Why an intense female friendship was my first true love


Judith Lucy went to an all-girls school and then majored in theatre arts at university, which was also dominated by female students.

https://www.smh.com.au-By Judith Lucy

For a long time I said, and completely believed, that I didn’t encounter sexism until I moved to Melbourne and started doing stand-up comedy. I thought this because I went to an all-girls school and then majored in theatre arts at university, which was also dominated by female students.

Putting aside the gender-stereotypes bonanza that was going on in my own home, on my TV screen, in my church, my education, and almost everything else I encountered, I’d somehow managed to hide from myself the fact that while I spent my first 20-odd years working hard and determined to have a career, I was also completely convinced that my “real” life would only begin once I had a man. The annoying thing is that I really could’ve put the whole thing to bed when I was six. We had a handful of boys at my tiny primary school, which I attended until I was nine, and one of them proposed to me in grade one. I turned him down. I wonder if Stuart is still available?

I rejected him because his family didn’t have a pool. I will regret that decision for the rest of my life. How irritating that my standards peaked when I was still reading about Dick and Dora, Fluff and Nip. I went on to chase men who not only could never have afforded a pool, but who chiefly encountered water as a mixer, and rarely as something to wash clothes, their body or teeth with.

One memory I have of primary school reveals a lot about the year it was implanted, 1972. It’s of playing chasey. Despite the fact that the girls outnumbered the boys by about eight to one, the young gentlemen always chased us, not the other way round, and when we were caught they would pull our underpants down. What a lively, innocent introduction to sexual assault! What were the teachers thinking? Were they just too busy sucking on another Alpine Light and discussing the previous night’s episode of Kojak?

After grade four, boys disappeared until we were 15, at which age we had excruciating dancing lessons and socials with our brother school, Aquinas. While not unpopular at Santa Maria College, I was never popular with the guys.

I knew our teacher, Margot Morcombe, was not talking to me when she told our class about the perils of heavy petting. What did that even mean? It sounded like it involved squashing a hamster. Still, her warning was fine with me because I don’t remember being remotely attracted to anyone in my year – all the desirable boys were a year or two older, such is the way adolescence launches itself on us. Not that this was an issue for me either, since by then I was well on my way to becoming a trope: the less attractive, brunette, funny best friend featured in so many rom-coms.

I knew our teacher was not talking to me when she told our class about the perils of heavy petting. What did that even mean? It sounded like it involved squashing a hamster.

Almost every fella my alluring buddy dated claimed that if they hadn’t been with her, they would have been with me (my interest in them didn’t seem to factor into the equation). However, this never eventuated when their relationship ended.

I was the best friend with the personality. I was Janeane Garofalo to her Uma Thurman in the movie The Truth About Cats & Dogs but I never wound up with the handsome photographer with the heart of gold, Brian, who valued character over beauty, mainly because that never happens in real life. Instead I wound up a stand-up comedian (as is Janeane Garofalo) who drank herself to sleep and screwed a lot of dickwads.

I did fall in love with my new best friend, Michelle, at 14, which was all-consuming. We would give each other cards and poems and go on “dates”. We had no idea what a lesbian was and I wonder if we would have given it a crack if we had known. I suspect not; we modelled ourselves on the relationship, which was never consummated, between Sebastian Flyte and Charles Ryder in the BBC’s adaptation of Brideshead Revisited. (Now that I think of it, I often resorted to male role models as the female ones just weren’t there.) We were living our lives like a 1945 novel that examined family and Catholicism while other girls were getting fingered.

It’s well documented how intense female friendships can be, especially at that age, and maybe nothing I’ve ever had with a man has lived up to the romance and excitement of that first liaison. I still love Michelle and although that initial intensity of feeling is long gone, my gratitude for the ongoing friendship isn’t.

I’d found someone I really connected with and while I’d had friends before, it wasn’t until I met her that I truly understood the importance of having someone outside your family who’s in your corner, someone with no obligation to hang out with and support you, who simply likes the cut of your jib. Thank god that was something I worked out relatively early, because without people like Michelle in my life, I might have wound up living in a swamp and talking only to frogs. Although Swamp Lady does have a ring to it, I might have missed out on one of the great joys of life, friendship.

Something else Michelle and I shared was a love of school. We were those girls: drama students, public speakers and suckholes. I’ve joked that I would have been better off smoking and kissing boys, but not only was that not really an option, it also just wasn’t me. I liked studying and getting good marks and I knew, even then, that work was going to be important to me.

I’d realised this was the way to avoid my mother Ann Lucy’s life, and would affirm me in a way that had nothing to do with how I looked. Fortunately, I was also able to use my ability, honed at home, to make people laugh, so I wasn’t despised for being an academically overachieving goody-goody.

I don’t lovingly reflect on my years of Catholic indoctrination but I am grateful for having attended an all-girls school with some terrific teachers who fostered our ambitions. While I’m sure there were pupils in my year who mainly dreamed of becoming a wife and mother, most of the students I liked were smart and wanted careers, and because there were no boys around it never occurred to us that we couldn’t do anything we chose to.

That’s the odd contradiction of an all-girls Catholic school: the religion is deeply misogynist but both our primary- and high-school principals were terrifying nuns who instilled in us a desire to do our very best, whether that was in food and nutrition class (yes, cooking) or physics and chemistry. Like many Catholic girls, I briefly wanted to be a nun when I was a kid, and if I’d been around a few centuries ago and had wanted to study rather than marry, it might have seemed like a pretty great option.

My school environment meant it never entered my head that a brain and a sense of humour weren’t irresistible traits for any girl to have. What 16-year-old boy wouldn’t prefer a girl who loved reading Tennessee Williams and could make you laugh to someone called Samantha with big tits? Only the ones, as I later discovered, who hadn’t come out yet.

I had absolutely no confidence when it came to the opposite sex, but with even the girls in my year who didn’t look like Heather Locklear as hot cop Stacy Sheridan on T.J. Hooker pairing up, I couldn’t quite work out why boys weren’t interested in me at all. (I may not have thought I was pretty but Jesus, even the girl who’d shaved her own eyebrows off was getting more action than me.)

Still, I wasn’t too worried: my brother Niall assured me life would change completely once I went to university and met my people, the students I actually had stuff in common with rather than those I’d been forced to swim with in my small Catholic-educated pool.

Edited extract from Turns Out, I’m Fine (Simon & Schuster) by Judith Lucy, on sale now.

This article appears in Sunday Life magazine within the Sun-Herald and the Sunday Age on sale April 11. To read more from Sunday Life, visit The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.



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