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Is There Such A Thing As The Sisterhood?

 “Sisterhood”. Guilty as charged, I have used an abstract concept — a term that is used so frequently to try to point out, rationalize, explain, and sometimes to criticize so-called ‘natural’ relations between females. There are many other variations of the notional term, including specific words for aspects of male bonding too: “bromance”, “brother from another mother”, “my bro bro”, or the ribald phrase: “bros before… [you can fill in the blank]. Some don’t believe the sisterhood exists, and complain that on so many occasions they witness girls or women gossip, backstab, engage in acts of jealousy, and other negative behaviors. Yes, that does exist, but these are personality traits in so many people, and in many respects it is simply human nature to sometimes engage in such a negative fashion. Irrespective of gender, tensions can arise, and there are many ways that these situations can be handled.
I take an alternative view to the notion that the sisterhood is a fallacy. There are plenty of examples to show that it does exist. Like all social interactions, the sisterhood is complex, and there is no one-size-fits-all. The same goes for feminism.
I heard the “bros before…” comment on rare occasions in college, but admittedly when used (at least within my earshot), it was for friendly teasing, and to stir a reaction, that led to, “only joking, I love ya” mantra. When I did hear it, it was being used to describe a “boys night out”, while the men partied, and the women organized “a girls night” — often that involved films such as Beaches (1988) or Now and Then (1995), and food where calories were not mentioned, and the drinks were stronger than soda.
My male friends are (and were) not sexist, and when I look back on my college years, there were so many people who looked out for others, and took steps to make sure no one would wonder off from a party in a vulnerable state. I recall a pretty good system of walk-or-cab-buddies. I do not recall any of my male friends thinking the term “ho” was an acceptable way to address a woman. They knew it was important to look after their “sisters”, and vice versa. Many of us “sisters”, in college, could help to identity a negative situation a male friend might have gotten himself into, and offered some sisterly advice that was appreciated. Even to this day, so many of my college friends and I are regularly in touch. We offer advice and support.
On many occasions I did (and do) point out, that some terms rooted in sexism or racism, for example, even if used for comedic impact, can help to perpetuate discrimination — a point that, as a friendship unit, we agreed upon. I cannot take a moral high ground, either. We all make mistakes, and learn that language is important. Most of the men I socialized with in college were extra protective of their female friends, especially in nightclubs, or any establishment where alcohol was available. I recall one male friend telling me to be careful of “the meat market”, and to never leave my “drink unattended”. My parents gave me the same advice, as did my big brother (two-and-a-half-years my senior).
Some feminists today appear to take credence at what they refer to as “patronizing chivalry”, but personally I think some opinions go too far, and make the modern feminist movement, in parts, look petty. I am a feminist, but prefer intersectionality. I have written on the subject of modern feminism before via the news site Practical Politicking. Not every man believes that all women are second-class citizens, and many are simply engaging in polite behavior, and showing concern for humanity. My friends and I were not perfect when we socialized, but most of us had seen, or were aware of, televisions shows such as the BBC’s Crimewatch to know we had to be careful. (PS: Yes, I grew up in the UK). Moreover, most of our mothers had cell phones by then, and often us “college kids” would get messages from home, (or from other biological, or non-biological elder figures), reminding us to “stay safe”…and also to look “both ways before crossing the road”, and “remember to go the library” (!) Another one: “Remember to eat healthily, and don’t stress too much”.
I do believe that there is a special connection that is the sisterhood, but there are also so many beautiful, supportive, nurturing, and protective bonds between so many of us, irrespective of gender. When I think of the sisterhood, I don’t think of it as being an exclusionary phenomena, but one that is, for all attempts and purposes, intersectional, and relationships overlap too, of course. I have had so many chats with friends of mine during college (and beyond) regarding dating, engagements, marriages, careers, money worries, parenthood, and so much more. Many of these conversations have been with women, men, and people who are LGBTQ+, people from across the world, and individuals who practice a different faith to myself, or none. Some who identify as being part of the sisterhood might behave in an exclusionary way to others, and use wholly negative language about men, or make vast assumptions, but that says more about an individual, or individuals, than collectivism.
Like so many of us, the people in my life fall under one big tent— definitely catch-all, to an extent. It is painful to witness discrimination, and reports of hate crimes are appalling. When I hear some vile rhetoric, I think of people I know who are who non-white, of mixed ancestry, not affiliated with Christianity or any religion, LGBTQ+, nationals of specific countries, people who have disabilities, and others in my life who have been labelled and targeted for no other reason than downright prejudice. Most people have faced some form of discrimination, and of course, some have experienced it under horrific circumstances. The leniency surrounding the sentencing of Brock Turner, convicted of sexually assaulting a woman that was unconscious, continues to spark
furious debate. Many are angry with Judge Persky, and demonstrations have been held with messages on signs including the following: “… our daughters deserve better”.
Under the current Trump Administration, so many people are reaching out and supporting others. The “Sister Marches”, held statewide and across the world, the day after Trump’s Inauguration, are a testament to solidarity. Many men engaged too. Moreover, a lot of people of diverse backgrounds and political opinions marched. There was, afterall, enough commonality that drew large crowds. While peaceful protests have their merits, continued campaign activism and awareness campaigns, civil engagement, and being political active, are also crucial in influencing social policies, and for calls to tackle discrimination, or end unfair practice. However, considering the stresses and anxieties involved in politics or campaigns, it is understandable why some look for other outlets, to escape some of the toxicity. In many respects, the reaction to the election of Trump has clearly shown that there is an element of unity across the US and the world, and some of his past and continued rhetoric have brought several serious issues to the table. It has almost forced so many people to come to terms with uncomfortable and inconvenient truths in our society. Not everyone has the time, of course, to be a part of sociopolitical campaigns, but using social media and engaging in open-minded conversations with others can help promote progress.
We all engage in so many interactions, even the negative experiences can help to make us who we are, and make us stronger. What is relatively unique about so many female-to- female bonding is the ability to share a relatively common experience. We do have a lot in common when it comes to our biology, and a lot of women have faced similar prejudices, or felt elements of our society are often structured around a certain aspect of masculinity. It is a very special relationship that some women have with other women, and often there is a strand of maternal instinct without blood connections. The television show Orange is the New Black (2013-) touches on this with the firebrand character of “Red” (Kate Mulgrew), who often shows love and affection toward her jail “daughters”, especially her relationship with Nicky (Natasha Lyonne). The sisterhood can be a beautiful thing, and I do enjoy so many of my chats and spending valuable time with my “sisters.”

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