Sisters in the time of sexism
Two advocates just had an interesting experience this week, among women in very different settings. One had returned from a new gathering of female community leaders, many of whom shared that it was the first time they'd ever really felt the support of other women. Ironically, another advocate had just returned from a support group for incarcerated women, who'd shared basically the same thing. It was a potent reminder of the still-vast, and sometimes internalized impact of sexism.
This got us thinking about the impact of Sisterhood -- a term that's not often used (any more than "feminism" is), yet it's a potentially life-changing form of solidarity for female-identified people. It doesn't exclude other allies, but does recognize the crucial and deeply political link between all women -- even those who are otherwise worlds, or stories apart. As long as we're still up against Patriarchy, we need the counter-activism of Sisterhood.
Among the incarcerated women, we discussed the potential power and abundance of this resource -- because clearly each of us can provide some support to another woman, and each of us benefits from having it. And yet we all know how mainstream society and media often try to pit women against each other from a young age, which just perpetuates the status quo.
The good news is, every year more people and organizations are actively working against those old sexist trends. We see girls' and women's alliances spring up spontaneously all the time -- in small everyday gestures, and for much bigger challenges too. Likewise, some parents and organizations are getting more creative in fostering chances for girls to connect -- to develop great friendships, and understand and counter the many gendered pressures on them all.
Locally there are numerous examples, including a Peer Advocate Group which meets weekly during the school year at Bellows Falls High School. For the past few years, teen girls have been hanging out with each other and a WFC advocate to share stories, explore common challenges, and nurture their own strengths as well as support networks. We'd also like to give a shout-out to The Future Collective, which is hosting a camp Aug. 4-9 in Brattleboro: Grrrls Summer Camp is a great chance to "make art, discuss social justice, learn about gender and feminism and way, WAY MORE." Check out their inspiring site at brattleborogrrrlscamp.tumblr.com.
Then there's the spirited Girls Rock Vermont! -- a camp in its fourth year which just finished up in Burlington. Girls from all over Vermont spent a week making music and connections, and therefore positive change in our community. This program has caught on fast, too: the first year there were only eight girls, who formed just two bands. This year there were 38 girls who formed a grand total of 8 bands. That's a pretty bold spike in girl-powered music, and you should hear their Girl Power song! Learn more about this summer gem at girlsrockvermont.org.
We can't forget grown-ups of course, and at the Women's Freedom Center we also try to host fun gatherings where women can connect. One example is our Freedom Series, which runs various times a year and has covered a wide range of creative and practical topics -- from painting to dance, from finances to massage. It's always women-led learning that's free and open to all women, whether we've ever worked with them or they just saw our flier up in town. We make no distinction among women, and always benefit from these rich encounters with each other. Our allies most recently were the talented staff at the River Gallery School and Bonnyvale Environmental Education Center, who helped us create an Art & Nature Series. The participants were, as usual, diverse -- some women were still in the midst of life-altering crises, and hadn't been able to have much fun or make friends in a while. But regardless of what brought us all together, what made those evenings a pleasure wasn't just learning new skills, but doing so in each other's company.
"Women of the World Unite!" the 1960's protest banners used to say. And today, a whole new spectrum of feminist media relays that same message. But in spite of the progress, we still have a long way to go. Our culture could use some new anthems, and We-The-People-sized proclamations which both inspire and celebrate women's historic bonds with each other. While we hear stories each week that shock and awe us, there are many which hearten us too. What we want to say to all you generous women out there who do have each other's backs, do cheer each other on, and do hold the door open so that more women and girls can access freedoms, is a star-spangled thank you. Your wit, your courage, and resilience have taught us that Sisterhood works. It saves. And yeah, Sisterhood rocks!
The Women's Freedom Center is the local organization in Windham and Southern Windsor County working to end domestic and sexual violence. Follow us on Facebook at Women's Freedom Center and at www.womensfreedomcenter.net. You can reach an advocate on our 24-hour crisis line at 802-254-6954.
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