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How feminist friendships helped me swim?

by Nangsel

As the new year begins and I reflect on how I survived my early 20s, I reckon that platonic female friendships have been the bedrock of my existence from a naive seventeen-year-old to now, as my mid-20s come to an end.

Let me be clear, for me feminist friendships are radically intersectional, countering hegemonic structures of how blood is prioritised over relations outside familial bonds. It was feminist friendships that helped me swim through the darkest deepest sea of despair.

But what does it mean to have these feminist friendships?

Friendship, for me, since I was young, has been one the most crucial aspects of my life. These friendships shaped the way I am, they helped me gain myriad perspectives on life while also nourishing my intellectual growth during my formative years. My friendships also happened across different ages with grandmothers as I sat down to watch Hindi soaps talking about their life, or moments with friends’ mothers and aunts, eating and cooking with them. Their cauldron of aromas was also their cauldron of stories about life, love and family. They made me learn anew what feminism looked like, as it took different shapes and forms. It also happened through school seniors who are now family, it also happened through scholars like Nawal El Sadawi, whose books nourished me with feminist ideas. She became a friend, or at least her writings did.

Through years of having these feminist friendships, I realised that feminist friendships also made me understand and transgress the social categories of what friendships out to look like. Undoubtedly, friendship is invariably tied to caste, class and our other social identities. Take a moment to reflect on how you make friends. Are most of them from the same class-caste group? In one of the episodes on Anupam Minus Verma Podcast, with Riya Singh, I was able to relate to Riya on several instances where she shared, the many micro-aggressions one has to face due to gender, caste, class or ethnic identity. I only hope more socialisation happens outside the household for individuals to break away from them, allowing them to unlearn their biases.

The feminist friendships that I have gathered, feel like a warm hug in the cold winter season. These friendships have nurtured a wholesome ground for unlearning. Whilst, it also led to different forms of politics, as I imbibed the adage of personal is political. Feminist friendships also bred a ground of consciousness, this made me mindful of whom we choose as friends and why we choose them. To say, ‘We choose a person, just because they are nice’, seems a little tone-deaf. Like marriages, friendships are layered and complex, our social identities invariably end up shaping them. Our class, caste, religious identity, gender, and sexuality all are interlinked- some present and markedly more pressing than others identities. Like intercaste marriages, inter-‘x’ friendships are also a crucial ground to foster empathy, compassion and care. One may wonder —where do feminist friendships grow?

It is exactly in spaces of uneven power where feminism and feminist friendships are needed, to not only understand the power dynamics but also to dismantle them. I nourished these feminist friendships amongst friends from various regions of India. To understand stereotypes, but also to dismantle and transgress them in our small ways. I do believe that inter- ‘x' friendships can make a humongous difference in our perspectives in life when it's sown and nurtured in the right direction.

Feminist friendships are families of choice where we are our uninhibited selves in presence of others. They are our platonic companionships who understand boundaries and make space for you to grow. But they also are a safety net to fall back on at the worst moments. Most of the ideals of feminist friendships are different, and in these differences, I have learnt that it’s okay to disagree and still be at peace. It has given me a space to unlearn and also foster the same environment for other feminist friendships, from other walks of my life.

These platonic relations in life come with few expectations because they grow with no declaration of a lifetime promise of remaining friends forever. It's amazing and surprising how without making vows we remain friends for a lifetime. Where, despite years of not meeting each other, giving life updates over the phone or video calls, it feels enough to be part of that friendship, to feel cared for and most importantly safe.

These friendships have helped me understand myself better in a cis-hetero-patriarchal-obsessed society. It was these feminist friendships that helped me swim when I forgot to swim. In my lowest times, these friendships kept me afloat, as they showered me with care when I deeply yearned for it but hesitated to acknowledge it. I also came to understand how several feminist movements both big and small, have always nurtured these friendships. As these friendships continue to transgress social mores and oppressive regimes that are invisible but affect our quotidian life, while simultaneously creating systems of care that nourish our souls and mind.


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