After the previous post I had a conversation with a friend in which she related similar situations where her female friends shared variations of the “boys are better than girls” ideology. Apparently somewhere along the way women became catty, dramatic witches and it’s just a fact that we’ve all accepted. As a sort of first step to combat all this negativity, I feel like there needs to be a greater emphasis on sisterhood, on female solidarity, on women sticking up and supporting other women and refusing to accept negative stereotypes.
Because all these situations have made me wonder why is there no sense of female sisterhood, no sense of women speaking up for other women? Where is all the conflict and contention coming from? Recently, in an interview with the Observer, Gloria Steinem explained her thoughts on why people so often complain that groups of women can be catty, “do women compete for the favors of men? Yes. They’ve spent 5,000 years competing. It [competition] is true of any subordinated group. But once you get a sense of possibilities and shared experience, it becomes the most powerful community. I see a form of it when I travel. I’ll be walking through an airport, say, and my plane will be four hours late, and a woman cleaner will say: ‘Here, take these magazines I’ve collected’, or: ‘When I’m tired, I sleep in the closet over there. Would you like to use it?’ It’s the same with the flight attendants. It’s a floating community.”
So it seems that women, just as other oppressed groups, often perpetuate the same prejudicial thoughts or behavior that they’ve experienced in a way to separate themselves from the oppressed group and be accepted as part of the positive majority. Competition is formed in order to be ingratiated to those in positions of power or those seen as possessing positive characteristics. And yet, Steinem explains, when an opportunity is created for the sharing of experiences, a sense of community emerges. A sense of sisterhood, if you will.
I admit, I’ve had my own problems with the notion of sisterhood. It always seemed like this sense of camaraderie between women was based upon some opposition to men (granted that was probably a very ill conceived notion of sisterhood but it’s the one I understood). But in thinking about it now this sense of sisterhood is important in that it should lead us to a greater sense of community, which in turn leads us to a better understanding of the oneness of humanity as a whole. It might just be a first step. If women can see other women as more than just these characteristics assigned to them by culture and tradition then we can use this same outlook towards men.
And why sisterhood and not brotherhood?
Well brotherhood is probably also important but I think it goes back to the idea of an oppressed community. In instances of oppression, it’s true that both the “oppressed” as well as the “oppressor” need time and space in which to reflect on the forces that are acting on them and causing them to behave in such a manner. I think men also need space to reflect on where they are getting understandings of manhood from.
But in response to this pattern of behavior, of underestimating and insulting women, so endemic to our culture and perpetuated by both men and women, and by social structures and institutions, lets promote this idea of sisterhood (men can promote it too!). Let’s promote this idea that groups of women as well as individual women aren’t dramatic, catty, manipulative gossips. They are human beings endowed with the capacity to love, reason, understand, acquire knowledge and serve their community. Let’s move beyond stereotypical tropes that have been perpetuated and supported by years of subjugation, lets question cultural norms of thought and behavior, and let’s support each other in the process, as we move towards an understanding of the oneness of humanity.