I’m writing because I can’t seem to make any female friends. Since I was a kid I always had guy friends, and it stayed that way through all of high school and college. I didn’t really get the other girls, I thought they were off-putting and not as fun. But now it’s years later, my guy friends all have girlfriends, and I feel like I’m maybe missing out on something. But I don’t know even how to talk to other women. I’m not particularly girlish or feminine (sometimes I wish I could be, but I really don’t know how), and I don’t know how to meet women or let them know I want to hang out with them. Help?
I once bought a book strictly for the title: The School of Femininity by Margaret Lawrence. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if such a school existed? Some of us miss vital lessons growing up, and I’m not just talking about how to put on eyeliner in a non-wiggly kind of way. I did a Google search once, to see if there was a real school of femininity somewhere, and if I could enroll, and maybe later become headmistress, but all I found was some hideously bright orange website that told women to embrace their menstrual cycle as a gift from the goddess and said that for $1,295 you could go swimming with the dolphins.
I’m guessing you’re looking for a dolphin-free version of femininity here.
Now, when you’re feeling ostracized or adrift from a group, it’s easy to see them as one free-floating mass, harmonious and homogeneous. Everyone got the secret passcode to get in except you. Everyone knows how to apply straight and thick eyeliner but you. You are not totally unique from the world of women, you know. There’s not really a female thing to get. If you’re seeing women as this mysterious group, you may be following in a historically sanctioned tradition, but you’re not really seeing them.
So I’m going to send you to the School of Femininity after all. Not the dolphin one, the book. It’s out of print, and that is a shame, but this is the information age and a used version is well worth tracking down. Lawrence provides a critical introduction to the literature of women, the subjects of her essays ranging from Mary Wollstonecraft to Daphne du Maurier, and she finds a diverse group of scribbling ladies with different passions, interests, methods, and lessons on how to be female. Some are harlots. Others, high priestesses. Even matriarchs. There are many different roles to play, and Lawrence offers a guide to them all. Often when cultural custodians talk about “women’s writing” it is as if it were that harmonious and homogeneous thing, predictable and easily summarized. But Lawrence reveals it to be cacophonous, some of it sophisticated and wise, some of it with smeared lipstick and mussed hair. No version is more feminine than any other.
To feel like you’re in touch with women, you need to take another look at how varied they can be. And maybe by doing so, you’ll find your place among them.
If you’d like Jessa to ponder your question, write to “Kind Reader” at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Illustration by Thea Brine.