Very few works manage to capture the essence of female friendship on screen. Its importance is mostly overlooked. Even when there is a close female friendship portrayed it’s never quite the same as it is in real life. It’s even worse for teenage female characters and the friendships they have with each other. Too often they are portrayed as rivals, and too often their friendships fall victim to romantic benefits. However important adult female friendships are, teenage female friendships are that much more important. The people surrounding you through high school are the people that are the building blocks of your character.
There is, fortunately, one show that does a good job in portraying female friendships : Skam. Skam is a Norwegian web series that revolves around one central character each season by using their point-of-view. Out of the four seasons of the original show, three of them are based on female characters.
The first season (the most underrated one) is practically about how important female friendship is. The central character of that season, Eva (Lisa Teige), spends the first few episodes feeling alone because she doesn’t have any friends. She has a rocky relationship with her boyfriend that involves all sorts of high school drama in their past and present. The season starts with her sitting by herself and it ends with her gaining four new friends. This is an important step in her journey of finding herself. Usually, the most necessary part of a woman’s life is not the romantic partners she has and sometimes it’s not even her blood family; it’s the female friendships she has.
These five characters are so unique and are so different from each other. That brings out a lot of clashes between them. Vilde (Ulrikke Falch) calls Eva ‘a slut’ and Noora (Josefine Frida Pettersen), the resident feminist, lectures her about how women should stop calling each other that. Here, it shows how female friendship means learning from each other. Another time, Sana (Iman Meskini) is the one to teach Noora something: to look at things from a different perspective, to not be too rigid in your opinions.
Sana says, “You don’t judge your friends and you stand up for them, no matter what.” She fights with other girls who judge Vilde the same way Vilde judges Eva. In season two, the girls never shame Noora after she opens up about her suspected sexual assault. Despite what the media, especially media targeted for teenagers and young adults, show this is how female friendships work.
These girls, they take care of each other. Whether it’s looking after a passed out Vilde or comforting a heartbroken Noora, they are there. Chris (Ina Svenningdal) loses sleep over how to help her best friend Vilde. These are things that seem like the duty of a good friend but young women do these completely willingly and selflessly for each other every day in real life.
One of the most realistic parts of their friendship is also that it’s not perfect. All the plotlines in season four which is the season with Sana, a young Muslim woman, as the central character is debatable in the sense of the representation it brings. However, it is important to show how much the other girls have failed in their friendship with Sana. The good thing is that they learn and they do better; they come back for Sana and they defend her.
The show aims to teach young people something but it doesn’t mean that there is no room for error in characters. They might not know best, like how Vilde makes ill-informed comments about Islam in front of Sana, but they are always willing to learn. It is because they care about each other and that is exactly how female friendships are.
Even when Noora and Vilde fall for the same guy their friendship does not fall victim to romantic benefits. Noora tries to hold herself back for the sake of Vilde. After Vilde sees how much Noora and the guy like each other she takes a step back. Despite shows with messy plots, for most people friendship is above everything. What comes out of the season has so much value in terms of the friendship of these two.
Sometimes, women put other women on some sort of pedestal. Vilde looks at Noora and sees her as everything she is not : model-like-figure with the popular guy after her that she doesn’t even seem interested in at first. Most of the time though, every one of those women carry their own baggage. As Vilde learns, Noora had her own self-esteem and eating disorder issues. With the popular culture pushing one type of woman as the ideal, this is something every woman from every body type can relate to in real life and even can connect over.
It is so rare to find friends that share a large portion of your interests. Most of the time you consider yourself lucky if one or two of your interests match. Obviously, there is another level of connection when that happens but friendships with seemingly less things in common has as much love in them. There is something so powerful about willing to listen to somebody ramble about something that you have zero interest in.
This is where the female friendships in Skam get another layer of realism and importance. At first glance, you wouldn’t think to put these five girls together. Yet, despite all odds, they come together and they form a bond with each other that they work to strengthen. A lot of women have a friend group just like that. They cannot pinpoint an exact reason as to why they are friends but they do not question it either.
After the original Norwegian show ended in 2017, several European countries (and the US) launched their own remakes. There is a version from France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands (and Austin, US). These shows also carry on the legacy of the original version in terms of female friendship.
Skam NL, short for Skam Netherlands, has just the right amount of physical connection presented in (some) real life female friendships. The girls, they don’t shy away from hugging each other, giving each other forehead kisses and cheek kisses. It feels as though they always want to have some sort of contact. This seems accurate when thinking about the real world, about girls walking hand-in-hand in streets, cuddling at sleepovers, rubbing each other’s arms. They get drunk on the roof as Isa (Suus de Nies) cries over her relationship, they get piercings together, they try on lingerie together. All these experiences that feel only authentic for teenage female friendships occur.
Skam España is perhaps the most female driven one of the versions – even more than the original. While Skam season three focuses on Isak (Tarjei Sandvik Moe), a 16 year old boy who is discovering his sexuality, Skam España moves that to season two and gives the Isak storyline to Cris (Irene Ferreiro) by gender-swapping the character. They also have a vastly different Noora season. In this remake, the love between the characters just oozes off the screen. When Noora of this version, Nora (Nicole Wallace), loses herself in an emotionally abusive relationship Eva (Alba Planas) is the only one that sees through her. When Nora finally realizes how wrong her relationship feels it’s the other girls that pick up the pieces. Eva states firmly that nothing was her fault. The others don’t judge, they look for ways to help, they help her become herself again. This is that support system that is so prevalent in real life but never on screen.
In Druck, a.k.a Skam Germany, Vilde’s counterpart Kiki (Leanora Zoe Voss) says to Sana’s counterpart Amira (Tua El-Fawwal), “You don’t have to be perfect for me. The most important thing is that you are there.” This is a sentiment most often used in romantic relationships on screen but in real life it feels as though it is more fitting with platonic ones.
Family is about forming one’s character, romantic relationships seem to be about waiting for the other to alter their character while friendships, female friendships, are about accepting each other’s characters as they are. There is no constant effort to make the other person be more fitting to you. It is about finding the parts that fit together or sharing a bond despite nothing fitting together. That’s why female friendships are more important than any romantic partners because it is permanent, everlasting. It is all about choice : choosing to be friends despite everything. This is exactly what Druck’s friendship represents as Kiki tries to learn about Amira’s world, meeting her friends from her Muslim world and eating her mother’s food.
Female friendships are most often the best love stories. Skam and its remakes are a testament to that. Especially, a testament to how essential the bonds women share with other women are. It contains everything a real life female friendships has from genuinely enjoying each other’s company to getting over the differences to learning from each other to all the little but meaningful touches shared. Seeing young women care about each other on screen in a way that is dramatised enough to feel real with tiny but strong details sprinkled over is a powerful experience. It is an experience full of hope. Hope that in this bleak world you experience as a young woman, you can overcome everything with the help of your friends and of other women.
by Gökçe Erdoğan
Gökçe is a 21 year old Econ major from Turkey who thinks too much about films and shows. She is an aspiring writer, trying to become a critic while studying Econ for the realist in her. She is obsessed with the aesthetic of Wes Anderson and loves movies like Before Sunrise, And Then We Danced, and anything Dev Patel is in. Her number one boy is Kendall Roy. You can find her on Twitter @easeupkidd and on Letterboxd @Lionheartt.
Categories: Anything and Everything, Feminist Criticism, TV
Leave a Reply