Sisterhood starts young…
Womanhood is one of the central forces in my life. I am a fierce advocate for women, making them one of my major inspirations. However, my “feminist” philosophy — or whatever is assumed I believe in — has developed in a drastically different way compared to my past ideas. I became aware of feminism during my early teen years. I naively accepted it as an ideology that promoted sisterhood and helping to advance women. Today, I still believe feminism offers those same promises. However, experience has forced me to redefine sisterhood/woman solidarity, especially in context to feminism.
For many girls and women, sisterhood is a connection that is felt from a young age. From the early days of girlhood, they learn the importance of sticking together — whether it’s using the buddy system, having to be extra cautious when in certain situations; or having to defend their sexuality (usually because someone is using it against them), it is hard to distinguish how much of this connection is innate or simply proof that girls understand the importance of interdependence in such a tricky, hostile world. Even for many older and/or married women, their solace is often found in their girlfriends, who are used as outlets for pouring out the stresses of maintaining work, family, and their own personal feelings. Perhaps what fosters the need for this bond is related to the fact that women are often denied safe spaces outside of their intimate relationships. In a world that continues to compromise women’s rights, deny them freedom of emotional expression (without being gas lighted or accused of being overly emotional), and skeptically acknowledges their struggle, it comes no surprise that female friendships are a safety net and refuge for many girls/women.
Feminism taught me how to feel liberated through sisterhood.
I reflect over the women who have shaped my life; I give my silent thanks to women who have contributed to our world; I feel a true sense of warmth as I try to make sense of how even though history proves that women have always been the underdog, their contributions often underplayed or downright unrecognized, they still fight for a better world. But again, experience (in feminist circles) has revealed to me that not all women are envisioning the same world.
This realization shook my entire perception of sisterhood.
It made me recognize the exclusiveness of sisterhood and using it as an excuse, looking passed women who are not acting within solidarity. Last summer when Amy Poehler made a crack at Blue Ivy, the Black toddler daughter of the Knowles and Carter, it demonstrated just how little protection Black girls have in this world — so limited, Poehler felt comfortable enough to find comedic value in her words. Another example of sisterhood being perverted is the Twitter spat between Nicki Minaj and Taylor Swift. Swift was quick to retaliate Minaj’s tweet — spoken from a place of personal experience as a Black woman in the music/entertainment industry — claiming it was uncalled for as Swift always supported her. Then there’s Mrs. Hillary Clinton, embodiment of White Feminism— educated, affluent, high position of power. She is imperialistic, known for being fickle in her politics; defending a rapist; and claims to be supportive of women despite dedicating her life to self-advancement. Clinton merely acknowledges other women.
Realizing this made me see through the hashtags, the cutesy inspiration posts on Instagram, and most importantly, helped me see through the women who really don’t remember to prioritize all girls and women. What Amy Poehler, Taylor Swift, and Hillary Clinton all have in common — besides their status— is that they all claimed they are advocates for women, using sisterhood as a rallying cry. Their brand of feminism, of sisterhood, is manifested with liberalism, emphasizing the importance of the individual; they stress the importance of solidarity and “girl power,” but fail to align themselves with women who do not relate to them. In other words, it became clear to me that sisterhood did not necessarily have a place for all women.
What are we doing if it’s not for ALL girls and women?
Not just high-profile women perpetuate this selective sisterhood. Cis women are culprits of transmisogyny, denying trans women of their entire existence. Sex workers fight and advocate for respecting their autonomy and recognition of their labor, only to be spoken over by anti-sex work agents. (See: Gail Dines for more.) Selective sisterhood is plastered all over social media, with women sharing their love for uplifting other women, but having no tolerance for “girls” — which can be interpreted as disdain for behavior that is not congruent with what a “real woman” is or does. Even in body positive media, there is much conflict between fat/unconventially attractive women and those who fit normative standards of beauty. But what connects these conflicts is the reluctance, and even backlash, women demonstate in addressing these issues. It has come to a point where being critical of another woman, even for valid reasons, labels one as a “traitor.” This unconditional sisterhood comes at the expense of those sisters whose voices are often silenced and ignored.
Sisterhood needs to entail more than just supporting each other’s selfies and defending the right to take them. In the grand scheme of things, this fails to provide truly substantial progress. How do women who do not fit into the heteronormative, cisgender, or white narrative embrace shallow empowerment? In order for there to truly be sisterhood, we as women must do our best to embrace the diverse experiences within our community.
Being critical about the lack of space and support for all women does not make one a traitor. Sisterhood is about love and while love is encouraging, it is also honest. That’s the beauty in love — even when things aren’t perfect, we still continue to hope for continuous improvement. But change does not arrive unless we become more comfortable having important discussions and as women, deciding what is best for the progression and empowerment of women collectively.