There are some realities about life that are hard to deny. If you ask any woman about the difficult process of keeping and maintaining female friendships, there is a very high probability that she will have a number of stories to tell about experiencing a falling out with more than one of her female friends. Author, Nina Gaby explores female friendships in her new book, Dumped: Stories of Women Unfriending Women. Gaby is a writer, widely shown visual artist, and psychiatric nurse practitioner whose essays and fiction have been published by Lilith Magazine, Creative Non Fiction’s In Fact imprint, Seal Press, Paper Journey Press, Wising-Up Press, The Prose-Poem Project and on Brevity.com.
Is Dumped coming from a feminist perspective? Before we get into the book what are your views on women’s rights?
Great question and absolutely yes. Everything I do has always come from a feminist perspective. At the age of four I argued with my family that women shouldn’t change their names when they get married. I’ve been furious about inequality and am terrified of what is happening in the world today. I consider myself a somewhat heartbroken “post-feminist” now, as I no longer can think in those simple ways, as I did back in my activist-separatist-feminist days. My longer view now has less to do with a knee-jerk reaction and is more about allowing myself to look at how we women have f***** up and continue to abdicate responsibility. Of course it’s not as simple as that, but that would be another interview! Dumped: Stories of Women Unfriending Women just gives honest airtime to women who have considered the place that their relationships with women friends have held in their lives. Kind of like a Bechdel test for essays. The writer writing about other women without any necessary need to include men in the dialogue. It’s also fine if they do, in fact one of my favorite essays in the collection is Carrie Kabak’s “All Talk and Trousers” which spends a lot of time in the kitchen with a sociopathic boyfriend. But the essence of the story is about losing her best friend in the mix. A friend that was very appropriate to lose, by the way.
What moved you to write the book?
I have always honored my relationships with women, at least in concept- my behaviors have not always been so great for which I apologize in the book- and as I grow older this becomes more important. When I went through the incident that I describe in my piece in the book, I tried to look at this in a larger way, how did this type of experience affect other women? The more I talked about it, the more I became convinced of the universality of this phenomenon. And as a psychiatric nurse practitioner and therapist, I am very aware how connection and disconnection plays out in terms of both mental and physical health, how deeply it influences resilience, resilience being a factor heavily researched in terms of how we manage our lives. My decision to move forward with this project has very deep personal as well as professional roots.
When was the first time you felt rejected or “unfriended” by a female friend?
I write in the book about my friend Linda in junior high. Prior to that I had been the queen bee of my family and of the neighborhood which meant that I did the dumping, or at the very least I had so many backup friends that I didn’t even notice if I was rejected. When Linda cut me off it knocked me off my game. I developed a tough skin and in turn played roughshod with a lot of other people’s feelings over the years until I learned the hard way that not everyone is expendable.
Do you think the media has a lot to do with women having trouble getting along with one another or does it go further back in the history of our culture and society?
I think the media has a lot to do with everything, but I do feel that divisiveness among women has its roots much further back. The media will promote anything it can to get attention. Some of the attention for women’s friendships has been very positive. In my introduction to Dumped I write:
“It is a somewhat new and very welcome development that the stories of our friendships have become more marketable and even more scientifically relevant. According to the Los Angeles Times , 4.6 million viewers watched the season two finale of Girls on HBO, and the Hollywood Reporter announced an equal number in season three. The successes of Sex and the City, Mean Girls, Bridesmaids, and Orange is the New Black have been huge. Books about us are making best-seller lists. This is “The Age of Girlfriends,” as Anna Holmes, founder of the website Jezebel, wrote in her New Yorker essay of the same name. Suddenly we are no longer trivial; we are hot.”
That being said, I also have given the title to my own essay in the collection “Simple Geometry: The Art of War for Girls.” Woman have had to find ways of survival that look vindictive, petty, marginalizing. It is way beyond the scope of what we have time for here, but we pound each other into the ground for many reasons, and as on a good mud-wrestling show on TV, yeah, it’s big business. Alexis Paige, in her essay “Bridezilla or Chill Bride” writes:
“If anything, this is as much a story about dumping as it is about love, fear, and hatred of women. You internalize misogyny, swallowing it hard and whole and driving it down into your bellies. You play its roles, perpetuate its cycles, and become alienated from other women, just as you are alienated from yourself. A system doesn’t care about people, only about survival, only about itself.”
Was putting together this book a way for you to heal from your personal social experiences?
Over the course of producing Dumped, I have had an opportunity to reconnect with people from my past and have these conversations that went like: “You dumped me” “No you dumped me” and so on. What an interesting dynamic that is, for us to have the opportunity to examine our own part in something that we might have tried to ignore, or painfully carried with us for years. One friend, in particular, is dying from cancer, and reconnecting has been so precious. In the course of this book I have lost some other friends to death and so glad I had the opportunity to let them know how important they have been. I have also had to learn to live with brutal disconnection, have learned to thrive despite all- and this book is evidence of that. One of the contributors to the book is someone I felt was, for lack of a better term, abandoning our friendship and I made myself focus on her incredible value and not on how primed emotionally I have become to expect rejection. Being in the ‘here and now’ with that has been pretty intense, a great learning experience which, again, would make for another interview. The situation of which I write in “Simple Geometry” resolved only insomuch as I have again learned to glean what is valuable.
What emotional response are you hoping to get from your readers?
Aha! Me too! And I want them to laugh knowingly and then go out and buy a bunch of copies and give them to all their friends.
What message do you want to send women through Dumped?
Romance is fine. Keep it in its place. Use friendship as ballast that should have your best interests at heart. Buy this book and give it to all your friends. Oh, sorry, did I already say that?
Do you have any long time female friends?
I do and I cherish them the longer the time we are together. It’s pretty hokey to say this but they are like charms on a bracelet. I know some kick-ass women. And what I have found is that it takes work to keep people in your life. Especially those of us who are full time professionals, who are so incredibly busy, it has to be a priority. I have certainly learned that lesson. In an interesting aside, and for whatever it means, my current best local friend is a 25 year old gay guy, originally a friend of my daughter who has moved away, and one of the few people who can keep up with me. My older female friends adore him.
What is your message for young women growing up in an era where “unfriending” runs rampant?
There is a wall plaque that my husband, the Clinical Director of an adolescent treatment program, found and put up in the hallway for the kids to see every day. It simply says “Kindness Matters.”