Squad Goals: Girl Gangs and the Power of Female Friendship
Squad Goals: Girl Gangs and the Power of Female Friendship
The mere mention of the term ‘girl gang’ implies violence, criminal activity and girls going down the wrong path in life. So how has it come to be synonymous with female friendship, success and influence amongst young women today?
It would seem that the competition once encouraged between girls has transformed into collaboration and the strength to be found in a group situation. A prime of example of how prevalent the girl gang has become in the media is Taylor Swift and her so-called “squad”. Made up of members such as models, Karlie Kloss and Gigi Hadid and actress/author Lena Dunham, the girls are often pictured beside Swift on stage or posing together at a gathering. All extremely successful in their own rights, the group present an ideal of female friendship for which Swift’s fans can aspire to as opposed to wasting time with boys or contending with other girls.
While Swift’s video for ‘Bad Blood’ may be the ultimate demonstration of a powerful group of women (their performance as superheroes emphasise this), these are not the first girl groups to be dominating popular culture. Indeed, fictional girl gangs have long been featured in film and television. However, the positivity expressed by the “Swifterhood” is almost always replaced by associations with bitchy and manipulative behaviour. Female friendship in Mean Girls and Gossip Girl is an artifice used to disguise scheming, insincerity and dishonesty. Of course these are not the only displays of girl gangs on the small and silver screens; for every Regina George, there is always The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants. Ignoring the saccharine nature of these depictions, it is important that there are examples of how female friendship can help empower, comfort, protect and provide a support network for young women. Rather than being either too bitchy or too innocent, girl gangs can help transform girls into sassy and self-assured women.
As plentiful as both fictional and real cases of successful girl groups are, it is still very rare to see women of colour or older women involved or discussed in the same context. The recently released French film Girlhood examined the coming-of-age of Black girls in suburban France. Although the narrative follows more traditional associations of girl gangs with delinquency as Marieme (Karidja Touré) finds herself mixing with a girl gang on her estate, the film does look at how experiencing a role within a group is instrumental to one’s own development and understanding of the wider world. The same can be said for groups of older women and how they are depicted both in the media and on screen. While Sex and the City may seem rather passé since the introduction of shows like Girls and Broad City, Bridesmaids not only heralded in a new era for female-led comedy, but it also made female friendship between women in their 30s the focus of its story. Parks and Recreation could be said to do the same thing as the friendship between Leslie Knope and Ann Perkins is at the programme’s core. In her article arguing why older women also need girl gangs, Olivia Fleming says, ‘as women age, that unhealthy, constraining, or oppressive type of gang mentality is more often than not replaced with emotional support, opportunity, and acceptance.’ In the same article, Fleming also quotes Dr. Anne Brennan Malec, the founder of Symmetry Counseling, a coaching and psychotherapy group practice in Chicago: “We find comfort in knowing there are others who share our values, who look out for us, and with whom we are interdependent.”
Alongside celebrity and fictitious examples of girl gangs, female art collectives also show how collaboration can function between women who share similar outlooks and ambitions. Aimed at supporting female creatives, collectives such as Girls Only NYC, BabyFace and Confetti Crowd all promote female talent and particularly in the case of School of Doodle, “protect girls’ imagination”. Helping to connect and inspire creativity, these collectives demonstrate how becoming a member of a girl group need not be a distant wish. We recently interviewed Confetti Crowd about their mission for female empowerment as well as the shared mentality of strength in numbers. While the girls are individually successful in their own fields and have very distinct identities, when they come together as a collective, they form a sisterhood that positively influences girls growing up. Especially those who seek a career in the arts or who wish to be more daring in their sartorial choices.
As important as it is that female friendship has been brought to the forefront of the media’s attention (the bromance has deserved to be challenged for quite some time), there has been criticism surrounding Taylor Swift’s particular flaunting of her famous friends. Many have questioned her treatment of them as equal to that of a fashion accessory, thus commodifying and exploiting friendship. In her article for Jewish Business News, Kat George argues that Swift’s ‘friendship club overwhelmingly accepts only elite, homogeneously beautiful members’ and that ‘it’s since become abundantly clear that Swift is celebrating her own popularity, based largely on her ability to surround herself with beautiful women.’
The fact that Swift’s girl squad reportedly earned $102.5 million between them in the last year alone shows the phenomenal financial success of the girls as a group in contrast to when being independent. Of course, the benefits of female friendship for most girls isn’t the monetary aspect of it and Swift is an extraordinary exception. Whether or not you find her a positive example or question the motives behind her invitations for friends to join her on stage, the current discussion of female friendship should be celebrated and encouraged further. After all, as put by Roxanne Gay, we must “abandon the cultural myth that all female friendships must be bitchy, toxic, or competitive.”
Written by Victoria Rodrigues O’Donnell
Photos courtesy of Lloyd Ramos, optimumscreenings.co.uk, bbyfce.com, laughspin.com, vogue.com