A few days ago, I had a thought about Elizabeth Gilbert and Cheryl Strayed. One that I forgot. Something about them being soul sisters, except that they are not. I didn’t make a note of the thought, maybe because I was sleeping, too knocked out to actually give a fig or because I was binge-watching Breaking Bad. I cannot remember now. And honestly, that sucks because it was a great thought. But I don’t know how I could have had the thought given that I hadn’t started reading Big Magic by Gilbert, and my heart hadn’t expanded to a size that it had expanded when I last read Tiny Beautiful Things by Strayed.
For most of my growing up years, I hadn’t known the meaning of a friend. But that changed in the 8th standard. The friends I’ve had, since my ‘childhood’, are actually my friends since the 8th standard. Back then, I spent a lot of time with my teachers. I ran without knowing how much it would mean to me later on in life – basically, I took it for granted while I had it. And I was confused as hell most of the time except when dabbling in the school version of arts or play. I had little sense of belonging or comradeship. I’ve never belonged to a big gang of friends per se. The maximum size of shared friendships was four, I think. Or three at the max. And that was that.
I don’t know what it means to belong to a brotherhood, or to be technically correct in my case, a sisterhood. I don’t know if I miss it. How can you miss something you’ve never had? In the current phase of my life, where I am cautious about the people I interact with, I realise that I have some very solid friends. They may not be a close-knit group of, say, people I’ve gone to college with or people I’ve grown-up with around the neighbourhood. They’re all varied like shiny planets strewn across the sky and they wave to each other from afar. Not all my friends get along with all others. It’s not a conscious choice considering that I may have wanted to be a shape shifter while growing. It’s something that has happened organically. My mother always said I never had any girl friends. I don’t know how she got the idea as I can now count on my right hand my girl friends who are going to have to watch me kick the bucket and vice versa (though I don’t think I’d take that well).
Not belonging to a sisterhood may have brought me to this realization much later than I would have possibly arrived – women need women. We need the men, too. I am a huge admirer of some of the men I know. But this is not the post where I talk about them. Women need women. Women need women-love. To anyone who says women are in gilded conflict with each other has never seen two women talk about how they feel. They have never seen the bared-soul, no-holds-barred, and vulnerable conversations. I’ve seen them. I’ve participated in them. I’ve initiated them. It’s one of the most honest places in the world. The entire act when a woman tells another that she’s had enough, she’s scared, or she is contemplating treading on the unknown is worth listening to. At such times, women are openly unreasonable, reasonable, fearless, fearful, overwhelmed, tired, brave, and even trying-to-be-brave. No one understands a woman like another woman does. That’s why feminists are up in arms about men passing policies and decisions on women’s bodies. The outrage is there for a reason. Rightly so.
It’s not uncommon for a woman to tilt her head and say ‘first day’ for another to understand she’s feeling crappy and is in pain. Nor is it uncommon for women to exchange notes on how facial hair is bothering them. Have you ever heard a conversation between women about how facial hair actually makes them feel? No, none of that body shaming stuff. Well-meaning people may argue that facial hair is a worry because women have been conditioned to worry about it. But let’s face it, generations of women have gotten each other through the years by supplying beauty advice or lending an empathetic ear. I say empathetic instead of sympathetic because women tend to internalize a lot of issues being led to believe that they’re demi-goddesses who have to be made of titanium. However, when they hear someone say the very things they feel, they empathise. They know. They know better than anyone ever will.
In confession situations, women speak in a language known only to them. Not technically, of course. Since women have been conditioned to conduct themselves in a certain way and behave in a fashion deemed attractive and affable, the manner they use for these personal conversations always begins with the dropping of their guard. It could be an audible sigh sometimes. But there’s almost relaxation of all kinds, of letting go. Not to say that all women can understand all others. But we can find our own tribe. We’re pretty efficient that way.
Some of the strongest women in the world have always attested the need for women to help each other. Maya Angelou, very famously said, each time a woman stands up for herself, without knowing it possibly, without claiming it, she stands up for all women. I find that so wonderfully liberating. I can imagine a ripple effect that travels across the world every time a woman stands up for herself. It’s like gold dust twinkles along the circumference of the earth in a Mexican wave lighting up the whole world. Oprah Winfrey’s academy for girls makes me so happy that I get goosebumps when I see her interact with young girls. I fantasize that if I ever make an obscene amount of money, I would do exactly what Oprah did for young girls. I don’t mean this in a defiant way, but with a collaborative intent. Because like I said, women need women.
And that’s why I may have likened Gilbert to Strayed. They seem to talk the same language. And I seem to fully understand what they’re saying. Portions of both their memoirs (Eat, Pray, Love and Wild) have descriptions of their feelings of insufficiency and the gradual healing of the self. That resonates with me. Their fears and love for their craft, their perseverance, their honesty about the fact that it took them a while to know they were ‘good enough‘, the men they loved, the times they did mundane jobs, their desire to make good the present and heal themselves, and finally shine in their own light. This resonates with my being ever so clearly. If they’re a part of a sisterhood, for this one time in my life, I want to be a part of it too.
Pictures via http://www.stellaimhultberg.com/.