Between Selena Gomez & Francia Raisa and Sloane Stephens & Madison Keys, I am feeling the love

By Dana Schwartz
September 14, 2017 at 04:33 PM EDT

Anyone who has ever been given a tampon by a stranger in a women’s restroom understands the power of female camaraderie. And yet for young women growing up, there’s an insidious cultural message being broadcast just below audible frequency, the notion that there can only be one girl occupying the dominant spot at any given moment and that being “not like other girls” is valuable social currency. In every spy movie, there is only ever one token woman, the cool super-genius who rolls her eyes at men and is able to hack at superhuman speeds but also maintain a perfect glossy blowout and size 2 body that allows her to seduce and distract enemy guards should the opportunity ever arise. The Avengers have one Black Widow. The Justice League has one Wonder Woman. It’s Obi-Wan, Luke, Han Solo, Boba Fett, Darth Vader, Chewie, the Emperor, Yoda — and Leia. Men get to be the hero, the rogue, the villain, the vigilante, the sidekick, the mentor. Women get to be the spunky princess. Over and over and over again.

But Thursday morning, Selena Gomez revealed that, due to complications from her Lupus, she had received a kidney transplant. And that the kidney came from her best friend, actress Francia Raisa, in an act of such generosity and friendship that it makes the world seem like less of a terrifying place. “There aren’t words to describe how I can possibly thank my beautiful friend Francia Raisa,” Gomez wrote on Instagram. “She gave me the ultimate gift and sacrifice by donating her kidney to me. I am incredibly blessed. I love you so much.”

The messages of female empowerment we do get often come across as stilted and condescending — commercials for yogurt and maxi pads and shirts that say “Girl Power!” that sell for $40 and were sewn by girls making pennies on the other side of the world. The media’s celebration of Taylor Swift’s squad presented female friendship as something aspirational and sanitized, all perfect, thin white limbs and professional photography. This exaltation of the Squad somehow felt only steps away from media’s other favorite place for women: the Catfight.

But did you see that 19-second hug between Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys after their U.S. Open final, where Stephens won her first grand slam title? Watching the hug is the video equivalent of finding $20 in a purse you haven’t used in a while.

Stephens and Keys had been friends even before they faced off, and both had exceeded expectations by making it to the tennis championship’s final match. After Keys’ game ultimately faltered, Stephens was there for her, in her first act as a Grand Slam winner, to comfort and encourage her opponent. The two sat side-by-side after the match when most players remain on opposite sides of the net. It wasn’t just an act of sportsmanship; it was life affirming, beautiful female friendship in all of its glory.

Seeing Stephens and Keys, two extraordinary women celebrating after a tremendous athletic achievement, was a reminder of how wonderful female friendship is. Their whispers were private and genuine; the hug lasted so long you know they truly cared for each other.

Supporting women doesn’t mean supporting every woman. Feminism doesn’t mean never criticizing a woman. There are plenty of women in the world who say and do awful things and have terrible ideas. But it’s worth becoming aware of the insidious ways culture has promoted female competition and then commodified watered-down messages of empowerment and sold it back to us for $19.99.

Seeing female friendship in its true form, untethered from capitalism or condescension, is enough to make this grown woman want to text every woman in her phone and tell her I love and appreciate her. And if anyone needs me, I’ll be binge-watching Broad City.

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