Gal Pals: Cultivating Friendships

Feminism is often pictured as a conflict; feminists fight for equality and fight for women’s voices to be heard. But, feminism is also in the quieter moments between mother and daughter, between friends, and even between strangers. Cultivating your friendships with other women is an essential component of building strength and resilience as a person and as a community. It’s extremely feminist!

And, bonus, spending time with your friends is actually improving your health. Study after study shows that women are balms for each other’s anxieties. Stress relief is the most common side effect of a good ol’ gal pal. In recent years, however, more drastic proof of health benefits from your friendships have been published: the Journal of Clinical Oncology reported on a study done in China where breast cancer patients experienced a higher chance of survival if they had a wider social network. The relationships that women build are so rich in depth that they can defy nature. 

Your gal pals may be your life line, and they may also be your form of feminist protest. Every generation of women has a different approach to these bonds, so I interviewed some of Benicia’s women for some inspiration.

Baby Boomers (1946-1964) – Dianna Rees

Dianna and her girlfriends like to travel together. “We’ve been friends for almost 50 years,” she told me. This group of gal pals met during freshman orientation week back in the 1970s. Now that the women’s children are raised, they have the freedom to visit historical sites in the States as well as abroad. “[We] have to get those 10,000 steps on our FitBits,” Dianna made sure to add. On these trips, they engage with each other, but also engage with their surroundings, often reflecting on world history. Together they seek discovery of themselves and their environments.

Gen X (1965-1980) – Raksha MacFarland

Raksha’s answer to my question of what she does with her gal pals was this: “Oh my gosh, just about everything!” Her long list included big items like traveling, but also wine tasting, playing sports, or just sending a sweet text. Really, it boiled down to trying new things to make more memories together. New memories make these friendships fun and exciting to balance out the more serious, and perhaps tragic, moments.

Millennial (1981-1996) – Rachel Morgado

Rachel and her gal pals like to go on walks together. This is partly because they can double up the health benefits of exercise while putting time and love into each other. “As we’ve gotten older, work-life balance has gotten harder,” not to mention marriage, babies, moving away, and all the other things that come with “adulting.” Going on walks together also serves as accountability. It makes the exercise more fun and it gives you someone to answer to on those days when the couch looks all too inviting.

Gen Z (1997-2012) – Helena Hamed

As a member of Gen Z, I am keenly aware of my generation’s affinity for solitude. Coming of age while the internet was still catching its footing was full of uncertainty. Then, we were dunked in more uncertainty as adulthood felt synonymous with pandemics, wildfires, and economic failures. My close friend, Helena, and I like to use books as an escape, whether it’s going on a book date, which is shopping for a book and then finding a quiet place to read in each other’s company, or loud conversations dissecting our latest unofficial book club read. Helena says, “If I love a book enough, I force my friends to read it and love it, too. This may seem shallow to someone else, but for us, it’s a way to reveal ourselves to our loved ones.”

A common thread through the generations is the support that women offer each other. Dianna says, “they are like my second family,” because they have held each other up through divorces, deaths, and cancers in addition to all of the good times. And as for the good times, I think Raksha put it best: “We lift each other up, we cry together and celebrate together.” Rachel says, “These friendships remind me of all the positive things I have in my life,” and Helena adds, “There is no purer happiness than sharing a moment with someone you love.”

Women take the time to know each other deeply.

They put in the effort to peel back the layers and dissect the unique aspects of their friends, flaws and strengths alike. It is this level of understanding between girlfriends that lays the foundation on which we lean when needed. 

Whether you’re young, mature, or somewhere between, it is never too late to cultivate your friendships with the women in your life. Take a leaf from another generation’s book and share the wealth of knowledge. Traveling with a bestie, like Dianna, may uncover quirks that you’ve never seen before. Trying new things, like Raksha, can unlock a new hobby to share together. Going on walks, like Rachel, can keep you motivated and accountable for your health. And sharing your passions and insights, like Helena, may just be the release that you need to unwind after a difficult week.