A new book delves into the power of modern female friendships, and what makes them so unique.
"Text me when you get home." We've all said it at the end of a night with our girlfriends. But when you stop to think about it, that phrase is so much more than a request for confirmation that your BFFs have made it to bed safely. In a new book about women's friendships, journalist Kayleen Schaefer argues that it symbolizes the unique depth of female bonds. In fact, she loves the expression so much she chose it for her title. Text Me When You Get Home ($24, amazon.com) is a moving, inspiring, and captivating tribute to the relationships we form with other women. Below, we asked Schaefer about some of the themes in the book. Read on for her empowering answers, then finalize our Galentine’s Day plans ASAP.
What inspired you to title your book Text Me When You Get Home?
The title was actually my brilliant editor Maya Ziv's idea. When women say this to each other it's not only about safety; it's about solidarity. It's us telling our friends when we say goodbye after spending time together that we know what it's like to be alone as a woman, whether you're walking down the street or into an empty apartment. We've felt the same unwanted scrutiny and attention, and had the same unsettling thoughts. So what we're saying when we say "text me when you get home" is: I’m here for you, whether you’re standing in front of me or miles away. Whenever you need me, whether it’s because you’re scared, heartbroken, or just bored, I will be there. It’s a reminder that we have each other, even if nothing official binds us.
It's also a way to say, "Let's keep talking." This is my favorite meaning. So often when I get home from hanging out with friends, I'll walk into my apartment and immediately start texting the people I just left, whether it's to give them another compliment, make another joke that's a twist on the same one we've been making all evening, or just tell them what a fun time that was. It's a way for us to keep hanging out even though we've had to go home.
What do you think makes female friendships so unique?
I think that there is this feeling when you’re with your girlfriends. It’s a safe space where you can say what you want, you don’t have to worry about being judged. It’s just more comfortable. But while it’s lower key, it’s also heightened. You know that feeling of being in a room with all women and you’re all so jazzed, talking over each other because you’re so excited to agree with each other and share stories? There is just this empathy and understanding that comes from being with all women.
I love how you highlighted a number of pop culture examples of strong female friendships, like the characters in Big Little Lies, Insecure, and even Parks and Recreation. Why do you think we’re only starting to see those types of really powerful female friendships on screen now?
I think the biggest reason is because women are writing their own stories now. These women are finally telling the truth about how they feel about each other and how important their friendships are with each other. I once interviewed the screenwriter of the movie Beaches, which came out in the ‘80s when everything with women had to have a cat fight. The screenwriter, who was a women, told me she didn’t want to include a cat fight in the movie but the director, a man, insisted on it. He eventually fired the screenwriter and tried to get the script rewritten, but hers was used in the end. That’s a long way of saying that men were in charge of deciding how they wanted to present women for a long time. Now we have more women writing and directing and being in charge of their own presentation of their friendships. We’re seeing friend duos presented in the same way we’ve seen the guy-meets-girl story forever in pop culture. We never used to see friendships as the main subject of TV shows and movies.
To piggyback off cat fights, why do you think the concept of mean girls has persisted for so long?
It started to appear in the early 2000s with books like Odd Girl Out and Queen Bees and Wannabes, the book that the movie Mean Girls is based on. Those really established the idea of the mean girl, and pop culture just took a hold of it and ran with it.
To be honest, I used to think I was a mean girl. I grew up in Texas and we were encouraged to compete with other women for men’s attention. That’s just how it was. It took me forever to see, really until writing this book, that that’s a negative stereotype. It’s just taking one trait and applying it to a whole sex. The reality is that girls aren’t any meaner or nicer than boys. We have different ways of being aggressive than guys do, but we’re no more predisposed to being mean than men. It’s not a true stereotype. I think we’re start to see it being peeled back.
In the book you address how common it is for women to prioritize spending time with their significant other over their friends. Why is that?
I think women have been positioned towards thinking that finding a romantic partner is the most important thing. We’re told you’ve got to be chosen by a guy who has to ask you to marry him and then it becomes a legal tie. It’s obviously an extremely important relationship for many, many women, but women are also saying now that our friends are just as important. That’s tenuous on many levels. For one, friendships are not reinforced by society as much as romantic relationships. We also don’t make our friendships legal. They’re not bound by anything but love, so it takes a lot more to make your friends as important as your partner.
Did you learn anything while writing Text Me When You Get Home that really surprised you?
So many things. To put it in perspective, I started writing this book when #squad was happening, about two years ago. There were tons of pictures of groups of girls on Instagram with the caption #squadgoals, and it was great to see these photos of happy women together. But as I started reporting and writing, I learned that these friendships go way beyond #squad. It goes to "this person is essential in my life, this person is my soulmate, this is the person I know I can call at any hour of the day and they will be there for me." These bonds are so much more than a pretty picture. How much women mean to each other is much deeper and serious than I anticipated when I initially started the book. So I realized the gravitas of these friendships.
I have to ask, do you have any Galentine’s Day plans?
I do! I am so excited to talk about them, I’m so glad you ask. A group of my girls and I are going to see Cruel Intentions: The Musical. It’s going to be incredible.