Articles

In Celebration of  Women’s Struggles, Friendships, and Resistance

Sujata Warrier, PhD, Chief Strategy Officer, BWJP

“We could think of feminist history as a history of snappy women. Perhaps we would be thinking of how what comes out of our own mouths is speaking this  history[1]”. – Sara Ahmed

As we enter March and Women’s History month, I am reminded of all the ways in which snappy women created friendships, circles, voices, and support that allowed many of us to speak our truths and  laid the foundation for resisting structures of oppression. In so many ways, my friendships with feminist friends has profoundly affected my own thinking around patriarchy and its intersections with other forms of oppressions. These friendships have allowed me to “see” and feel the ways in which patriarchy impacted autonomy. It is the one space I could always turn to when being harassed, bullied, or being simply told to follow the rules.  Many of the whispered and shared conversations provided relief, ways to resist and rebel against patriarchal norms. Often disparaged as “women’s gossip” by patriarchal forces, it was the space that allowed me to share with other women across differences.  So many of them from various corners of the globe have influenced my thinking and that collective solidarity has shaped me for who I am today.

Even though women’s friendships can be restricted to kin through gender seclusion[2] in many social and cultural contexts, women have found ways to connect with other women. Sometimes, these connections were tenuous, but they did  provide small ways to create subversive spaces.  It is not that there wasn’t betrayal, conflict, anger, rifts, and pain, but overall, these connections were transformative. Silence gave way to voice and the use of that voice to call out ongoing misogyny, violent, and sexist practices.  Much needed support and empathy by other women was a key ingredient to validating one’s experiences and ideas and provided ways to assert one’s beliefs creating collective power. These “sisterhoods” allowed many of us to articulate and combat patriarchal oppression.

In the early 70’s and 80’s, the idea of “sisterhood” was influential in the creation of many of the women’s movements across the globe. The notion that women could find common ground across our diverse experiences was exhilarating.  I have been in many spaces in many different parts of the world where women found common language through the sharing of stories and life experiences, particularly around violence against women (VAW) . We could overcome our political differences as women sought collective ways to end VAW.  During the early years, there was tremendous optimism that working across differences, women could not only build collective strength but bring structural changes to the ways in which patriarchy was experienced. Robin Morgan’s Sisterhood is Global[3] attempted to show the possibility of international solidarity.  Many of the diverse global feminist struggles were also closely aligned with struggles around decolonization and civil rights. Those were the days of endless possibilities.

Yet, there was widespread recognition  that the idea of  “Sisterhood” was drenched in racist colonial history and came under increasing scrutiny and challenges[4].  Buried within trenchant criticism also lay the notion that political feminist organizing against gender and gender violence was needed. Women from many of the marginalized groups saw the possibility of a radically different collective organizing – “we are sisters, and our survivals are mutual”[5]. Even with luminaries  such as Audre Lorde, Cherie Moraga, Barbara Smith, Gloria Anzaldua, Toni Morrison, and bell hooks arguing for radical possibilities in the 90’s, the limits of sisterhood lay exposed[6]. It became increasingly challenging for women of color organizing around violence against women in the US and globally to accept the notion that commonality of patriarchal  oppression was enough for solidarity. Solidarity required radical inclusion[7]. As I am challenged today by the many controversies, debates, and claims to victimhood, I cannot but help wonder if we still  need the same type of solidarity, friendships, and collectives? Or is it something else where we create similar spaces? New research does show that friendships between women are special; that during stressful times, the cascade of brain chemicals released buffers women from the fight or flight response producing a more calming influence[8].  So being together and creating vital spaces to share, particularly in the area of violence against women, is crucial. Maybe not in the same ways. Then what? In an increasingly fractured world buffeted by authoritarian regimes, the pushback on progress on health, safety, and autonomy of our bodies, how can some of the friendships help us and create vital spaces?   The concepts of feminism, sisterhood, experience, friendships are still needed. They, however,  do need to be reoriented  where we create space for creative dissent without plunging into victimhood and full engagement with transnational struggles.  Our mutual survival demands that we engage in feminisms without borders[9]. We do need snappy women.


[1] Ahmed, Sara. 2017. Living a Feminist Life. Duke University Press, p.209

[2] Evans, A. 2021. Friendships and Women’s Liberation. Commentary. Brookings Institute.

[3] Morgan, R.  1984. Sisterhood Is Global: The International Women’s Movement Anthology. New York: Anchor Press.

[4] Zaytoun, K and J. Ezekiel. 2016. Sisterhood in Movement: Feminist Solidarity in France and the United States. Frontiers: A Journal of Women’s Studies, Vol. 31, No.1. pp. 195-214; Tungohan, E. 2010. Is Global Sisterhood Elusive: A Critical Assessment of the Transnational Women’s Rights Movement. Atlantis, pp. 104-114.

[5] Lorde, A.   1986. “Conference Keynote Address: Sisterhood and Survival.” The Black Scholar 17, no. 2: 5–7.

[6] Mitra, D. 2023. Sisterhood is X:On Feminist Solidarity Then and Now. South Atlantic Quarterly. Vol 122, No. 3 pp. 431-452.

[7] hooks, bell. 1986. “Sisterhood: Political Solidarity between Women.” Feminist Review 23: 125–38.

[8] UCLA study on Friendship among Women. https://womensbrainhealth.org/think-tank/think-twice/ucla-study-on-friendship-among-women

[9] Mohanty, C.T. 2003. Feminism without Borders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.


 

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