Started in the early 1900's, now dozens of countries from Afghanistan to Zambia celebrate this international holiday to mark the economic, political and social achievements of women. I've written before about my awakening to the ongoing needs to be powerful women so today I'm going to take a slightly different angle and talk about the role of friendship in that journey.
Relationships at the Center of Women's Development & Identity
Women's development is largely understood by psychologists and sociologists as being more dependent upon our connections with others, as compared to the development of men where they seemingly place higher value on their independence, self-reliance, and destiny fulfillment.
When I hear all those "masculine" words I actually feel very drawn to them so it reminds us that it's not an easy, either/or, black-and-white, male vs. female comparison. Nonetheless, on the spectrum of where we form our identity, women tend to lean into feeling their worth based on our relationships: being chosen (married, dating), being a mother, on being admired by the other women in our lives, by being the glue in our extended families.
Historically, in fact, we were only defined and valued by our relationships to men-- who our fathers, husbands, and sons were. Legally, morally, and socially, we had to be connected to men to have a secure status. We've come a long way since the days where our characters were either "good" or "bad" due to our behavior with men and our place in society was dependent upon having a man to provide property, food, and reputation. We are still expanding our definition of our own unique identity as women.
In the book "girlfriends" written in 1995 by Carmen Renee Berry and Tamara Traeder they make a compelling case for female friendship by saying,
"When we look to men as reference points, however, we lose sight of who we are as women. It is like trying to define an apple by comparing it to an orange. The apple, described in terms of the orange, will never have it's own identity, appeal, and value; it will simply be "not an orange."
We are more than the value of our relationships to and with men, just as we are more than being "not men."
An Ode to My Female Friendships
We are women, and perhaps it's with other women that we can best define and name ourselves as we tell our stories, practice our power, and model our experiences. Not to negate one iota from the value I have found in connecting with men, but rather, to focus on the distinct value of connecting with women, it is in those relationships that I have found so much of myself.
So tomorrow, on International Women's Day*, this post is to the women who have taught me to not just try to imitate men or be different than men, but to simply become a woman.
Thank you for the stories you've shared, whether it was during the slumber parties of our childhood, in the bath rooms of high school, in the college classrooms after class, over happy hour drinks or coffee or tea, in parks watching the kids, or in the adjacent offices of our careers.
Thank you for modeling for me and letting me ask the awkward questions as we all bumped through life wearing training bras before we needed them, wishing for our periods only to then wonder why we had ever thought that sounded like fun, and watching each other survive broken hearts to remind ourselves that when the time came, and it always did, that we, too, would survive.
Thank you for asking for the promotion and giving me courage to do the same, and thank you for whispering your fears as you weighed the cost of ambition as it helped me gauge my own price tags.
Thank you for being just as excited about finding that perfect rug on sale that pulls in all the colors of your living room for a mere discounted price worthy of your hunt, as you were about splurging that day at the spa.
Thank you for simultaneously assuring me that I don't need to lose weight while also validating my desire to "get back into shape," for telling me you like my hair long or short, but always concluding that how it is now is your current favorite, and for nodding understanding about how fast time flies while also telling me how young I still am.
Thank you for being the kind of women I could call in tears should I ever need to tell you that they found a lump in my breast. And conversely, that I could call with indistinguishable words should I ever have a book go on the best-seller list. But more often than not, simply calling you with a nonchalant, "What are you making for dinner tonight?"
We alone know that even when men are doing 50% of the household chores that there are still countless things we do that make our lists a bit longer; and we alone know the feeling of pride and exhaustion of believing that we are the only ones that could do those things. We can brag and commiserate that we are multi-taskers, seek balance as though it's attainable, and feel guilty saying no even when it's precisely the right answer. Thank you for being a woman with me.
It is an honor to be a woman with you. It is my privilege to learn from you and your stories. It is a gift that you hear my own. Thank you.
* For more information about this international holiday or to participate in one of the hundreds of events across the country visit the official web site of International Women's Day.
** On a side note, I'd be honored to have your vote of appreciation for my blog in the About.com Readers Awards for Favorite Friendship Blog. Two seconds of your time can help me narrow the gap from 2nd to 1st place! Thank you!