Thursday, March 21, 2019

Sisterhood First by Trista Hendren

Painting by Cheryl Braganza

Inga Muscio wrote that, “Women choose to be catty, cruel, prejudiced, competitive or jealous of each other partly because we grow up learning that negative behavior towards women is perfectly acceptable, and partly because it is a difficult task to see ourselves in our perceptions. Seeing ourselves requires effort and commitment. This unwillingness to see ourselves is greatly exacerbated by the fact that we, quite often, do not see even a remote semblance of ourselves in the images of women commonly found in our society.”1 

All too often, women focus on their differences instead of what they have in common. This is especially true online, which is why I think face-to-face interaction is so important. 

Feminism has become too fragmented. I can't tell you how many times someone has tried to tell me how they can't stand someone because they disagree with 2% of their ideology. Sonia Johnson wrote that, “Once we understand that patriarchy is totally dependent upon our mistrusting and thwarting and hurting one another, and that for this reason we have been deliberately, thoroughly, and fiercely indoctrinated from birth to hate and to hurt women, surely we can forgive one another and learn to resist the most central and deadly of all patriarchal mandates.”2

Personally, I am not interested in people's disagreements anymore and tend to stay out of them unless someone is being bullied. Malcolm X said, “Don’t be in such a hurry to condemn a person because s/he doesn’t do what you do or think as you think or as fast. There was a time when you didn’t know what you know today.” We are all learning and growing. I am not the same person I was 10 years ago. 25 years ago, you would not recognize me at all!

Not to mention... the world would be a very boring place if we all thought the same things. I think it is time we give each other a break. Let's take a big collective breath and start fresh.

We also must do a better job of supporting women of color and those who are poor or disadvantaged in other ways. If you cannot be bothered to fight for the rights of your disadvantaged sisters, you probably will not get very far with your own liberation. We are all tied together in this. As Audre Lorde wrote, I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own. And I am not free as long as one person of Color remains chained. Nor is any of you.”4

We must begin to listen to our sisters who are most hurt by colonialism, racism and militarism. I would venture to say that if more of us invited our local refugees to our dinner table, none of us would tolerate another day of war anywhere in the world.

bell hooks made an important distinction:

Solidarity is not the same as support. To experience solidarity, we must have a community of interests, shared beliefs and goals around which to unite, to build Sisterhood. Support can be occasional. It can be given and just as easily withdrawn. Solidarity requires sustained, ongoing commitment.”5

Who are the women in your life? Do they all look the same, speak the same language, and practice the same religion? If so, it may be time to take a close look at yourself and learn about other women. Don't expect these other women to teach you. Go out and buy their books and educate yourself first. There are some suggestions at the end of this book if you don't know where to start.

There is so much information available now. There are no more excuses for racism or isolation. As my dear friend and activist Desiree Jordan says, “Choosing to close your eyes to racism IS accepting your own part in an 'organized resistance' to equality and justice.”

Expand your circle of sisters. Be a real friend to each of them by listening – and helping when you able to. There is a reason why the sister-relationship is so powerful. We grow up together through the good and bad times and learn how to have each other's backs. 

One of my earlier regrets in life was not being able to give my daughter Helani a sister. The sister-friends I have made over the last decade have alleviated this sadness and shown me that sisterhood goes far beyond the biological bond. I believe we can have sister relationships with many different women—and our lives will be richer for it.

Sisterhood is not superficial. Hence, it sometimes gets messy, complicated, dirty and loud. I don't know about you, but I fought with my sisters growing up—and occasionally still do today. Don't fear arguments or disagreements. Don't be afraid to get real. Learn to speak your truth and listen to others do the same. Master how to give generously and receive gracefully. Don't settle for friends or acquaintances—or even pretending everything is just fine. With a sister, you can sob recklessly and laugh until you snort or pee. Go all the way and develop some sister relationships. A friend may cry when you're gone but a sister will hold your hand as you're dying and watch out for your children until she can't. There is no replacement for a sister. 

1 Muscio, Inga. Cunt: A Declaration of Independence. Seal Press; 2002.
2Johnson, Sonia. Going Out of Our Minds: The Metaphysics of Liberation.
3Chesler, Phyllis. Woman's Inhumanity to Women. Chicago Review Press; 2009.
4Lorde, Audre. “The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism.” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. Ten Speed Press; Reprint edition 2007.
5hooks, bell. Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center. South End Press, 2000.

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