Sep 4, 2016

Band of sisters

Former US secretary of state Madeline Albright while endorsing Hillary Clinton, went so far to say, “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other!”  There was this comment in twitter and this article in Women’sweb both echoing the often repeated sentiment about women not helping other women. At the risk of generalizing, I have mostly found women more collaborative, and inclusive.  I believe, with no empirical data I must admit, that women would be somewhat uncomfortable at the idea of getting ahead by betraying the sisterhood, er… by betraying anyone.  So I wondered where this view came from - that women are each other’s worst enemies. That somehow, we don’t look out for each other as much as men, or any other fraternity.

Historically, this could have been because in the past most of women’s achievements were in the context of a man - father, son, husband, lover, captor... and there was no incentive to group together, there weren't a lot of opportunities to build nations or enterprises. But then that begs the question, are we still viewing everything in the context of the men in our lives? Why are women still not helping each other, if indeed they are not?

Perhaps over the centuries, women have not belonged to groups enough to believe in the idea of fraternities. Like soldiers banding together and standing together, sometime at great cost. Let’s face it, that might not be a bad thing after all. But this could mean every opportunity to help another woman stands on its own merit and our sense of identity outside the gender, moral values, and worldview takes precedence and trumps notions of sisterhood. Sharing XX chromosomes is not strong enough a bond.

For example, when another woman sufficiently deviates from our notions of propriety, we are not kinder, are not helpful and worse are critical and antagonistic. Like towards those women who wear tight or skimpy clothing, who are bikers or those who choose to remain single or childless. Like when we don’t think it is incumbent upon us to smooth the path for women following us, be it through sharing a word of wisdom or helping someone with a job opportunity.

The thing though, while we might not have fully caught on to the feeling of solidarity yet, just glancing through news items from across the world shows we are being subject to sufficiently similar experiences irrespective of say geography or race. Women in the workforce, women entering into arenas that are traditionally male bastions, women trying to balance or even understand their traditional role in the context of new opportunities are undergoing common experiences, slowly forging a common identity.

Voices that are imploring women to help other women are essentially alerting us to examine our role in this world. They are not necessarily calls for preferential treatment that is unfair or unreasonable.  They are just timely reminders to us to acknowledge this identity, if not above, at the same importance as others. And that after acknowledgement comes responsibility.

This long article is worth reading; but if you don't have the time, the last line says it all.

P.S : Irrespective of the perception or reality of women not helping others, I for one wouldn’t be where I am today if not for the help that I have received from other women. I am grateful for that and I hope to repay that debt.

September 04, 2016