True female friendship is absolutely essential
I’ve been the new kid at school, immediately beset by the queen bees as soon as the overworked teachers turned their backs.
Using all the cringe culture tools in their arsenal, they were quick to show me my place at the bottom of the pecking order. That’s about the time when I met a girl during sports class who ignored the side eyes and the potential risk of becoming uncool by association, and adopted me as her friend.
We hung out together during recess, had study and play dates, and basking in the glow of her unshakeable support, I managed to regain my confidence, and even managed to make a few other friends over the course of the dreaded first year. The experience showed me how having just one friend in your corner can help you weather the darkest storms.
Growing up in 90s Dhaka meant we had a front row seat to a massive transition happening all over the city. Black and white television gave way to colour, and cable brought in a window to the world beyond our borders, and with this came the tradition of Hindi soaps.
All those on-screen aunties in their fancy clothes, engaged in endless rounds of kitchen politics seemed so far removed from my experience of aunties. Yes, I had the odd nosy neighbour to contend with, but by and large, the older women in my life have been amazing role models.
I could wax eloquent about the elegant auntie who threw the most fabulous barbecue parties and taught me what the perfect hostess was like. Or the high-flying auntie with the busy career who told me to start working early, save up for grad school, and not even think about getting married until I had some measure of financial independence. To this day, I turn to them for advice, comfort, and unconditional love.
Diving into a career in the media, with frequent ventures in academia, both of which sectors have a long way to go before they even approach a healthy gender balance, I’ve witnessed the incredible pressures placed on the few women who have managed to bag a seat at the table.
Battling against social limitations and societal expectations, juggling work and home in ways that a man would never be asked to, what women have achieved in these (and other sectors) over the past decade, has been truly awe-inspiring.
Concerns about personal safety at the workplace and in the field, lack of logistic support -- be it something as basic as a prayer room for women or as essential as bathrooms stocked with feminine hygiene products -- my sisters in the profession have managed to help each other out and stick through to get the job done.
It hasn’t been all roses, and there are unexpected twists, both good and bad, along the way. I could talk about the girl I’d known for years who tried to undermine me at work. Or I could choose to focus on the girl who worked for a rival organization, who went out of her way to advance my career.
I could talk about a toxic BFF who gas-lighted me for months. Or I could express my gratitude towards a group of strangers who welcomed me with unconditional support and helped heal my bruised heart. People aren’t ever what you expect them to be. They will always find ways to surprise you.
As women, we are taught to view one another as competition. From the tired typecast roles in books and movies to social teachings, the message is reinforced in many ways. And yet, not only is true female friendship possible, it is absolutely essential. If we could forget the brainwashing and choose collaboration over competition, ladies, think of what we could achieve.
Sabrina Fatma Ahmad is Features Editor, Dhaka Tribune.