“I’ve always believed that one woman’s success can only help another woman’s success” Gloria Vanderbilt.
In the field of psychology, the power of a community and support system is emphasised as a deeply therapeutic tool by academics and clinicians alike. Call it what you will – your clan, your network, your family, your community – You need one. Society has depicted groups of female relationships in plenty of positive, negative and ambivalent slants. In some situations, women are depicted as catty colleagues, mean schoolmates, competitive and aggressive peers. In others, they are our soul sisters, bearers of wisdom and love. They can be our cheerleaders, frenemies, verbal sparring buddies and a comforting presence on the days we need nothing more than someone to sit beside us in silence.
Women have been pivotal to the progression of the global economy, education, medical and scientific breakthroughs among other things. Our accomplishments have a tendency to continue to be underreported, but there is no doubt that the power of a community of supportive women is a force to be reckoned with. When we come together with a shared purpose to create personal and societal changes, people sit up and pay attention. We have led movements and brought about change on macro and micro levels – be it in the household, for grassroots organisations, political parties or conglomerates.
When I began to cultivate meaningful friendships with other women, it didn’t occur until I was well into my 20s. Starting out so late made me reflect on the gender-based generalisations I was fed (intentionally or not) by family, society and media while growing up. These stereotypes made me wary as a kid with regards to being part of women-centric circles.
Observing the relationships my mother had with the women in her life did not help. There was way too much jealousy, hypocrisy and fake camaraderie. Being bullied exclusively by girls while growing up certainly also didn’t help. Being compared to the more academically successful and well-behaved daughters among family friends and relatives was a common occurrence. A highly annoying, eye-roll inducing occurrence. So the idea of belonging to a community of women evokes a sense of belonging and cautious optimism.
The online plus size community was my first induction into a collective of mostly women voices. This global movement challenges the policing of our bodies. Everybody personally invested in the community has a part to play. From social activism for plus size visibility to advocating self-acceptance, sharing stories of resilience and letting out our inner fashionista, the body positive movement, like any other community, is constantly evolving.
Since embarking on Curves Become Her, I have been fortunate to forge my very own sisterhood of bloggers and advocates. Women who support one another, lift each others’ spirits and inspire. But it has been feeling a little strained over time. There is more division in the group because of differences of opinions. More women have left the group or become silent to avoid conflict. What was once created in the hopes of sharing a safe space is now regarded at a distance. To be honest, this is how the global plus size community has become as well.
Some voices have further reach than others. That does not make them more compelling. Some voices are angrier. That does not make them hateful. Some voices speak gentler. That does not mean they can be trampled upon. I see troubling behaviours such as policing each others’ bodies and clothing choices – this is exactly what we speak up against. I see minorities being asked to leave the table – isn’t it part of our goal to lend our voices while letting other voices be heard?
Discovering the power of community led me to venture beyond my comfort zone, and I turned to AWARE – Singapore’s leading gender equality group – to get involved in doing my part to speak about gender-based barriers. From them, I forged another amazing sisterhood that keeps me grounded and informed. I reached out to my friend Kokila Annamalai – Campaign Manager for the We Can! Initiative on the importance of sisterhood:
“Sisterhood is such a powerful idea. It combats the patriarchal forces that pit women against each other, teach them to regard other women with suspicion, to see them as threats and as competition for limited resources, (male) attention and power.”
Sisterhood isn’t cheesy; it’s deeply political and radical. It is probably the most effective tool against the “old boys’ club”, against internalised misogyny and the expectation that, in a world where women are disadvantaged in most arenas, they have to step on each other to get ahead. It instead suggests that women of different classes, ethnicities, nationalities, ages, sexual orientations, gender expressions, language groups, skin colours, sizes, (dis)abilities are stronger when they trust each other, look out for one another, defend and lift each other up. They can create safe and brave spaces for each other, build community, fight oppression and construct new realities, better stories, more equal futures.”
I am not saying we should sit in a magic circle singing Kumbaya to improve relations. But I hope that the very reasons we stay invested, ambitious and passionate for the community will remind us to work together.
Featured Image courtesy of the author