Feminism is a Friendship Issue

Last night three of us sat in the beautiful living room of my friend’s brand new condo. It was gorgeous. We toasted her buying her own home (in the Bay Area that is a HUGE feat!), and indirectly toasted the business she started several years ago that has given her such financial opportunities.  She is nothing short of amazing as she builds her empire, hires employees, travels the world, and fills her life up with the experiences that matter most to her.

Not being married….

And yet she shared how exhausting it is to feel like others assume she’s done something wrong to still be single. Their statements, their questions, their looks of pity, their advice… it can all feel isolating and condemning.

She’ll be the first to say that she so looks forward to being in a relationship that feels healthy, fun, and meaningful so it’s not that she prefers being single. But she prefers being single to being in a relationship that is empty of the things she values; she’s unwilling to get married to just be married.

She doesn’t need our advice to try online dating; she doesn’t need us trying to encourage her by reminding her the perks of being single; she doesn’t need us to tell her that she just needs to get more comfortable being by herself.

What she needs are women who will just let her tell her own story and experience, women who are able to hold both the truth that there are parts that can “suck” about be single and the hope with her that it will still happen; all without implying that there is something wrong with her or that she’s not doing life right.

I’m not single, and yet I know the feeling.

Not having kids….

At my most recent speaking engagement I must have fielded the question, “Do you have kids?” at least seventy times in that one day.  For the first 50 responses I kept whispering to myself, “They’re just trying to connect with me.  They’re just trying to find common ground on the area of life that matters most to them.  Don’t read anything else into it.”

But by mid-afternoon, I was exhausted.  I was weary of feeling like they wanted me to have kids as though I’d have more credibility to them if I did.  My insecurities were starting to flare up and the fear of “not being enough” was lodging itself in my chest. The voice of shame began to whisper: “You’re not a real woman unless you’re a mom.  They think you can’t relate.  They will trust you more if your life looks just like theirs.”

I felt judged and dismissed; but I didn’t want to adopt that story because I don’t think anyone was trying to judge me.  So I’ve spent the last week processing those fears with close girlfriends, journaling, talking with my husband, and coaxing my voice of wisdom to speak louder than my voice of fear.

The irony here is that the third friend I was with last night is married and a mom.  But she too knew the feeling we were describing.

Not having enough kids…

She has an only child and fields similar-feeling questions all the time about whether she’s going to have another, when, and why it’s the best thing to do for x, y, and z reasons.

Without knowing her circumstances, her heart, her body, or the details of her life– she feels like other women presume there is a “correct” path that should be followed.  Like me feeling dismissed with statements like, “well of course you can do that because you don’t have kids,” she feels that way because “she only has one and that’s easy!”

I’ve also heard women who have more than the presumed 2-3 kids talk about feeling judged, too.

And let’s not sidestep that everything I’ve seen on feminism lately has more to do with how much a women “leans in” or “reclines” in her career once she has a family so we know that there is massive insecurities getting flared up in that arena as everyone struggles with trying to do it all right.

And, of course we all know, that you can be married, with the 2.5 kids, surrounded by the proverbial white picket fence, and still incur the feelings of not be enough, competing with other moms, and feeling as though no one understands just how unique or difficult our personal experience is– whether we have twins, an adopted child, a special needs baby, a difficult teenager, or a an adult child that lives at home– the list goes on and on of things that quickly push us to feel like something is wrong with our lives.

Feminism must start in our friendships and spread out…

Last week, a friend and I sat in the audience to listen to Debora Spar, author of Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection, who spoke about how she believes we’ve lost sight of the original goal of feminism being to liberate women.  The data she shared made a convincing case that not only have the numbers not really budged beyond the “token 1-2 women” in the upper echelons of most industries, but that more discouraging is the fact that we’re not yet acting like liberated women on the inside, either.  Our body image hasn’t improved in the last number of decades, we’re exhausted and weary, we are more educated and yet feel more incompetent, we never feel like we’re doing enough, we feel guilty for not making homemade Halloween costumes, and we’re not reporting higher levels of happiness.

Last night, sipping tea, I looked at these two dear friends of mine and thought, “How is it that we are all strong, self-aware, healthy, vibrant, happy, spiritually-engaged, and pursuing our dreams, and yet still enslaved by this idea that we’re not really a woman until/unless we do x?”

And while I believe there are some serious systemic issues that need to be addressed to help level the playing field, I also think women are doing a lot of this to ourselves and each other.  It’s women who are editors of the magazines featuring photo-shopped women, it’s women looking down on other women for making different life choices, it’s women who are forgetting that every time they judge someone else that it heightens their own insecurity.

Insecurity about our lives leads to judgment of others. We all want validation that we’re doing the best we can and that it’s enough. And if someone makes a different choice than we do then we are tempted to believe that one of us made the wrong choice.  And we don’t want it to be us, so it must be them.

And that is a faulty paradigm.  We aren’t competitors, we’re sisters. Truly connected; our fate is shared in so many ways as a rising tide lifts all boats.  While we’re out there campaigning for equal pay and corner offices, we also have to do the work of making sure we’re not like prisoners who no longer live behind bars but still don’t know how to enjoy freedom.

The part of feminism I care about most is how we feel about ourselves.  And that is shaped by the relationship we have with ourselves (finding our own peace in our choices and being centered in our own worth), the relationship we have with what I call God (understanding why we’re on this planet, our calling, our value, what makes us special), and the relationship we have with those around us (practicing the shining of our light and seeing how special everyone else is, too).

Last night, the three of us women, whose lives don’t mirror each others at all, shared our hearts, spoke our truth, and validated each other in meaningful ways.  We promise to cheer for each other, even when one of us has something the other seemingly wants.  We promise to not take it personally when someone makes a choice different from ours. We promise to ask questions and listen to each others stories as if we’re each a traveler who has visited countries that we won’t be seeing; instead of trying subtly convince each other to follow the same path we did.  And we promise to do the personal work in our own lives to show up with as much vulnerability, honesty, courage, and love, as we possibly can.

We practiced feminism– liberating each other to live the best life we each created.

And the more we do that with each other, the more we can do that with the women we have yet to meet.

Feminism is in trouble the more disconnected women get from ourselves and each other.

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17 Responses to Feminism is a Friendship Issue

  1. Michele says:

    I love this idea. I’m really lucky in that I have girlfriends from all walks of life, at different points in our lives. My sisterfriend Rachel & her husband decided to not have children, so when my oldest daughter married & she & her husband decided they do not want to have children, she had a built-in role model that their decision is valid. I inadvertently became a role model when I started my own handmade design business. I have friends who are working moms, stay at home moms, students, business owners, affluent backgrounds, blue collar backgrounds. We love to get together for BBQs, or to help with home projects, we’re there whenever someone needs us. We support, love and honor each other and our truths.

    We are sisterfriends. I wish everyone had a group like ours.

  2. Jennifer says:

    Wow…Shasta, you hit three important areas on the nose. It is so true. I can honestly say, I have also been guilty of asking the question to all three audiences…awareness is key. feminism truly is about choice…whatever that choice may be. Thank you.

    • ShastaGFC says:

      I would certainly hate to think we can’t ask those questions to each other (though chances of it being a painful area for many women are high so we certainly should be mindful of just how private of an issue it may be!), but I think the more important issue is how we respond to their answer. Do we give advice? Do we say something that could imply judgment? Or, do we validate their journey and figure out how to affirm them in a meaningful way… communicating that they are fine just as they are, no need to be something else? And you, girl, fall in the latter of modeling strong motherhood and affirming others in beautiful ways. xoxo

  3. Oh my Shasta – you have out done yourself with this honest commentary! I’m continually coaching and encouraging my clients through the judgements other people project onto them – especially their marital status. Thank YOU for this – will share with everyone in my community.

  4. Barbara Kimball says:

    As a woman who was a teen and a young adult during the rise of feminism, I would say you have summarized well where the last 45 years has brought us. We need to honor those early ideals by lifting up not only our sisters in their choices, but also ourselves. It was a good reminder for me, personally.

    • ShastaGFC says:

      Barbara– huge thanks for helping pave roads for all of us… there has indeed been so much change that in some ways that I think most of us just though it was a moot point now and that the ideals had been achieved, when in fact, there is still a huge need for us to not just have choices, but to then learn to feel good with our choices and not try to do everything! Thank you for the pioneering spirit you gave the movement!

  5. Renae says:

    Shasta, you hit the nail on the head with this blog posting. Each of us are individuals, and, as a result, are on individual paths. It’s OK if my journey doesn’t look like yours or anyone else’s for that matter. Your journey doesn’t need to look like mine. There is such freedom in realizing that!

    I like surrounding myself with women friends who are enjoying their unique journeys and let me enjoy mine. We’re there for each other at the drop of a hat but don’t presume to tell the others how to run their lives, which would be intrusive and just plain rude!

  6. Jessica G. says:

    Thank you Shasta for this honest reflection. I too agree with your insight that as women, we can be our worst critics towards one another, and often that stems from how we feel about ourselves. Often we think that strong friendships come from having so much in common, and it seems the only commonality we need in order to grow within friendship is an openness to accept and support one another’s choices, even if they don’t mirror our own.

  7. Rolamda says:

    Very interesting topic as usual on this blog. What is feminism? It is a question
    we have been asking ourselves repeatedly over the years.
    The question and the quest for its meaning has changed over the years. Women today
    may be inclined to or questioning it, but it is still there. So what is feminism
    actually?
    We live in a man’s world! Yes that is true and thank god. After all, the human
    species is made of woman and man. It could not exist or thrive without men and women.
    Hmm! It is also no fun if we do not embrace the comfort of each other.
    What does a woman seek in her life? It is certainly not bondage or a life of boring
    and mundane tasks, choices and prospects. Many decades ago, and indeed in centuries in
    the past, the choices for women were quite limited. Home life, chores, little future
    and little fortune, having children were the usual outcomes for women.
    Today, women can do so much more. We still have a way to go but we have made great
    progress. We have so many options available to us, such as:

    1) remaining single throughout our lives, and being either miserable or happy in
    that choice;
    2) finding great friends, soulmates and mentors to help us navigate through life;
    3) advancing our careers, improving our minds and bodies in the process;
    4) finding the partner of our dreams; then dating, marrying the person, and enhancing
    the life of us, our partners and the relationship
    5) when in a relationship, we can have children or not have children, continue to
    work, stay at home, or build our own business;
    6) we can improve our lives through education, work experience and relationships
    7) we can evaluate our relationships and friendships, and seek to change things;
    8) we can ask for help, guidance and assistance;
    9) we can leave relationships when things go bad.

    These are choices we women now have to gain a quality of life we admire and wish for.
    The last option, while often regretable and certainly not desirable in the best of times,
    is still less available to us, mostly for economic reasons. This is especially true if the
    women have not continued to work, have not managed to save any money or have children.
    Still, there are some options available today. Our feminist sisters of the past have
    worked hard to change things from socially ostracized women, who left relationships, in
    the past to accepting women in such circumstances in women’s centres for example.
    Feminism also means that she can persue an education, develop a business, have numerous
    male and female friends and mentors, and to travel. She is also free to explore her feelings,
    sexuality and spirituality without shame or reprisal.
    We have come a long way but still have a journey ahead of us. We have to change the ways
    both women and men think the role of women is and should be. Religion is one of them. So
    many women, in many religions, are still subjugated into limiting roles and punished for
    either thinking, acting or being in any situation other than dictated by these religions.
    Men too have to change their ways and views of women. While it is perfectly natural to be
    attracted to beautiful women and try to persude a relationship of some sort with them, they
    do have to allow women to live a life of freedom, choice, abundance of opportunities, safety,
    and freedom of unwanted attention and of violence.
    These are limiting factors in the enjoyment of life we women desire, hope, expect and
    deserve. Just look at the way women are abused, abandoned, tortured and otherwise treated
    for being different. Sadly, this is also recently the instance today in post secondary schools
    with young people. Recently, there is strange and troublesome talk about rape culture. Some
    guys, even some girls in fact, think and talk about it in a joking manner. Rape is not funny
    in the least. It is criminal! It is morally and socially unacceptable. It is also a huge cause
    of a woman’s limiting choices for her future, her safety, self worth and self esteem and
    relations with men and women in the future. This destroys everything that is right for women,
    their right to be happy ife life .

  8. KCS says:

    Absolutely brilliant! This woman always scratches where I itch. I always remember when I was single seeing books called how to deal with the single like I had a disease or something and the lovely group we had at our church called Pairs and Spares. Doesn’t that make you feel welcome? In many ways I feel that we’ve lost what we originally set out to gain through the feminist movement when I see how blatantly women are objectified on so many levels. As Shasta says, we can be our own worst enemies. Hug an amazing or many amazing women in your life today and let them know that they’re just fine just the way they are.

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  10. Jennifer says:

    Wow! Love this <3

  11. Samantha says:

    I loved your blog entry! Thank you so much. It is not only nice to hear that other women feel the same way, but to be reminded that we need to stick together!

  12. Amy says:

    I think what you have said here is SO true. I too have no children and find myself being asked when my husband and I plan to have children (we don’t). However, I despise the word feminism. I think the word itself invokes the thought that we are living in a mans world and that being a woman is a handicap of some sort. I think the word feminism invokes the feelings it is trying to banish. The word feminism makes one think getting married, or being a SAHM is somehow counter productive to the female gender and the feminist movement when in reality being those things is an amazing part of being a woman. We too often associate feminism with radical thoughts of being under the thumb of men, and I couldn’t disagree more. We make up these beliefs of not being good enough and then project that out into the world. I think feminism should invoke thoughts of working on ones inner self as a woman, not “Ban Bossy”, “don’t be a SAHM”, “you must have a career”, “don’t get married”… Yuck… I’m not saying that is what feminism is, I am saying that is what the word makes me think of and those things are just crazy! I think we should come up with a new positive, thought provoking word!

I always love to hear your ideas, wisdom, and questions! What do you think?