Why Building An Authentic Female Community Is Hard (And Why You Need One Anyway)

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Mom Life

My friend tells me I generalize too much- and its true.  It’s a tendency I’m trying to break away from but it’s not easy – especially when I’m trying to make an argument for a broad sweeping solution to humanity’s problems (so get ready!!).  Luckily, I have her to point out when I’m being ignorant or am on the verge of being bigoted and to patiently remind me that humanity is varied and complex and a simple band aid fix won’t actually fix anything.  She reminds me that people – all people – are relational and more healing and good is done over endless cups of coffee and conversations around a dinner table than by a single person dictating what should be done on a platform (the irony of me writing a blog on this is not lost on me). 

Through her, and many friends like her, I’ve come to realize that community is not only healthy for me as a person but vital for humanity in general.  Furthermore, I feel like women need true community with other women and that this whole maxim of “I hate being friends with other women”/ “women are cats” is probably one of the most toxic ideas in America today.  But I didn’t always feel that way, in fact, I used to take the complete opposite view.

I am an introvert raised by a family of introverts to be outwardly tough and fiercely independent.  Our family motto could have been “Fool me once, shame on me for allowing you to do that.  Fool me twice, double shame on me for being an idiot.”  Despite this, I was trusting and willfully naïve growing up, stubbornly putting faith in people who burned me again and again.  My mother used to reprimand me for being a doormat and would say that there was a large difference between forgiveness and being used.  There was truth to this but the walls and moats I’ve since put up against people and their “peoplely-ness” were built obliviously and unintentionally and became surprisingly tall and far reaching.  

My husband, who is usually the one to run headfirst into these subconscious walls and motes, laughs and rolls his eyes at me.   I once caused nerve damage in my toe so severe that I lost all feeling in it for two years simply because I wouldn’t ask him for help in getting my upper laces tight enough on a trail (“Why???  I would have helped you if you had just told me how much pain you were in!!”) and I will still (unconsciously) change my breathing while hiking with others to appear less winded (You’re doing it again… breathe normally or you’re going to pass out”).  Furthermore, I once avoided a women’s group held in our very own apartment building, filled with women that I actually liked and admired simply because it was a women’s group and for some reason…I felt like a community of healthy successful women would somehow be bad for my soul…yeah…

If this sounds like a lot of cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face – you would be right.  But if you can count on humanity (myself included) to be one thing, it’s that it’s always a dirty, duplicitous, emotionally draining mess. (Look!  More generalizations! But hang with me.)  In a culture that values independence and strength above all else, weakness is seen as failure and emotional weakness is all but unforgiveable.   To survive this kind of culture, avoidance of pain – especially emotional pain – is key and you can’t have true community without exposing your weakest parts to people and trust that they won’t do what humans have historically always done – which is to hurt other people.  It is all too tempting to excuse yourself from the whole entire human mess and with technology being what it is – it’s getting easier to do so all the time.  I say this to let you know that I get it – as a proud “outsider” from a long line of “outsiders” – that I know how in many ways the loneliness can seem like a nice safe trade off from all the messiness of humanity but this mentality really does more harm than good – see above examples for reference.

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According to The Art of Neighboring, by Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon, former Arvada mayor Bob Frie was once quoted as saying that “the majority of the issues that our community is facing [homelessness, at-risk youth, child hunger, drug and alcohol abuse] would be eliminated or drastically reduced if we could just figure out to be a community of great neighbors”. 

Flipping that on it’s head he is essentially saying that isolation from others and extreme self-dependence can cause or drastically exacerbate these issues.  That’s a pretty bold statement, but Jesus implied the same thing when he gave the second half of the great commandment: “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:37-40).  What a radical concept – not to scour the community for people who think and believe like you but to just love the person right next to you without the ulterior motive to change or persuade them to do or be anything.  Notice that there isn’t a mention of loving your children as yourself or your spouse or even your small group.  Its easy (or easier) to love the people we choose to love, isn’t it?  But we don’t typically hand pick our neighbors. 

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Earlier I singled out women as needing a double helping of community and I meant it.  Many women feel isolated in their work and in their social life.  At work, many times we try to neuter ourselves or become “one of the guys” so that we can achieve success in our careers.  In my experience, women were loath to mentor each other or even to be mentored either because of a lack of realization that women needed mentoring or for fear that if we appeared too feminine, we would sacrifice our corporate aspirations.  We have been told that we have to fight against everyone to be successful so much that we forget that it doesn’t have to be that way.  At home we feel pressure to sacrifice our own social lives for our family, but we rarely expect this out of our husbands or children.  What’s more, is that we’ve lied to ourselves into believing that no one would want to spend time with us in our own home and just do life together.  Hot tea moment, ladies.  If your friends are really your friends, then they will spend time with you in your messy, loud chaotic home just as easily and readily as in a coffee house because THEY WANT TO SPEND TIME WITH YOU.     

 A large number the woman I know have said at one point that they have a hard time forming close relationships with other women.  I’ve heard the reasons ranging from “I cant relate to other women” to “women are catty witches who will gossip and stab you in the back”.    I’ve been in both camps but have since found that women are no more or less relatable or back-stabby than men.  I suspect a real reason women are held in such contempt amongst other women is because either we feel like we are in a competition (when community would suit just fine) or that women should intrinsically know better than the rest of humanity.   

“Girls get competitive, as though there’s only one spot in the world for everything — but that’s not true. We need to stick together and see there’s more to life than pleasing men. It’s important not to cut yourself off from female friendships. I think sometimes girls get scared of other girls, but you need each other.”

Zoey Deschanel
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However, I wanted to field as many opinions on this as I could, so I asked my friends.  One of my closest  lifelong friends (who has stated she has a particularly hard time creating meaningful female friendships) stated that she for sure holds women more accountable than men and feels like they should be more emotionally intelligent.  One of my very intelligent and kind-hearted friends stated that she feels that women are more prone to get wrapped up in life like work and raising kids and just become complacent without outside community.  One of my best friends T– felt like women tend to be harder on other women than men are amongst themselves – but that it was all worth it because genuine female friends cause you to self-reflect and can be the greatest form of therapy. 

” I love my husband, but it is nothing like a conversation with a woman that understands you. I grow so much from those conversations.”

Beyoncé

My friend, E– brought up that she didn’t really start seeking out or desiring female friends until she started facing heart issues that come along with being a woman – especially a mother and that while she still values her male friends, she’s had to “recalibrate” the extent to which she would talk with them versus just having “lady time”.   J– pointed out that while her husband may not be the most willing person to go shopping with her, she could always count on another female friend to be up for the adventure whereas asking another male friend to go on a solo trip with you may not be the most appropriate action in certain situations.  However, another friend stated that “healthy female friendships … create space for you to be you, to have an opinion, learn how to communicate and to address conflict, apologize when necessary and make you feel valued and understood.” 

“All I can tell you today is what I have learned. What I have discovered as a person in this world. And that is this: you can’t do it alone. As you navigate through the rest of your life, be open to collaboration. Other people and other people’s ideas are often better than your own. Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you, spend a lot of time with them, and it will change your life.”

Amy Poehler

I learned a lot by reaching out to my tribe. Everyone, even my friend who had a hard time forging female relationships, stated that their true female friends were invaluable.  But while there were many very real and very precious things that came out of these relationships, such as conflict resolution and a sense of value, these relationships don’t come easily.  Many of my friends felt like while there were lots reasons for this, competition and prejudice played a huge part.  It seemed like most people agreed that clear communication, forgiveness, and the good old benefit of the doubt played a huge role in forging meaningful female relationships.  And, while there is no quick fix for forming community, an invitation for coffee at your house or for a meal is a great first step.  To borrow a phrase from a wonderful sermon by Emily Snyder “Everyone has to eat, you might as well do it together”

How do you create meaningful community and engender friendship? Do you feel like sex matters when it comes to friendship? Are female friendships harder than other friendships? Why or why not? Answer below! If you liked this post, make sure to give it a like and a share!

Listen to my friend Emily’s sermon here!

2 Comments

  1. Jody says

    I love this! I think one problem we women have is that we create extremely high expectations without voicing our needs. We expect others to know or need what we want without being willing to be open or honest about it. This is very minor, but an example of what I mean. Recently I was in the middle of a very busy season. I host a women’s group at my house and one woman called to make sure we were still having group. I was a bit exasperated. “Really?!” I thought. “That’s what you are asking?” Later I slowed myself down and took a deep breath. All of these women had offered to help me! I just need to ask. I called and said “I’d love to see you but can you all be in charge of your own coffee etc. I don’t want to do dishes, clean up etc because my house is ready for company”. Well they showed up with coffee and smiles and prayer and I was so glad I had voiced my need. We have to be willing to open up with each other.
    I also think that women carry hurt etc that we need to let go. Yes, women make rude remarks, so do men. The key is calling it out in the moment. “That wasn’t very nice.” And move on.
    Real relationships depend on real communication. Not always easy, but always worth it!

    Liked by 1 person

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