A call for sisterhood. The number one problem of women isn’t men, it’s women.

Throughout my life, my past and current career, I have spoken to literally hundreds of thousands of women. Women from all walks of life, the richest of the rich and the poorest of the poor. Highly educated women, and women who could’ve been killed for having learned to read. Women at the top of the corporate ladder and women who scrub toilets for a living. (I’ve been both of those) Women who are mothers and those who aren’t. Religious women from all sects, and women of no faith at all. Every shade, size and background represented.

It’s a cherished space I get to share with women, as they confide in me their deepest wounds. I’m in awe of all that they’ve come through. I haven’t met a woman yet who doesn’t have some battle scars. These warrior women have become my heroes and sisters in arms. It’s been a privilege to wipe thousands of tears as they share their stories with me. It’s through those tears I’ve found that some of the most constant sources of a woman’s pain, has come at the hands of each other. I’m here to tell you ladies, the number one problem of women isn’t men, it’s women. That may come as a shock with all of the marches and women’s initiatives constantly flashed before our eyes in the media. I’m here to talk about what happens when we go home.

First, I think it’s important to acknowledge the fact that there is still a lot of room for improvement in the advancement of women in this world. Men undoubtedly hold a lot of keys to that. However, that’s a conversation for another day. Today is about holding ourselves accountable. If the advancement of women is what we truly seek, then it’s time we turn that pointer finger around to our own chest and acknowledge the role we play in stunting our growth.

Somewhere in recent years, we’ve gotten off track. Are we crossing the T’s and dotting the I’s of high achievement? Sure. Women continue to knock down every door that lays before them. At no other time in history have we shared more power or been more represented as women. It’s beautiful, really. Give me an instance where so much of this world is isn’t tempered on the attitudes of women- I think you’ll find there’s few. Other than in cases of abuse or severe oppression, we can count on women to set the priorities, the standards, the examples and most importantly – we set the mood in most arena’s. There’s a lot to be proud of.

However, when it comes to the treatment of each other, a lot of us have gone back to the school yard. We’ve lost the soul of what it means to be a woman. What happened to unity, loyalty, nurturing, mentorship, friendship and love? Some women do those things incredibly well, but not enough of us to stop the bleeding. Ladies, we have forgotten our roots. It’s time to retrace our steps and correct our footing. This is a beckon to higher ground.

Whether it be in at work, school, religious communities or neighborhoods, women express a deep struggle with unity. If you look at the history of women, the key to any substantial advancement was unity. Women laced arms as they fought for the right to vote, to own their own wages and property, and for the power to choose their own destiny. We are the benefactors of centuries of sacrifice. I think it’s time we ask ourselves, how are we honoring their legacy?

In recent years, unity is something that eludes us as women. Even feminism has not been the great unifier that we hoped it would be. I think it’s actually brought to light how divided we are within the ranks of women. Feminism used to be about standing together for equal rights. Now it’s about how worthy you are to wear the uterus. What happened to us?

Women of the past didn’t have the luxury of division amongst them. We do. We now hold the power they fought hard for, and it’s a power we don’t always use for good.  I think social media has left us all feeling that we are forced to compete with each other in every arena. Now that are lives are on constant broadcast for all to see, too often we find ourselves in the judgement seat of our sisters. Where there is a lack of unity, there is always suffering. We’re all paying that price today.

The Price of Success – One of the biggest surprises in talking to women is what can only be described as “success scars.” You give me a successful woman and I’ll give you a woman that’s got an identity crisis. It’s true. Being successful is a navigation nightmare for a woman. In order to protect the confidences that women have entrusted me with, I’ll share some of my experiences that reflect the sentiment of what I hear every day from legions of women.

Understand that it’s a little daunting to share this. From my own experience – I can say that the more I knocked down the personal barriers in my life that lead to achievement, the harder it is to thrive within my own tribe – women. Now, I love working with women, I do – but it comes at a cost. I’ve learned to stomach that cost, and I’ve got the ulcers to prove it.

In order for you to truly appreciate the struggle – Picture the movie “The Pursuit of Happyness” except insert me for Will Smith. That was my life twentyish years ago. Yes, it was that desperate and worse. Shame kept me from telling anyone how hard it was just to survive every day.

From the beginning stages of my career, women were hard on me. One thing I had to learn quick, was that women have a really hard time making room for each other professionally. Especially the seasoned women. Regardless of how hard and long I worked, there was little I could do to earn their respect. I think they felt my ambition to change my circumstances got in their way. Both metaphorically and physically – I hadn’t eaten for a long time. I was hungry and I longed to be fed. That insatiable hunger drove me to high achievement. Yet that achievement offended the women in my life. How do you reconcile that, when you need both? I was so young. I had no family other than a tiny little boy who was counting on me. Their acceptance and mentorship would have meant the world to me. I wasn’t there to offend them. I was there to save me, to save us. It was my deep seeded fear of failure that propelled me forward, but my humility never left. That’s the thing about having good doses of abuse, neglect and homelessness – rock bottom and I became good friends. Honestly, I don’t know which offended them more – my advancement, or the “kill em with kindness” I exhibited during the process – which also made me weak in their eyes.

I loved my career. I cherished my patients. It was truly the most beautiful work. 13 years later, a lot had changed in my life. I left to stay home with my babies. They needed me more than my career did. It was also time to support my husband’s career. His had taken a back seat to mine for the whole of our whole marriage. As I write these words, I can’t help but smile – for that was criticized too.

Fast forward to my current career.

Speaking, writing, loving people. It’s seriously the best job ever. I love this work. I think it’s important to share this piece because it’s so reflect of the stories I constantly hear from women. No matter what their station in life – here in lies the struggle. We’ve zipped up the straight jacket of expectation so high, that none of us can hardly breathe. Entering a room full of women is hard, no matter who you are or what you do.

Whenever I walk into a room full of women who know my background and story, it’s intimidating. People knowing your “junk” isn’t easy. As I greet women, I am always received with one of two attitudes – admiration or indifference – with a hint of resentment.

My heart is constantly conflicted with my stature – so do I shrink or do I rise?

Do I SHRINK? – The indifference or resentment I experience is what I like to call, “How dare you rise” syndrome. Where we see someone’s success and not only do we refuse to acknowledge it, but we are mean to each other because of it. You don’t know how many times I’ve endured being ignored or snubbed by women. Church is the worst. Some people have been really, really unkind. (I’m using my church words) It’s become a door that gives me anxiety to have to walk through each week. Physically my stature doesn’t change, but I’m pretty sure I drop ten inches every time I enter the building. Anyway, the whole attitude reeks of “Other people may think you are something special, but let me tell you – I don’t. You are nothing to me. In fact, I refuse to even acknowledge you.” I can spot that from a mile away. Each time it’s like a dagger to my soul. Do you honestly think that we as women, and as people- ever outgrow the need for love and acceptance? If you think we can “success” our way to immunity in this arena you are kidding yourself. We always need our sisters, and we always need their love. We will always need that sense of community. Honestly, these are the women I spend a lot of time loving really hard. I want them to know I’m in their corner. I’m not about me, I’m about US. I’m paving the way for you, and I know you are doing the same for me. We all have sacred gifts to give and I honor yours as well.

Do I RISE? – As any women can attest that  when it comes to admiration, “love” hurts. Admiration normally means being put on a pedestal that we never asked to be on. Whether for how far we’ve come, current success, or the pressure for consistent performance, it’s stressful. It feels like you have to constantly keep announcing… “And for my next act…world peace.” Admiration is something that is always short lived, because the second we show an ounce of flaw- we come crashing down off that pedestal that we never asked to be on. In my own experience, people are devastated by my weakness- and I’m not allowed any wiggle room to be a human being. I hope you never know what it’s like to have your friendship, your intimacy and your association with others be contingent on your perfection. It means never really having a friend that you can be yourself or be honest with. I can’t say that it’s lonely at the top, because I don’t feel I’m anywhere near the summit. However, I can attest that it’s awfully lonely in the middle. The nausea of expectation and fear of your world getting even smaller can make you scared to keep climbing. Some women get off the ladder because of this very thing. It’s what’s described as “The loneliness of leadership”. I shudder to think of all the gifts this world has lost at the hands of success scars.

The Cost of “Failure”: I think the only thing worse than paying the price of success, is the cost of “failure” in the eyes of our peers. I hate even using that word, cause it’s so far from the truth. When a woman chooses a life that makes her happy, some times we women feel it is our duty to be critical of her choices. If she chooses to stay home and raise children – she’s “wasted her potential.” If a woman chooses less than a master’s degree, then she’s treated like she lacks the aptitude to have an opinion on any political issue or social construct. If she never marries, we can’t help but wonder, “What’s wrong with her?” If she chooses not to, or finds that she can’t have children- she must be selfish. If she is thin and beautiful, it’s cause for resentment. If she’s plain or plump – she’s either looked past or considered undisciplined. Sigh.

You know, I’ve always resented the 1-10 scale some men use to “rate” women. Placing a number on a woman based on physical attributes is repulsive. Maybe my years have jaded me, but at least a man’s scale is binary. We know where we stand with him.

A women’s judgement is completely suggestive, mostly based off how she’s feeling about herself today. This is EXHAUSTING. Seriously, think about it! With how critical we are of each other, I can’t help but wonder – what in the world would it take for a woman to get a 10?

In the words of Elizabeth Bennet, “I never saw such a woman. Surely she would be a fearsome thing to behold.” (if you don’t know Jane Austin, I’m judging you. 😉

Sisters, here’s the take away. In all my conversations with women combined with my own experiences – it’s safe to say that we’re all struggling to feel welcome in our tribe. We are living in a mode where we are scared to make room for each other. We can be very critical and unkind. We need to mentor more than we manipulate, support more than we sabotage, and help more than we hurt. I think our ancestors would be sad to see that the shackles they shed, have become the shackles we put on each other. We are the key to our own oppression, so let’s liberate ourselves. Their sacrifice means that we get to define what “opportunity” means for us, as women. Whether that means staying home to raise your family, or being a lawyer, or cleaning toilets to feed your babies… it’s all warrior work. So use your powers for good. Help a sister out. Give each other room to breathe. This life is ROUGH, and we’re all taking turns being in the fetal position. The only thing women will ever get from me is a high five celebrating that we’re all upright today. Let us lift each other with love and loyalty.

All My Love,

Dawn

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2 comments

  1. I love the second half of this writing. We do judge so much, so often, and so harshly: good judgements and bad.

    The historical part of it is less true. There were plenty of women who rejected the idea of voting and equality. They had their own reasons, many of which were real and true and wesee the consequences today. Women fought for and against prohibition, war, industrialization, abortion, equal rights, etc.
    I am not criticizing what you say, it’s tempting for the best of us to idealize the past. Women have been divided since always, we will probably always be divided and it’s a good thing we are. What you point out well is that we can be very divided and still be kind, supportive, or understanding.

  2. I am sorry this has been your experience. And very thankful that, for the most part, it has not been mine. I am a teacher and so perhaps it’s a more nurturing, less competitive field but I have had wonderful mentors and friends. My ward is filled with lovely women that support me as a friend and step in to help with my children when I need help. I’ve had times when I felt isolated and alone or worried that people were judging me but in reflecting back I think that had more to do with my own insecurities and my own state of mind than any real judgment. I am not saying that’s true for everyone and I am genuinely saddened when I see or read about women being harsh, judgmental or clique-ish. It definitely happens. But I also see so many instances of women linking arms and supporting one another. There’s definitely room for improvement…in the church, in the world and in my own heart. Thanks for sharing your experiences and wisdom….I can tell that while you are imperfect(we all are), you are a light in this world!

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