The Lesser Discussed Phenomenon of Toxic Female Friendships

One of my favourite Nigerian feminists is definitely Kiki Mordi. She is a journalist behind the award winning documentary called Sex For Grades, which exposed campus sexual harassment in some of West Africa’s prominent universities. 

She is also a member of Feminist Coalition and is a filmmaker committed to telling the stories of women using various formats.

In addition to the above, Kiki Mordi is vocal about the rights of women and girls. She constantly uses her large platforms to speak on women’s issues and advocate against sexual abuse.

One of my best Twitter threads by her showed me how women can be toxic, unappreciative and supportive to each other without realising it. In it, she relayed the story of a girl she knew from university who came complaining to another girl that women had been victimising her and if not for men who had been sending her money she’ll have died.

What is doubly interesting and sad is that the girl she was complaining to had been housing for free for about a year. 

Again, the people who were nodding along with the complainant were the very people who shared food, brought in clothes when it was about to rain and generally were helpful to women. But for some reason, they too were nodding along to the words of a girl who in essence downplayed their help.

I have often thought of that thread and the bigger question of toxic female friendships that it draws a spotlight on. Is this to say that women’s friendships are not wholesome or that women should aspire to friendships with only men to “avoid female drama?”. No it isn’t.

It is rather to question why in the quest for male approval, some women are toxic to their female friends and do not show appreciation for the help rendered by them.

There are women who claim to be friends with you as a woman, but they would not think twice about blaming you should you encounter sexual harassment while wearing short skirts. 

Instead of telling you that even hijabis encounter harassment, they blame you for not listening to them and have the nerve to tell you that it is because of “tough love” that they are warning you not to wear short things. 

Some women claim to be friends but they are the ones who shame their friends for having abortions. They are the ones who go about telling everyone about the sexual and often traumatic activities of their friend. 

They are the ones who excitedly tell men about the sexual “gist” of the women close to them if it means that he would elevate them to a good woman pedestal. 

Is it even the women who claim to be girl’s girls but go about selling the nude pictures of their female friends that were shared in confidence?

Again: There are women who are indeed toxic female friends. We need to discuss that more often without thinking that it is a dent on the very wholesome nature of feminist minded female friendships.

Discussing it opens space to show how sexism seeps even into how women relate with ourselves in a space that has no male physically present.

Speaking with Kay*, she relayed how she has been betrayed by friends.

In her words: “I have benefited from being in female relationships once here and there, while other times, I had friends breaking girl code because of a boy. I’ve been betrayed by a friend because she liked the guy I was dating then she tried spreading rumors that I was sleeping around.

I recently had friends that kept talking behind my back ruining my name and making my life hard and then I’d still cry to them about how everything was going, not knowing they were behind it.”

For Raheemat, she believes it all boils down to male validation and the search for men’s approval.

To quote her: “I want to say male validation (I know I sound like a broken record at this point 😩😹). They think they will be treated better if they just cut off some friends for no reason. 

I have never encountered toxic female friendships. My sister has, although she’s a teenager maybe it’s teenage antics who knows. But anyway most of them just stop talking to her for no reason, she’d reach out and they won’t return the energy. Then later one of them started sending lots of messages of how she’s a bad friend and she doesn’t talk to them anymore (like I said might be teenagers blues).”

She went on to say: “Regarding solutions, well, as someone once told me, the people that will love in this life have not finished. I know toxic experiences hurt but I don’t think that should rob someone of meeting friends who will treat you well. And if you let what those people did make you miss out on beautiful friendships, they are the ones who won.”

When asked to share her opinion, Gladys said this: “To some extent, in earlier times, we were groomed for men. To be their wives and helps. Anything else comes second, even friendships. That is the foundation of most issues today. A man can make a woman cut off friends so it’s not so unexpected that a woman will hurt other women to get a pat on the back from men who are viewed as the higher beings in these cases. Women need to be re-oriented really, however best that can happen.”

The reality is that misogyny affects women even in friendships. 

The first step to healing is to acknowledge this fact and not run away from it.

It is important for there to be nuanced conversations on how to move forward and create a world where women’s friendships will not be affected by the often toxic male gaze.

*Name changed to protect identity

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