Uncomplicating Sisterhood


noun: sisterhood; plural noun: sisterhoods; noun: Sisterhood

1.1 the relationship between sisters.

“much of sisterhood is about sharing lipsticks”

Nope, you put your mouth on that.
  • the feeling of kinship with and closeness to a group of women or all women.

“Canadian feminists acknowledge their sisterhood with women around the globe”

1.2 an association, society, or community of women linked by a common interest, religion, or trade.

“the Anglicans set up Sisterhoods all over England”

As we have collectively grown a modern Women’s Movement, the notion of sisterhood has been a rally call, but I often observe that the meaning of sisterhood differs amongst movement participants.  Is it a feeling we have, or an unspoken oath we take to one another? Is it what the above definition states- about sharing lipsticks? I can certainly look to you, and ask, “what does sisterhood mean to you?,”  but I think what inspired me to put this in writing, is to ask, “what does sisterhood mean to our movement?”

I hope it goes without saying (but in case it does not, let me clarify) that when I reference “sisterhood,” I am referring to the connection and one-ness we should work to share in our movement- the Women’s Movement, that seeks to be inclusive of all intersections of womanhood; trans, non-binary, LGBTQIA+, male allies, POC, indigenous, and so on.

I would disagree that sisterhood is about sharing lipsticks, but alas, this is what you find when you google the definition.  This in of itself could raise another subject for a blogpost.

I often hear many of the of the other women in my activist network joking about sisterhood and how we are eating ourselves.  This is not a criticism, but a reality. We are still working under patriarchal systems in which we seek to succeed in traditional ways- by climbing our way to the top- and this system encourages us to step on one another on our way.  Competing in many ways to stand above the rest- which group does the most work, who is more visible, who gets the most press, whose work has the most effectiveness.

I maintain ALL we are doing is important- from the artwork, to the culture shifts, to the protests, to the policy and to the conversations with our loved ones behind closed doors.  We must take a multidisciplinary route to make substantive change. In order to break out of these patriarchal systems of tearing each other down to get ahead, we need to consciously focus our sisterhood- our relationships with one another and our movement.

As Linda Sarsour has alleged in public statements, room for disagreement is built into this movement so that we can all be heard.  The real work of this in my opinion, is finding our way through disagreement without harming one another, and coming out the other side with a stronger sisterhood.  

We need to begin by accepting that we simply will never understand one another completely.  We are trying to build a movement that encompasses everyone, and viewpoints and understandings of the world around us will always differ.  Opinions on how to best get the work done will differ. This is a world that has not been attempted in meaningful ways before. We will make messes, we will try to clean them up- together.  Our commonality should be our sisterhood- our relationship to one another and this movement.

This brings me to my personal opinions regarding the media storm that the Women’s March experienced this year- for the purposes of this post, I am separating the content of the debate with the effects of the conflict on the movement- our reaction as a community to a challenge of its values.

When the heat turns up, and the press is not favorable, it is easy for so many to separate and distance themselves from Women’s March.  We understand that accusations were serious, many were hurting and felt unconnected. But what I hope we are learning from this is that Women’s March is ALL OF US.  It is not the sum of four leaders in the limelight, but the work of them AND all the women behind the scenes. The ones up until 6 am sending you professional looking emails, and the ones herding the cats of all the state chapters, and the ones building youth coalitions, and the ones recruiting steering committees and the ones planning marches, and the ones arranging lobbies to their congressional leaders, and the ones helping bail marchers out of jail, and the ones making travel arrangements for your participation.  There are many more working than who you see in the press, and even those with celebrity are still humans, and many are seriously risking their safety daily for our liberation.

The organization is growing in the right places.  WM answered your call for more diverse leadership.  WM is actively meeting with leaders in membership areas that are underrepresented.  WM is working internally on addressing hurt caused by the controversy. WM is learning, despite its inherent difference in its wide umbrella of membership, how to work together to create sisterhood- not the sharing lipstick kind, but the kind where we find a way to hear and support one another without being quick to judgement and ostracization.  Learning to trust one another while working towards a common goal. We must decide to stand together- true solidarity, not the convenient social media post kind. This does not mean there won’t be disagreement- in fact as mentioned before, there is space built for infighting.

What I hope we can simplify about sisterhood is this:  affirming we want to create a world that is capable of growing true equality and understanding that no one has ever achieved this, and trying to do it in a way that uplifts us all.  Our work has no map or guidebook with proven results. Our sisterhood is our dedication to one another and this movement, and a commitment to working at the difficult things in difficult spaces.  This will require acknowledgement of our mistakes and the willingness to move forward. And yes, sometimes we will hurt one another, and sometimes we will misunderstand one another- we are family, after all.

No Violence | Women's March on Washington | 01/21/2017

Working together when things get tough, messy and ugly is the truest form of sisterhood I have experienced thus far.  I hope you will continue to get messy with us, sisters. We still have so much work to do to uplift one another.

Sarah Gaba

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