriate response is “Never, it can’t be you whose crazy!”

If we’re looking to give a straight answer when we know it’s not something the other wants to hear we should try to think of positive things to say before moving onto constructive criticism. There are always polite means to suggest alternative outfits, solutions and even ways to tell someone they are wrong. We need to focus on enabling our friends’ goals and not their self-deception. Do we really want a friend who will always pat us on the back or someone who is willing to tell us to stop whining and start dealing? Perhaps what some sisterhoods need is a healthy dose of reality.


  1. Haha this is hilarious!! Favourite line: “Saying, “No you do not look like a watermelon head in that pink and green hijab,” when clearly the head of said friend resembles a fruit of the melon family.” The author’s done a great job of exploring female friendships with a healthy dose of wit and humour.

    Unfortunately it’s all very true, when did we start replacing honesty and integrity with popularity and herd mentality?

    PS can we stop already with the duck face poses!?!

  2. I believe the problem has been rightly identified here which is followed by a practicable solution. I would like to add that if I witness someone behaving as a yes woman; I would certainly like to make few more observations. For example, I would like to know if this person has double standards or if this person says an entirely different thing behind someone’s back. Because people with such tendencies can’t really cover themselves up easily and will leave trails of their selfish speeches. And that discovery can help us differenciate between a true friend and a cosmetic friend. I’ve come across a variety of such people who hardly say what they mean or say things to portray their own glorious being. So it is important that we don’t get overwhelmed by other’s praises because we know ourselves the most and should value those who come up with constructive criticism and advice. Because these are the ones who really want to see us as a better person 🙂

  3. “If a female friend does dole out some sage advice: stop waiting for some perfect prince charming, the next Mustafa Zamani, it’s not going to happen!” OMG….you lied to me manal!! I knew it…this article was all about me. 😛

    But altogether it’s pretty much true, the person who tries to be honest, also gets some nasty labels stuck to her character…

  4. Hahah, there is a distinction between servile flattery and honest boost-me-up encouragement,and its been nicely put to words!

  5. Hi Manala,

    I just happened to come across your piece and noticed that some of the quotes looked familiar! Wanted to let your readers know they appear to be borrowed from my book, The Twisted Sisterhood: Unraveling the Dark Legacy of Female Friendships (Random House/Ballantine, Oct. 26, 2010).

    Lots of interesting issues to discuss. I hope you all enjoy the book!

    Kelly Valen

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