Why We Need More Genuine Women Friendships in Books

Women friendships are such a beautiful thing, but they’re underrepresented in books. Let’s talk about it.

Book Culture Fiction On This Day On Writing Opinions Recommendations
4 women standing side by side facing away from the camera with their arms around each others' shoulders

Most of my friends have been women, so I always love finding friendships between women in books. But these friendships are pretty uncommon in literature, and many of the ones that do exist are shallow, or they interact off the page. There should be more of them, and here’s why.

There Are a Lot of Women

Women comprise approximately half of the world’s population. Given that there are about 8.1 billion people, that means there are about 4 billion women. But women apparently aren’t friends in books? Friendships between women are very common in real life, so why not have that represented in novels?

I think there are two main problems: books either have several women who don’t interact and/or are enemies, or there’s only one main woman in the book, and she rarely, if ever, interacts with other women.

A prime example of the first issue would be the Avengers comic book series. There are plenty of women: Black Widow, Gamora, Pepper Potts, etc. But none of them talk or are friends, despite being friends with male characters. For the second problem, a series like Sherlock Holmes is a good example. Most women in this series are victims of a crime, and the few who aren’t are side characters, like Watson’s wife. The only sort of main character is Irene Adler, who appears in one story. But she doesn’t interact with other women or form friendships.

'Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons' by Lorna Landvik book cover showing three women relaxing in a pool drinking and playing cards

Women friendships can be done, and they can be done right. The book Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons by Lorna Landvik is about five friends who form a “club” that slowly becomes their lifeline. They’ve been friends for decades through all of life’s troubles and gifts. They laugh and cry together, and they lean on and support each other when times are hard.

Other Friendships Are Common

Friendships are important in books; I don’t think I’ve ever read a fiction book where none of the characters had any friends. Friendships between men are very common, like in Of Mice and Men, and friendships between men and women are somewhat common, like in Radio Silence. But genuine friendships between women, where one isn’t acting as a sounding board or disappears after the first couple of chapters, are too rare.

I think the main two problems are that friendships between women are not seen as important to the plot, and that some authors (especially male authors) don’t know how to write them effectively. I understand not all books feature friendships, but the ones that do should have varied and diverse friendships, including (but not limited to) friendships between women. I think books miss out by not including them. And they aren’t difficult to write well. While friendships between women tend to be more social and emotional than between men, this doesn’t mean that they’re complete opposites.

'The Supremes at Earl's All-You-Can-Eat: A Novel' by Edward Kelsey Moore book cover with a guest check with a diner in the background

For another book on positive women friendships, I recommend The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat. Odette, Barbara Jean, and Clarice have been friends since high school, and they stuck together and endure life’s challenges and joys together. Odette is facing a terrifying battle, Barbara Jean is haunted by her past, and Clarice is struggling to deal with her husband’s infidelity. They depend on each other and shows how their support for each other is life changing.

It’s the 21st Century

It took an unfortunately long time for women in books to be fleshed out and well-written. The strong female character trope got us started, though that was imperfect in itself. It still made women one-dimensional; only now, they weren’t depicted as just emotional and dependent on men. Representation is better now, especially since over half of the books published in the U.S. are by women. But this delay in women’s character development in books is likely also what led to the delay in strong friendships between literary women.

However, as mentioned before, it is the 21st century. I think it’s finally time that real friendships between women appear in more books. Now, I know that not every book will showcase friendships between women, and sometimes, that would be impractical. (If I’m reading a cookbook, I don’t necessarily want to read about a friendship unless it’s important somehow.) But I think friendships between women could bring so much to books, to the characters, and to the readers.

'The Animators' by Kayla Rae Whitaker book cover with a glitch rainbow screen on top and a road surrounded by green on the bottom

Showing the impact of friendships is important. The Animators follows opposite best friends Mel and Sharon who are trying to be animators. They work hard and ten years later, finally release a full-length animation feature about Mel’s childhood. But as time goes, Sharon feels expendable, and their friendship gets put to the test. The novel shows the highs and lows of their friendship, and it’s as endearing as it is heartbreaking.

For more on women’s friendships, click here.