Life & Style

August 9, 2016

How Girl Gangs Are Changing Internet Culture

Female BFFs aren’t just for tragic teenagers

  • Written by Kristen Cochrane

I realised we were in a new age of friendship when the self-identifying feminist dating app, Bumble added a new feature: Bumble BFF. And that I really wanted to be on it.

Bumble is like Tinder, but different because women have to message men first. The app introduced Bumble BFF in March, a feature that allowed you to still swipe right or left on someone’s face to indicate yes or no to wanting to talk – except it’s for exclusively platonic relationships. After all, it’s pretty hard to make new friends as an adult, which you can quickly find out if you move to another city without your main crew.

I used Bumble BFF very briefly, but only because I quickly decided that I should probably invest in the friendships that I already have. In spite of my early quitting on the Bumble friendship game, I actually made friends from Bumble. But the internet gal pals I made via the app still leave emojis and compliments on my selfies and photos, and I regularly return the favour.

This may seem like desperate behaviour, but the need for human connection is normal and its perception as “socially tragic” is because never talk about the significance of friendship. As sociology professor, Sasha Roseneil claims, “friendship is an understudied yet vital important topic for gender and women’s studies.”

This focus on friendship and support, rather than competitiveness and jealousy, is materialising in contemporary art, literature, and culture — in the art practice of Molly Soda and her SXSW sleepover room called The High Art Sleepover as a safe-space for women during the après of festivals, in the girlhood-oriented photography of Petra Collins, or in the literature (in digital and in print) of fashion writer and Rookie magazine founder Tavi Gevinson – among many others.

The anti-jealousy, girl-girl friendship culture is most obvious in the photography of Canada-born Petra Collins, who has taken a number of photos of her and her sister Anna’s Toronto-based friends, including photographer and model, Jacqueline Ashton. Besides Petra and her sister’s social network of affectionate friendships being featured in her work, Petra’s photography has shown us intimate portraits of young women who are considered “nodels” (or non-model). The importance of nodels has to do with its attempt at showing more diversity, which is what a sisterhood should contain — not just women of a particular body type or skin colour.

Molly Soda has said that a recurring theme in her art is “seeking intimacy online in a space that feels so insincere.” With The High Art Sleepover one of the aims was to eliminate the prefix “over” from “oversharing,” because sharing is an integral part of a healthy friendship, right?

Under her work for Style Rookie and its later incarnation as Rookie Mag, Tavi Gevinson’s mandate is women in harmony with other women, and more importantly in harmony with themselves. For example, one of the categories on Rookie Mag is “Friendship,” which features articles on advice, stories and friend crushes.

While artistic sisterhoods are not new, the current genesis of art and culture based friendship is part of an optimistic vision of the internet. It’s easier to connect with people, especially if you are part of a demographic that has been historically marginalized and whose experiences are hidden or not deemed as important as others.

As long as you have an internet connection, or are connected to the internet, there are more possibilities for friendship and experience sharing. Getting the chance to speak with someone about problems only you thought you had, or just making sincere friendships (that can start with a simple Instagram follow), are what makes life worthwhile for a lot of people today.

Culture in a broad sense is all about the sisterhood again, but this time artists, writers and filmmakers are trying to forge an anti-jealousy global sisterhood that acknowledges the idea that we don’t all experience the same kind of oppression. Instead of being competitive over scarce resources, isn’t it just better if we all help each other out?

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