Female bonding has never been stronger. In restaurants, bars, offices and on holidays, women without men is now a common sight. The young Indian woman is an independent economic and social force, capable of enjoyment, earning and spending without male help. by Medha Dutta and Sapna Kapoor
We don’t need men to have fun,” says Preeti Taneja, a fashion entrepreneur from Delhi. “There is no need to divide attention, no egos to please and nobody else’s agenda to follow.” “Yeah, we don’t need male protection. We can look after ourselves,” says her friend and colleague Ruby.“And we have more fun on our own anyway,” Anisha Aiyer, a dotcom executive, nods in agreement.
The three girls, all in their mid-twenties to late, are out for dinner in one of Delhi’s exclusive gourmet restaurants. They are dressed in designer evening clothes; the bags are Prada and Gucci, and Preeti’s shoes are unmistakably Jimmy Choo. Anisha is in Indian ethnic, which couldn’t have come off a Shoppers Stop rack but is obviously from one of the new fashion boutiques where the price tag is just a low whisper. Their haircuts are trendy—a short voluminous bob with graduated fringes, a wavy side-ponytail with a side bang and a classic long bob.
One of them sported the Harry Potter-inspired Gryffindor dye job that had become an Instagram rage (there is even a tutorial on YourTube on the radical colour job). A bottle of wine is on their table, and two wine glasses half full or half empty. Preeti has ordered a Scotch on the rocks. They have also ordered tempura and lab kai in crispy wonton shells. The three women are obviously at ease with both themselves and their surroundings, choosing the right dishes and the right wine. The waiter is considerate and even obsequious—these are girls with money and can tip large.
“Women today are very clear about what they want,” says Arun Sundararajan, executive chef of the illustrious Taj Mansingh Hotel, Delhi. “There is a group of 10 women who come to Wasabi once a month. They’re very clear on what to order, are knowledgeable about the food and even diets.”The scene is being replicated in bars, restaurants, luxury hotels, airlines and shopping boutiques in India and overseas where Indian girls and women, armed with credit cards backed up with healthy bank accounts, are basking in exclusive camaraderie instead of being the usual addendum to the swaggering Indian male. In nightclubs in the big Indian cities, the dance floors are full of girls grooving with one another in groups. Indian female power has broken free from the conventional matrix of social relationships and is discovering new horizons. Femship is the gender alternative to bromance and boy, isn’t it growing?
“I’m getting a complex,” rues Nimish (name changed) who owns a chain of shoe stores in Delhi and Mumbai. “My girlfriend has more girls’ nights than with me. I’m afraid once we get married I’ll be the one changing nappies while she is out partying with friends.”
The young urban independent Indian woman, who drives Audis and Range Rovers bought with her own money working in corporate offices and competing with men, often outdoing them, belongs to social posses that do not believe in gender peer pressure. They buy their own luxury apartments and take holidays with girl pals. They are role models for their sisters in small towns who hope to make it big in the city.
Sex and the City was just the hors d'oeuvres of the 2000s. The mains is now Femship in the City as stereotypes are being broken. On television and in films, whether by Ekta Kapoor or in Gossip Girls, women have traditionally been portrayed as antagonists, who are mean and misuse their power depending on their relative status to men. Not anymore.
Pop culture is boosting femship: Taylor Swift’s music video of her hit song Bad Blood features a band of badass girls beating up men in suits. It made the hashtag #SquadGoals go viral, as women all over the world started posting pictures of their femship gangs on social media platforms.
“Women don’t need escorts when they are out to enjoy nightlife,” says Shiv Karan, successful Delhi restaurateur, “We are now very protective of our female customers. In all the best restaurants, the staff has been briefed to watch over girls enjoying themselves and if any group of males make unwanted advances, we firmly ask the men to leave.” Kitty parties are for the elderly and the unfashionable; more for ladies who lunch than girls who party.
Apart from femship, the other portmateau of words that sums up female bonding is ‘womance’—a close but non-sexual relationship between two or more women engaged in homosocial intimacy. Social media bonding is playing a big role in the popularity of Femship and Womance, with Facebook groups, Twitter broadcasts, Instagram and Skype enabling better, inclusive and private group conversations. New plays, books, movies, restaurant openings, stand up comedy acts, wine and single malt appreciation events, cruises and exotic holidays for both leisure, self-education and shopping are all discussed and decided online.
Indian women and girls are exposed more than ever to the acceptability of independent women in Western society. Travel and education have been catalysts to the growth of femships and womances. Fourteen summers ago, Sumitra Senapaty had the epiphany to start the WOW Club (Women on Wanderlust) based on the concept of all-women travel. Says Senapaty, “The idea of ‘me time’ for women travellers, that too on their own, was unheard of. Women were constrained by familial and social limitations. But there has been a paradigm shift now in female behaviour that encourages women to be bold and explore their ambitions and dreams successfully”
The female knowledge bank has upped girlpower. Previously, education was more of a marriage qualification than mental illumination, and employment often a means to supplement the income of middle class families. Today, women are exposed to multiple information streams thanks to the internet explosion, television, malls and bookshops. As Indian society becomes wealthier, parents encourage their daughters to study abroad. More and more girls are living in big cities in the US, the UK and Europe learning the arts, design and technology. Here they cultivate strong bonds with other girls, both local and from other countries. Consequently, their knowledge base expands widely, and so does their interpersonal skills since socialising exposes them to cosmopolitan and foreign cultural lifestyles. A 2016 study on reading and learning by Profesor Keith Topping among British students noted that males came out significantly worse and lagged behind in reading tests. The boys tended to miss sections out of pages or skipped some completely when reading, a trait less pronounced in girls, showing girls are more knowledge-hungry and reading more than boys.
Mona Arian, a successful wedding planner in Mumbai, has a daughter studying in the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at the University of Surrey. Within a short time after moving to England, she made a group of eight friends comprising only women. They love to go on culinary adventures together and have recently embarked on a trip to Germany to explore the various culinary practices there. Says Mona, “All eight students are from diverse cultural backgrounds from across the globe. They imbibe a lot from each other and also have each other’s backs. Being a woman, I feel happy that the younger generation is not really into cat fights, and is more aware of the collective power of womanhood and the freedom and confidence it brings.”
When it comes to shopping, conventional wisdom says Men Buy while Women Shop. The luxury fashion website Net-a-Porter has an app called Net Set for iPhones, iPads, and Apple Watches and allows women to shop on a digital platform with other women. “It’s a social shopping platform,” says Natalie Massenet, the founder. But Manisha Mishra, a Delhi-based lifestyle consultant, doesn’t need apps for retail therapy. She says, “I often go out for brunch and shopping with my girlfriends. It’s not just a stress-buster but I also get to catch up on all the gossip. Forget about being jealous, our group of four is the best company of all. From trying out adventurous foods and getting sloshed, to buying risqué lingerie, we’ve done it all. And, believe me, it never felt so good. Take it from me—rather than having a boyfriend, invest in girlfriends. They last longer and are much less trouble. But we follow two rules when we get together: What happens in Dallas, stays in Dallas. And, no men allowed. It’s our personal space and we fiercely guard it.”“Girls who go out together by themselves is a cult now,” says Karan. “Men are boring.”
This trend is not limited to single women. Pune entrepreneur Sweta Kalra says nothing feels better than leaving the husband back home to take care of the kid while she and her female friends enjoy themselves, by themselves. “We indulge in some super luxurious—and often out-of-bounds—me time. I have two very close friends and the three of us often go on long drives, leaving all our responsibilities behind. Our most enjoyable adventure was in the Andamans, where we learnt snorkelling.”
Chef Sundaraj says, “Women now know how to party. They are very clear about what is healthy and their diet.” Women and girls have formed health groups where they work out at the gym together, hire a trainer together and go to yoga classes in a group. “There are women-only meditation groups,” says yoga instructor and healer Madhu, who has a studio in Gurgaon.
Last month, three girl pals who are best friends took a trip to London to celebrate 25 years of friendship. They didn’t want husbands or children along. “We chose a destination where we had previously been so that we already knew where to chill, shop, party and go clubbing,” says Sumedha Batra, creative director of Tapio Creations. Recently a well-known politician’s wife celebrated her 40th birthday with 10 girlfriends in Santorini, Italy—her husband presumably was left to making speeches at home.“We are always being judged by men—be it our clothes, hairstyles, body shape and habits,” says Preeti. “Girls had enough.”
The magic of social and personal interactions has gender confines no more. Women are discovering new boundaries as femship and womance fill their world with new energy and power.
The Free Girl Dictionary
Femship: Close female camaraderie
Womance: Non-sexual relationship between women
High Wives: Wives who have fun in groups without husbands
Feddies: Two girl friends
Glub: Close group of girls who regularly meet for leisure activities
Chipski: Man/boy who wants to be in girl groups (from Hindi slang word ‘chipko’)