A not so secret bit of trivia about me. While I had a few best girl friends growing up, I never felt comfortable with them. I grew up one of those tomboys who so disliked girly girls that I went out of my way to avoid them, scoffed at their likes, and preferred to hang out with the guys. NG was too pretty for me to feel comfortable with. It wasn't anything she did, I just felt like the ugly friend. KC & I competed too much to be girl friends the way it should had been. We went out or went after the same boys. We both played softball. We were both in honors classes - though she starting opting out. I'll never forget her blabbing about my latest date..to my sister, while I felt that defended her when the L-word was tossed around. In college I made a few girl friends, but due to the commuting nature of our school, I bonded only with a few and I lost track of both of them. It wasn't until I was well out of college that I was able to trust women to be friends and not feel that I was unworthy of them.
Last week I blogged about how a recent study showed that going to an all-girls high school buffers young women from the pressures of competing with men as well as the harassment that boys bring to the classroom. Yet that buffer is lost by the time a woman graduates college.
Over the weekend I went to the White House Project's Go Run training. My roommate is currently attending an all-women's college. We chatted a bit about the school. I remembered getting their information and tossing aside once I realized it was an all-women's school. She said she almost did the same thing, but reconsidered after visiting. Then she said something PROFOUND. That attending an all-women's college is allowing her to figure out women and how to deal with them. More precisely she made a comment about dealing with 'those kind of women.' Oh, yes! Those women!
I knew exactly what she was talking about before she even tried to explain. Why? Because of the great 'failures' in my life, one can be attributed to me underestimating the unfeminist way that some women thought & acted. Of course, this was after some nice years in supportive women's communities. I bought into the sisterhood mantra only to be cut down by a "Backlash"-wielding woman. And I suddenly realized that I think that I threw out the idea of an all-woman's college in high school because I didn't want to be trapped for four years with only women to socialize with. One reason I didn't attend a certain rural campus was that I felt like everyone in my high school was on their way there. Nope, I picked a school that was not only not high on the list of my classmates, but one that didn't look like my high school.
Kelly Valen's brave account in the NYTimes of her being whipped by sisterhood was so hard for me to read it took 2-3 attempts. While I was never raped, I never experienced that "Sex in the City" sisterhood that allows for women to talk openly about sex, love, and men. As Valen found out, I knew quite early on that if I ever 'confided' in my girl friends, it would only be all over the lunch room by Monday. Her description of the "Laura Ashley prairie dresses" matched my classmates who loved to throw "slut" around at any girl in our class who even appeared to have had more experience than a peck on the cheek.
Has my experiences made me less trusting of my fellow XX'ers? Yes. Has it stopped me from trying to make more friends with women? No. Have I forgiven my classmates? Sadly no. Their slut-labeling haunts me to this day. Of course, after college I learned that my hunches were correct...they were having sex in ways that would make a slut blush!
Valen asks us how we are supposed to have survived this and teach our daughters to be strong women:
I want to remain optimistic. After all, here I am with three daughters. What am I to teach them? Cautionary tales about men’s harmful proclivities abound. But how do we help our girls navigate the duplicitous female maze? How do we ensure that they behave authentically, respect humanity over fleeting alliances, and squash the nasty tribal instincts that can inflict lifelong distress?This is hard and easy one for me. First of all, I'm lucky to have such a fabulous network of women friends now. I plan on modeling good behavior for my daughter on woman-to-woman relationships. Oh, I know I'll trip up and get all catty in front of her, but over all I think she'll look at her mommy and her friends and think, yeah...that's how it should be. Even at four, she's already encountering peer pressure to wear the right clothes or wear her hair a certain way. We try to tell her that she needs to wear what she feels is good for her, so yes, we're letting her pick out her own clothes. Some might think she doesn't match, I like to think she's just very punk rock. She gets compliments on her outfits for punkish women at Kopi.
I also want to be honest with her and hopefully my bad experiences will help her sort out the stumbles she will encounter. I'll also try to teach her how to trust the way I couldn't. One of my few regrets of high school was not trusting NG enough with my heart. There is still a part of me who believes she is a good person and I wish I had allowed her in more.