Saturday, May 24, 2014

On The Importance of Celebrating Revolutionary Sisterhood




I've learned many important lessons from my mother. One really important lesson I've learned is the importance of having strong relationships with other women.

As a young, single hetero woman I've often romanticized the idea of being a wife and mother. And yet, I've grown up witnessing my mother's close friendships with other women from the sidelines and I've seen how those friendships have sustained her in ways that being a mother or wife doesn't always.

It bothers me when women say that they don't have women friends and then they justify it by saying women are all "catty bitches" and "dramatic." It bothers me because I know what they are missing out on. Solidarity and sisterhood among women is one of the most powerful and revolutionary forces. It makes us whole. It heals us from the scars of patriarchy and sexism. It reminds us to define femininity and womanhood beyond the confines of the male gaze and patriarchal gender expectations.

Reality television shows like "Real Housewives" don't really bother me on account of the materialism or similar concerns. But what does bother me is how relationships between women are depicted. It directly feeds into the prevailing stereotype that women just can't get along with each other. I distinctly remember the first and only full episode I ever saw of a "Real Housewives" with some other friends. Most of the show was women fighting each other: physically and verbally.

The underlying assumption in the "women hate other women" idea is that women are valueless and therefore friendships with women are worthless. What really matters is our relationships with men. They are to placed on a pedestal as being a boo, bae, girlfriend, wife (to a man) is far more important than being another woman's confidante and best friend.

Hollywood is certainly guilty of perpetuating this. Watch any movie with a female lead and 9/10 a primary aspect of the story line is the woman protagonist entering into a relationship with a man. The same can be said for books although maybe to a slightly lesser degree. Perhaps I'm even guilty of this. I talk a lot about my (romantic and not so romantic) relationships with men. I don't spend even a fraction of the time verbalizing the importance of my relationships with women even though it is those relationships that are the most important in my life.

I've kept the same two best friends since the age of seven (in fact, one was just with me to witness me graduate from college!) And I can say there are several women besides who I consider best friends and I'd ride or die for.

And of course the most important woman in my life is my mother. I have a very unique relationship with my mother in that she's my mother and my best friend. I can tell her anything and everything. And I do. We travel everywhere together. From Lauryn Hill concerts to Reno, NV to long weekend trips 3000 miles away to Atlanta, Georgia.

I know that our relationship cannot be explained by the fact that she's my mother. Because plenty of women have bad relationships with their mother. It is because my mother has always valued relationships between women. That included an incredibly strong bond with her own mother and an equally bonding one with me.

I suppose this primary relationship with my mother has led me to seek out and maintain friendships with women from a very young age.

There is also the real fact that friendships between men and women are always sexualized by spectators. It is always viewed as the precursor to a romantic relationship, rather than an end in and of itself.

I can go out to dinner with a woman and everything is fine. But the moment I do the same with a man then the whispers begin: "Are they dating? Will they date? Do they have romantic feelings for each other?" This is of course also related to homophobia/ heterosexism: the idea that a woman must always desire a man and anything out of that is just viewed as not being real.

But it's this pull between knowing the importance of valuing women friendships and being socialized by a patriarchal society to view a heterosexual romantic relationship with a man as the most important relationship I can ever hope to find myself in that tugs at me.

I will never forget being thirteen years old and having my first boyfriend and isolating myself during the (thankfully short) duration of our relationship. I stopped hanging out with my female friends and suddenly all of my time was dedicated to being a girlfriend.

I remember the gulf I felt when that relationship ended. Not only because I was dealing with the end of a relationship, but because it finally occurred to me that I had put in jeopardy the true friendships I had. Thankfully, my friends forgave me. But from that lesson I learned to never privilege a relationship with a man over friendships with women.

Now here I am many years later. And sure, I want to date. I'd even eventually like to get married. But I have to wonder why this concern is pushed on me and not messages to formulate close ties with women?

Is it because of the continually denied revolutionary power of sisterhood? A fact that I've seen on an individual scale with friends and I've seen on a grand scale as being a member of the largest historically Black sorority.

As I consume my romantic fiction and romantic comedies and dramas. I have to wonder: do I spend as much time celebrating my friendships with women (the one type of relationship that has sustained me from birth to now) as I do thinking about potential relationships with men? And if not, what can I do to change this?


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