Do you remember being about nine years old and a parent's friend saying something like, 'Oh you must meet my niece Jessica, she's nine too!' A play-date with Jessica would be arranged: a meet-up in which you were both banished to a bedroom and expected to get on like a house on fire.
As a child, I remember finding this beyond perplexing. 'Why', I thought, 'just because we're both nine, do adults think Jessica and I will get on? I don't even know this kid. We may well have nothing in common.' Often we didn't. But, because we were both nine, no one thought for a second that we might be just as unlikely to get on as two adults. (Even though she wanted to play a Scooby-Doo themed game that I did not, under any circumstances, want to be associated with. I mean, come on Jessica, we're nine years old, we're better than this.)
I hoped that this rogue assumption would clear up as I got older. It has, to a degree. No one says 'Oh, Louise is also 21, why don't you girls meet up.' It sounds absurd. But the patronising assumption that we apply to children is, in a sense, reflected in our strange and insulting attitude towards adult women.
Women, like children, are supposed to all get on with each other. When, recently, Kim Cattrall, the actress who played Samantha in Sex and the City, explained that she and her co-stars have 'never been friends' but rather saw themselves as 'colleagues', the internet, collectively, lost its sh*t. There was mass disbelief, shock and disgust at the revelation that four fellow actresses, thrust together unceremoniously several decades ago, might not always have seen eye to eye.
Admittedly, the fact that the actresses could simulate such firm friendships within the TV series added to the surprise at the discovery that, in reality, they were not quite so companionable. But, the amazement at Kim Cattrall's statement that Sex and the City cast were not friends is undoubtedly on account of their gender, not just their onscreen personas.
The assumption that a group of women should all be able to get on with each other is so much more common than the idea that a group of men working on a project are guaranteed to be BFFs. Women are expected to bond over their many shared interests (flower-arranging, child-bearing, menstruating etc.) without any understanding of the fact that having a vagina bears no relation to whether or not you'll like someone else who also happens to have a vagina.
If women choose not to be friends with each other, we don't assume it's the result of discernment, selectivity or individuality - qualities which men are permitted to display in their choice of friends. No, if a woman doesn't get on with another woman it must be because of jealousy, pettiness, cattiness or competitiveness. Women are not allowed the luxury of being all 'hey, she isn't really my cup of tea.' There's no 'she says tom-ay-toe, I say tom-ah-toe' when it comes to female interaction. You're either besties, or you're enemies.
And, frankly, I find this even more frustrating than the nine-year old me found the idea that I'd get on with other nine-year olds. Because 'both being nine' felt a lot more likely to result in similarities than 'both being women' does. Prescriptive ideas about what a woman should be underpin this harmful and sexist notion that we should have things in common.
We need to give women the right to dislike each other without condemning them as b*tchy, or catty or a shame-on-the-sisterhood. We'll reach this point by dismantling our very conception of 'womanhood', and ideas about what qualities or anatomical features a woman will necessarily possess. Because women are not a homogeneous group; we don't all want the same things, or have the same things, or look the same way.
That's not to say that people who are different one from another can't be pals; of course they can. But once we cease to understand femaleness in such rigid and simplistic terms, it'll become easier to comprehend that not all women need to be best friends.