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Survival of the sisterhood: working from the inside-out

Women’s march on Washington. Photo credit: IB Times UK

After the historic women’s marches that took place across the world on January 21, 2017, the global consciousness was reminded of what women, when united, can achieve. For those who participated, there was a palpable power, a healing quality to the experience. It was a macrocosm of what many of us feel when we come together as women on a day-to-day level.

This is the sisterhood, a timeless force that draws women together to build communities, nurture each other and stand up for injustice when the need arises.

Despite their power, sisterhoods are also vulnerable to infighting, division and attack from external forces. Since the January march, the question has been asked: how to we keep the momentum moving forward? How can the sisterhood continue to be an effective collective voice and not scatter or become distracted?

Divide and conquer

Studies have shown that women not only enjoy the bonds we form with other women, but they are intrinsic to our health and wellbeing. Yet, there are many pitfalls that are prevalent within female relationships that can make women cautious and mistrustful of each other. Competition, betrayal and soldier gathering are all part of bullying behaviours that occur in groups of women. There is no girl who hasn’t felt the sting of backstabbing friends in middle school or popularity contests that invite you into the ‘in’ one day and abandon you to the ‘out’ the next.

Some of these dynamics are a result of living in a patriarchy where, in the past, we would need a man to survive or have status. Women have been socialized to compete for male attention, stepping over our bonds with each other to secure a social position. While modern life, to some extent, offers us independence in our power, many of these attitudes prevail. Though we know ourselves to be free of the restrictive social rules on paper, many of them still run freely within us on a subconscious or semi-conscious level.

Internalized misogyny

In her bestselling book, Lean In, Sheryl Sandburg talks about how women have internalized the glass ceiling, we don’t even need the bullies to do the work for us! We have learned from years of subtle (and not so subtle) cultural messaging to second guess ourselves, hold ourselves back and not act until we consider ourselves to be ‘perfect’ or good enough. We are our worst enemies, keeping ourselves from success while our male counterparts climb the ladder in the workforce, confident and without any doubt that they have the right to do so.

In our work at the Training in Power Academy, starting with Level 1, we work by the philosophy “heal thyself, heal the world.” This means you can’t really start fixing the world, or anyone else for that matter, until you address your own issues. So when it comes to our relationship to each other, women have to ask some difficult questions of where we play out the negative relationship dynamics with ourselves. This could be defined as internal misogyny: where we dislike, mistrust, judge and malign ourselves because we are women. It may be so habitual and subtle, we are not even aware of it.

Love the woman in the mirror

Maybe it began with messages you absorbed from home or school about being a girl. Maybe it’s from years of viewing disempowered versions of women and their relationships in the media. Maybe the first time we are betrayed in a female relationship, you blamed yourself for being open to it in the first place. Where did you close yourself off and learn to be guarded and watchful of not only other women, but also the female portion of yourself?

Without having a conscious awareness of it, many women will walk into a group of women expecting to be judged. So the question would be, where do you judge yourself? When you look in the mirror, what tone of voice are you using? Who do you perceive looking back? Is your relationship with yourself, as a woman, a safe, nurturing place? Or is it something you struggle to uphold without self-betrayal, judgment and pettiness?

Because of the healing nature of this reality we live in, if we don’t address our internal dynamics, we will feel compelled to play them out with others again and again. So if we want the movement of the sisterhood to sustain and thrive, we must start by fostering a healthy connection within. We need to start honoring and loving ourselves as women and seeing our own innate value. We can use our community as a platform for this process, but knowing that we must be accountable for our own wounds that we seek to heal.

So I present this final question: What if the real fight towards the injustice that threatens our world starts by facing our internal negativity? Imagine the collective strength of a group of women who know themselves and love themselves. And then support each other to become even stronger! After centuries of being kept from our power individually and collectively, it’s time for us to become the resilient force that we know we can be. The world needs the sisterhood and the sisterhood needs each other, may we keep up the good fight and continue striving forward!

 

Elinor Svoboda

Level 1 and 2 teacher