Women Supporting Women: The Power of Friendship
Growing up with two older sisters, I had the great opportunity to form a deep bond with women right out of the gate. Without formality and not jaded by media portrayals of female relationships, my sisters and I grew up honestly conversing. We expressed and listened. We learned. Together, we built truly authentic, beautiful, real relationships with one another.
As children and as adults, my sisters and I have spoken about innumerable topics, ranging from anything that weighs heavy on our hearts to the granular, like the argument that thin coffee mugs are far superior to thick ones. It’s a hot button point of discussion among the three of us. Given the luxury of time and shared close quarters, we have faced great disappointment among ourselves. We have confided in one another and also, at times, shaken each other’s trust. We have risen and fallen and risen again — many times over — but have always found firm footing as sisters and lifelong confidantes.
A pillar for my understanding of womanhood, my relationship with my sisters fortified my pursuit of strong female friendships. Why stop at two sisters when I could have many?
While I have seen women make great attempts to hold one another up, I have also noticed that they, at times, seem to be equally as critical of their female peers.
On the heels of the #MeToo movement and the rise of women in influential roles of leadership, support for women by women appears to be at an all-time high. Female celebrities are speaking out about the media’s incessant need to pit women against one another. Movies and television are going to great lengths to showcase strong, non-cliché, quirky, real female friendships. There are countless accounts of women in the workplace empowering one another to voice opinions, stand up against the status quo, and push back against sexist limitations.
It’s long overdue, and as a woman, I’m proud to see it.
Today, I am wildly appreciative of the resilient, non-familial female bonds that I have built. These relationships are educational, supportive, tolerant, and a great source of my joy. However, I’d be lying if I say my girlfriends and I have always found ourselves on the same solid ground on which my sisters and I grew up.
At the risk of making a sweeping generalization, I’ll be the first to say that adult female friendships are certainly one of the most nuanced types of relationships. While I have seen women make great attempts to hold one another up, I have also noticed that they, at times, seem to be equally as critical of their female peers. There is a great deal of speculation that can go into why this happens. However, there is perhaps no better question to ask in the pursuit of strengthening these relationships than how to rise above the competitiveness that has been so naturalized in adult female friendships.
Protect Your Information
The stereotype that humans enjoy the occasional piece of gossip is not entirely baseless. The sharing of information is unifying by nature. In my experience, women in particular find connection in the simple act of chatting, over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine. As a woman, I mainly find comfort with those I am able to speak with at length.
Now common sense, maturity, and just about every uplifting quote about female friendships teach us that the sharing of harmful information about another person is destructive and should be avoided. What is often missed in these lessons, however, is how to treat information about yourself.
In an attempt to become close to another person, we often feel compelled to confide our personal information — our political beliefs, the details in our romantic relationships, and even family, health, and financial hardships. It’s a luxury to find someone in whom you can safely divulge such information. At the same time, such disclosures can sometimes be the catalyst that drives your confidante to share and spread your information.
To avoid tempting gossip, apply the same rule we’ve been taught about others to yourself. If a piece of your information could potentially be manipulated or is destructive if made public, take a beat. Weigh the pros of your revelation against the possibility of your information getting out. Consider the consequences this admission will have on your friendship. Should you come out of your deliberation confident to move forward, confide away. If at all hesitant, strengthen your bond with conversation that you’d have if many people were present.
It would be a gross understatement to say that women have a lot on their plate. Working or not, single or not, mothers or not, women are up against centuries of judgment. Amid the pressures of work, family, financial, social, and personal standards, women are often tasked with the impossible burden of perfection. The expectation to find success, to look and dress a certain way, to support parents, spouses, and children with grace — all while being personally fulfilled — is high.
As women very cognizant of this coalescing plight, we are often fed self-care mantras that encourage us to give ourselves a break. Yet somehow, women oftentimes struggle to extend the same allowance to our female peers. In my observation, I have witnessed women speculating why other women employ nannies or maids, denouncing these women as spoiled or entitled. I’ve read stories by women critiquing women who don’t exercise, who don’t cook, who don’t wear makeup, who wear too much makeup. The list is needlessly long.
Again, while we could take a very deep dive into why this happens, I think that which will serve us women better is to understand ways on how to fix this.
Consider every woman you meet as an extension of yourself. Think about the privileges in life with which you have been blessed. Now think about the hardships you’ve had to face. Just like you have categorized your life experiences into highs and lows, give the benefit of the doubt to every woman you meet that she has done the same. Like you, she has grappled with her circumstances as they pertain to her.
Now consider how the same woman may see you. Are you certain that she will be able to accurately discern your trials and tribulations, the way you have experienced them? I’m willing to bet your answer to this question is no. How could she? She isn’t you.
In a world that often seems like it favors men, be an advocate for women. Do this with compassion, understanding, tolerance, and allowance. Make room for your female friends’ flaws, and watch basic humanity deeply nourish your female friendships.