At a dinner on the weekend, a male friend of mine asked: "Does the sisterhood even exist?"
I was stumped. Firstly because I had never asked myself the question and had simply taken the notion as a given, a staple, a fixture in today's modern society. But also because I wanted so much to answer in the affirmative, but that yes word wouldn't leave my lips. That single syllable was impossible to say. It was more than stuck in my throat, it was stuck somewhere far further down, in my gut. Rammed down there by some female colleague, boss or friend at some point or other, and it would not be regurgitated.
Does the sisterhood really exist? Are we looking after each other on our career path, in relationships, in life? Do we have each others' backs?
An infamous phrase has been promulgated through social media and via movies, 'bros before hoes'. Catchy, no? Not really. Misogyny at its best, but nonetheless the sentiment stands, men are standing side by side. What about women? Are we about 'sisters before misters'?
As I tried to splutter out some clever conversational dialogue in response to my friend's question, a plethora of somewhat vile memories invaded my mind.
The worst thing is it's not men who are the perpetrators -- it's women.
Like the time I came back from maternity leave and the woman who had backfilled me had packed my office up in boxes and stuck them out on the floor. In a corner. I was gone for five months. Enough time for that woman to elbow me out, erode my work, my presence, my legacy. What? Yeah, that happened. It happens to women every day. Many working mothers will have a similar story to tell.
The worst thing is it's not men who are the perpetrators -- it's women. It's women who have gone through the very same thing they're slamming us for -- whether it be the return from maternity leave, the shattered relationship or the yo-yo dieting. Other women hit us hard in the spaces where private and personal collide. The places where people can suddenly have an opinion about a personal concern -- pregnancy, relationships, body image... you know how it is. The places and times when it hurts the most.
So what happened to the sisterhood? What happened to backing your fellow woman?
It's almost as though the predominant theory for women is scarcity theory -- the notion that there's not enough to go around. Not enough jobs, boyfriends, partners, good looks, friendships or kilos (or lack thereof). If she gets that, there's less of it, and I'm not going to get any.
So the muddiest of fights begins. Woman against woman, friend against friend, colleague against colleague, mother against mother.
It's a jungle out there. Step away from your desk for a mental health day and another woman will discredit you and take your job. Step away from your relationship and a friend will accuse you of being a failure. Add a few kilos on and they'll be whispering behind indiscreet hands at the gym.
Yeah sister, you've really got my back.
But let's go back to that question from my friend at the dinner party: Does the sisterhood still exist? The thing is, I couldn't say yes, but I also couldn't say no. Because among the raft of wretched creatures who have hit me hardest at my lowest, there have also been women who have lifted me up. Take my first boss, for example, a woman who led by example, by principle. The most important thing to her was the work, and the people. She led her team. Bravely. Fiercely.
Of course she was made redundant at some point by another woman, but nonetheless I still look up to her and think: Now there's a 'bad bitch'.
If only we could model ourselves around her and less around the ladies from the pop culture hit 'Mean Girls'.
If we hadn't already been pitted against each other, surely the advent of social media didn't help the situation. With Facebook and Instagram came the capacity to glamorise our lives and also destroy those of others from the comfort of our desk. Has social media made us catty and judgmental or was it simply human nature, woman nature?
I don't think the sisterhood is dead, but I do believe we ladies need to work hard to stand shoulder to shoulder, to back each other up, hell, even to lift each other up.
I couldn't help thinking back to my old boss. She certainly wasn't operating under the notion of scarcity theory. In fact, she walked out of that office, shoulders back, neck long, proud. Proud of what she'd done and who she'd been. And you know what? She picked up a job in a matter of weeks -- a far better job, where she didn't need to keep checking her back for that silent blade wedged between her shoulders.
Yes, that's abundance theory readers. The notion that resources aren't going to run out, that there's enough to go around for everyone. That you don't need to begrudge a sister her success, because yours will likely be right around the corner.
So, to answer my friend: No, I don't think the sisterhood is dead, but I do believe we ladies need to work hard to stand shoulder to shoulder, to back each other up, hell, even to lift each other up.
After all, there's more than enough to go around. We just need to believe it.
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