Women’s Talk: The Soft Wool of Female Friendship

The other day my friend Jenny presented me with a crocheted bag in zingy gelato colours. It was made by her and decorated with her signature crocheted blossoms in gorgeous sky blue and watermelon pink. I loved it! I handed her a jar of my homemade plum chutney as she went out of the door after a long laughter filled visit. Crocheted bags, jars of chutney, pots of tea, bowls of soup, crumb covered plates, endless chatter, shared books, shared lives… this is the way of good long friendships between women.

I have been tussling with ideas about female friendship for many years and I am always open to the views of other women about the textured relationship that we have with each other. A couple of weeks ago I went, with my friend, Marie Ann, to a lecture by Felicity Packard, the scriptwriter of the television mini-series Anzac Girls, at the National Museum. Throughout the talk we found ourselves sighing, laughing and smiling at the same moments. We have been friends for a long time and we both loved Anzac Girls for similar reasons. We loved the courage of a screenplay which looks at the theatre of WW1 purely through the lens of women nurses from Australia and New Zealand; we loved that the stories are of real women who were resilient, skilful and dauntless and we loved Packard’s clear differentiation between the friendship that existed among these extraordinary females and the male mateship that is lauded as part of the ANZAC spirit.

Packard has received ridiculous criticism from some quarters about her portrayal of these women’s worlds – too much focus on their romantic lives, too much girl talk and brushing each other’s hair in the lamplight. This kind of criticism reveals our bigotry about female friendship. It is tantamount to treason to disparage the drinking and mutual back slapping which is frequently depicted as part of the mateship of male soldiers yet the interaction between women is often viewed as irrelevant and frivolous. Packard argues, quite rightly, that the perceived minutiae of these women’s friendships is absolutely central to the story of their bravery and sacrifice.

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Real friendship between women is a complex and subtle thing. It is found in rowdy laughter at a common enemy, a poem read out loud over a café table, the soft brushing of hair in times of terror and darkness, tears falling into teacups, hearts singing together in joy and triumph, troubles shared and halved, fears spoken, wisdom offered, words of kindness, words of hope…

Women friends stitch and unpick the fabric of each other’s lives endlessly and it is in that constant reworking that true friendships are woven. We may love the men in our worlds but there are times when a heart to heart talk with a female friend is imperative. There are times when we need someone to really hear our story and then to give us a story of their own and for this to continue until we are sitting a tangle of coloured yarn and the soft wool of companionship is pulled cosily around us. There is a contentment and solace in those conversations that only women understand.

Many years ago I wrote a poem titled: Women’s Talk.

Here it is for all my women friends.

Women’s Talk

Have you noticed
how the purl and plain of
women’s talk is tangled
and snarled
when a man enters the room?
Suddenly stitches are dropped
in the middle of a pattern
worked on for hours
and the cosy blend of colours
dark and light is
snagged and knotted
beyond repair.
The ropy twist
of mannish yarn
weaves its way
harsh and relentless
into the whispered silk
of confidences,
ruining the rich brocade
of spoken moments
(embroidered daintily
with truth and terror)
and the fine cobweb lace
of lies half told.
No deft fingers
can save the garment now
it falls
in a cambric crush
next to the broken loom –
the last threads hang loose
a ravelment of bombast
and vainglory.

~ Anita Patel

(published in Block 9, 2009)

© Anita Patel, 2015

3 thoughts on “Women’s Talk: The Soft Wool of Female Friendship

  1. Lovely, true poem Anita. And a very timely post for me as I’ve just had a long weekend away with some special women friends, who first went away together in the early 1990s. Some no longer live in Canberra but we managed to get together. A fantastic mutually nurturing weekend of talking, sharing, laughing, eating, drinking – of books and games, walks and rests. I could not do without my women friends.

    I was sorry to miss Felicity’s talk. It was in my calendar but it was a horrible day, and I had a lunch commitment and a contract job I was working on. It seemed best to stay in. But, I totally agree with you re the criticisms of ANZAC Girls – I heard them too. I thought she got a wonderful balance of the love, friendship, hard work, conflict and fear that those women must have experienced. I have spoken to Felicity about it and she said she toned down some of the romance in the letters/diaries! Tell that to the critics!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Again thanks for your lovely response. This issue of women’s friendship is close to my heart. I think it is because we live in a country where mateship which is such a male notion is a national value.
      I loved Felicity’s talk and she did mention that she had toned down the romance. Apparently Alice had many more gentlemen admirers.
      It was lovely to hear about your weekend. Nothing like the conversation of women friends to nurture the soul.


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