“I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was 12. Jesus, does anyone?” Gordie, Stand by Me (1986)
I moved a lot as a kid – from Alabama to Texas in 1st grade, from Texas back to Alabama in 2nd, and from Alabama to Georgia in 3rd – and that’s just the beginning. One of my most significant moves was when I transferred in the middle of my 7th grade year from a tiny town in Georgia to the big city of Atlanta.
Here’s a day I will never forget. I walked into the class to face a room full of 12 – 13-year olds – by anyone’s account, the scariest creatures to roam the earth. I scanned those faces and found one looking straight at me. She was beautiful — her hair just the right amount of 80s volume, her blouse a shade of pale pink, and her features perfectly proportioned. She turned and whispered to her squad with a sliver of a smile on her face.
I was terrified.
That fear was heightened when she walked up to me at recess, her posse trailing behind her like a promise. If you’ve watched any movies in the last twenty years, you can imagine what happens next: she looks me up and down, says “What are you wearing?” while the cruel snicker of the other girls trails off behind her.
But that movie cliche, which I fully expected and had stelled myself for, didn’t play out that day. Instead, she turned to me and said, “Hey, I’m Joanna.” Nice as she could be. She then introduced me to every girl behind her. “We were wondering if you wanted to sit with us at lunch?”
And that’s the difference between film and the real world. Joanna and I became fast friends and are friends to this day. Here’s a shot of us then:
Yes, she was popular because she was (and is) beautiful, but she was also warm, kind, and a great friend.
The Real Truth About Girl Friendships
Sure, I’ve run into a few Regina Georges, but they are a tiny speck in a sea Romy and Micheles. Why then do movies and tv shows always pit girls against girls? Why are girls always fighting over boys? (Even in my most knock-down, drag-out friend fights, none of them were over boys). It’s unfair to girls who grow up expecting fraught female relationships. Sometimes I think they cultivate those relationships because that’s what they see on tv: “I should be angry at Beth because the boy I like is talking to her.” My best guess is that this happens because most of the people scripting the stories are men. Not that they manufacture these tensions with some devious intent; it’s just a narrative they’ve seen before, so they retread it and offer it up for the requisite tension most American narratives rely on.
A Small Spoiler (so Go Finish Stranger Things and Come Right Back)
Consider the second season of Stranger Things, for example, and the meeting between Max and Eleven. Every one of us love both of these girls. They are both tough, headstrong, independent, and smart. So, when the normally reticent Max offers her hand (just like sweet Joanna might’ve) to Eleven, it is devastating when Eleven turns away, cruelly ignoring Max’s brave gesture. We are supposed to believe this rejection is the result of jealousy — Eleven sees Max and her beau Mike having a moment, a beautiful, but very innocent interaction. It’s nothing that would drive a girl away from her first potential female friend.
I can’t express my disappointment in seeing Eleven turn away from Max, but more than that, I can’t express how unrealistic it is.
Duffer Brothers – you can do better.
As I told my 14-year-old daughter, the moment when Eleven rejects Max isn’t real, but this one is:
It’s familiar to my kid; she and her best friends have spent hours doing the same, trying to perfect the same song (Thanks, Pitch Perfect).
Retire a Tired Plot Device
When I was growing up, there were a lot of movies about friendships among boys. The Goonies, Stand by Me, The Lost Boys, The NeverEnding Story, and even Ghostbusters are all films about boys and their pals. Stranger Things is created in that vein, but it’s a 2017-take, and the boys have added a girl or two. That’s cool, but let’s stop the plot device of catty and jealous girls – it’s not my life, and it’s not the life of the girls I know.
When you write a girl into the squad, get it right.