The power of women’s social connections, and the patriarchy that undermines them.
If a year is defined as beginning or ending with LitCrawl. Then I am in the middle of the year and missing LitCrawl. Last year I was with Gem Wilder, Thalia Kehoe Rowden, Holly Walker and Emily Writes, to discuss the life-giving, sane-making friendships that keep mothers afloat. I stood and spoke about how much I feared women and mothers in their 30s, or more to the point, becoming one.
When I turned twenty four I freaked out.
Thinking I was on some kind of downwards slide towards to obsolescence. Twenty four years old.
I became really driven to achieve all the things, by the time I turned 30 as if life would end then. I did all those things, and life went on.
I was so ageist. I looked down on women in their 30s and 40s, I really didn’t want to become one of them.
I saw them around the city, in groups, having loud fun. I thought they looked desperate for some reason. I felt embarrassed for them.
Despite having just finished an honours degree in Gender and Women’s studies, I had internalised the rule of women’s worth being limited to that of her physical self at such a base level.
Although I knew otherwise, intellectually, of the worth and value of women. I also knew society doesn’t value women as they age.
I’m not sure why I felt this so deeply and suddenly at twenty four, becoming gripped by an urgency to fucken do something with myself. Before there was no other use for me.
But there was another aspect to my disdain of groups of women in their early 30s. Of why I didn’t want to be an ‘aging’ woman who danced with her girlfriends at the front of a gig after a few wines, or who ranted and laughed at restaurant tables with her besties. What a positive twenty four year old, right? Such a pessimistic patriarchally internalised negative young person.
I did have an inkling at the time of what was happening. And I definitely now know. I had absorbed the message that women’s friendships are frivolous, flimsy, directionless-gossip-gangs. Basically that connections between women are of little worth.
A crucial and effective trick of the patriarchy. Ensure women see no point in collaborating, networking, or socialising together.
Keep the women separate, keep the women down.
However, since becoming a woman with friends who are almost exclusively other women in their 30s with children, I’ve reflected on my past attitude.
My gossip gang doesn’t get up to the front at gigs much, logistics are hard. But we are very organised. We work hard to meet up, we have agenda items. We relax where we can. We talk a lot.
Why was I worried about this happening? Why did I resist it for so long? IT IS THE BEST. It is now the one thing that keeps all the other things together. The social glue. The emotional network system.
How is it possible that people, in this case women, are successfully lead to believe that the one thing they may need the most, one of the most fundamental and base of needs, that of supportive human connection, is unnecessary. Perhaps bad even?
Well, before I started kindy, I had learned that boys did the fun things. I requested short hair, I put toilet paper down my pants to create the appearance a little penis. So I could do the fun things, like climb trees.
I knew early on, that in order to do the things I wanted to do, I had to either be a tomboy, or roll with the boys. This was my childhood. I actively avoided anything girlie or girl gangy.
I followed my sister to an all-girls high school. Mine was a jocky sports and arts-driven school. The sporty kids ruled the roost. I wasn’t quite sporty enough and I couldn’t be bothered finding a place in that crowd.
I found a few new friends and retreated to the art and music rooms before and after school as well as during morning teas and lunch. School was pretty good to me.
Our school had a reciprocal relationship with the local boys school. We called on each other for productions, orchestras, choirs.
Consequently, there were frequent meet-ups between the music and arts crowds of both schools. I had a few great girl friends at high school, but this is when I found my people. The art-music boys at the school down the road. I spent my afternoons and weekends with them.
I looked down on the majority of girls at my school, with their adherence to social displays of femininity. I hated the cattiness, the clambering for top position. I began to devalue female friendships generally and neglected my own.
I believed that all girls did was gossip. I didn’t have time for that. But the boys I hung out with, although much more in touch with their emotional selves than many others, didn’t really talk. I had years of thoughts and problems, clanking around in my own mind, not voicing them, not bouncing them off anyone.
Of course I wasn’t aware this was happening. But it I’m sure it contributed to getting sick for a while. Depressed and medicated at 16, surrounded by fun, but mumbling and stinking boys.
But I couldn’t and wouldn’t do anything perceived as girly either. I didn’t want the stereotypes and threw the baby out with the bath water.
In my determination to not be a stereotypical ‘dumb-netball-playing-blonde’ (I have always been naturally blonde, and was frequently reminded of it), and wanting to do the exciting stuff. I missed all the kids who were quietly talking. They were there. I know this now.
I had internalised sexist and misogynistic messages so deeply, that I was hostile to my girl peers in order to maintain a sense of value in myself. If I could be a ‘better’ girl, less adherent to devalued female stereotypes, if I could be more assertive and confident in boy’s spaces – while also remaining attractive to them, then I could see myself as worthwhile without having to acknowledge and address the real effects of sexism and patriarchy in my life.
If I ascribed devalued gender stereotypes to other girls, ‘the netball playing gossips’, I could assure my own place in the hierarchy without challenging the place and structure of girls and women’s value and worth in society at large.
This attitude carried on in my twenties.
I think I speak for many mothers when I say that the gravity of patriarchy really struck when I had kids. I realised that most men don’t talk much. That women do. That women do all the things, including emotional labour.
What I had previously written off as gossip, was in fact slur for ‘discussion of the deepest and highest order, practical advice, support giving, affirmation, checking in, emotional fucken labour of love’. Nurturing.
And a bloody good time.
Sure, it probably wasn’t as sophisticated and helpful at high school, but I’m sure it would have been alright.
But as a teenager, I just really didn’t want to be a lesser human.
I decided that aligning myself with boys and highlighting my masculine traits was the way to go. Because, who is more worthless than a teenage girl?
So to teenage girl of my past and twenty four year old Jessie. It is ok to be a woman. It is wonderful in fact. If I could have whispered this in my own ear, I would have.
‘They are trying to keep you all apart now, so you are less powerful later. Gang up sweet girls, gang up now. Get your gossip on.’