This International Women’s Day, we’re celebrating the platonic lovers of Claudia Weill’s Girlfriends, and our very own Contributing Writer Anahit Behrooz – her first book, BFFs: The Radical Potential of Female Friendship, celebrates these women and so many more, in their expansive and emancipatory understanding of female intimacy through friendship. Here’s an exclusive extract from the book.
Perhaps what unsettles me most about Frances Ha is the sense that we should be past what it shows, that this old story – the relinquishing of childish ways for an accomplished life – belongs to a different, unenlightened time. Didn’t we already do this? I think, as everyone fragments into tidy units around me. Didn’t we devote decades to fighting this? Didn’t we decide that this isn’t what we want? I spent my childhood reading the classic novels of English literature, arrogant with the birth right of my modernity. Jane Austen, the Brontës, Elizabeth Gaskell... their narratives were flush with a passion I yearned for, but the demands of their marriage plots, I felt with relief, would not, could never, concern me. I was so naïve, and so unprepared for the ways in which these things still deeply matter, the ways they still structure both our society and what we consider important. I had foolishly assumed that feminism, whatever abstracted understanding I had of it, had undone all this, that it had wiped the slate clean. That love could come without conditions; that we could dictate the open terms of our intimacies. I have spent years now in a state of irreconcilable desire, caught between stability and independence, subsumption and equity, entanglement and freedom. In Claudia Weill’s 1978 film Girlfriends, a direct predecessor to Baumbach’s Frances Ha, such tension forms part of the self-determining struggle of second-wave feminism – a victory I had once assumed well and won. Exploring the fallout in friendship between two roommates after one abruptly leaves to get married, Girlfriends is a gem of American independent filmmaking, made at a time when very few women were given opportunities to direct. Much like Frances Ha, which stays on its eponymous heroine, Girlfriends spends most of its time with Susan (Melanie Mayron), an aspiring photographer living in New York, rather than her married writer friend Annie (Anita Skinner). Susan, with her enchanting Nan Goldin hair and easily stung sensibility, seems hardly to recognise either her friend or herself in the aftermath of their separation. She sits quietly in Annie’s new home, uncertain around the sudden, foreign presence of a husband-of-the-house; she is alternately charming and prickly at parties, slipping away from a one-night-stand only to apologise months later. “I was just coming out of a heavy relationship,” she sheepishly excuses herself. When, in a rare moment of togetherness, Susan and Annie sit looking at photos on a projector, it isn’t until moments later that we learn they are not Susan’s but snapshots from Annie’s honeymoon, given sudden, exhibitive pride of place. Watching Susan’s mounting sense of rejection, I am reminded violently of Mira Mattar’s novel Yes, I Am a Destroyer, and the vignette in which the nameless narrator speaks of her friendships. ‘Suddenly it eats at tables,’ she writes, ‘wedded, and looks askance at the broken, the unhinged, wielding a screwdriver.’