Summer of Feminista: When amigas become familia
Today Summer of Feminista welcomes Lilian Coral, a novice at blogging, who wants to more actively dialogue with colleagues on specific issues around technology and improving the American social safety net. She comes to this work as a Colombian immigrant, raised and educated in the United States and deeply committed to social justice issues.
It’s only fitting that I write about girlfriends a day after the death of the mother of one of my oldest girlfriends.
In my home, my parents always encouraged my sister and I to prioritize family over friends. It was always about keeping everything in the family. Don’t tell your friends anything about what goes on in our home; don’t over share your dreams and desires... porque la envidia mata. It never seemed like a judgment on my girlfriends, as much as it was the Latin in us, llenos de agueros, that said that family is always more important than friends, and no one can have your best interests in mind.
But growing up in the U.S., where BFFs are so critical to growing up, I always felt a tension between the cultures, because I was surrounded by the sense that friends really can become like sisters, often as close to, if not closer than. And, in my journey I’ve ended up being surrounded by a great number of girlfriends; more than I can count on my two hands. They are women I’ve grown up with, women I’ve worked with, and those that others have said “you’ve got to be her friend.” We may drift in and out of each other’s lives for periods of time, but it always feels good to get back to them, like no time has passed.
Friendship and sisterhood has been a great source of strength, encouragement and validation. It has been girlfriends that have helped me to shape the path of what’s possible. As an immigrant child, and the daughter of a single mother, my family encouraged and supported my professional ambitions, but it was my girlfriends who helped me chart and strategize the pathway. My Mother has wished nothing but the best for me in my personal relationships, but it’s been from girlfriends, and their relationships, that I’ve learned what successful marriage looks like, or not, which compromises are needed to sustain a relationship, how to co-parent, the importance of Daddy in building up his daughter’s self-esteem as a jewel not to be messed with, etc. The strength of these women has emboldened and shaped my own strength and resolve as a feminist that views feminism broadly to be, the legitimate opportunity to choose to live the life I desire, without impediment because of my gender.
Thinking about feminism and girlfriends, in this very (sur)real moment in life, the death of a mother, and my struggle to figure out what kind of a girlfriend I need to be to support my friend, brings me to notion of strength in vulnerability. It often feels like the most authentic expression of the feminist ideal requires strength, constant strength and struggle. Some of us feminists often fight the perception of frailty and weakness when we fight for our feminist ideals, however we define them. Yet, as I think about one of my closest friends, a very strong woman, and the pain that she must be feeling in losing her mother, or the moments of heart ache that other strong girlfriends, myself included, have gone through, I think that it is in these moments of frailty, when we try to provide strength to each other, that we become the strongest. So, perhaps the beauty of girlfriends and feminism to me is that is as much about strength as it is about vulnerability. The strength required to move towards our dreams, or even just a more peaceful state, requires a vulnerable heart from where to pull that strength from; and for me this has been constantly modeled by the women I call girlfriends.
When we sit together and talk to, learn from, each other we discuss and re-discuss every aspect of our lives. In fact, we often have different girlfriends for different topics. Sex, work, men, husbands, children, health, and death are all a part of it. And even if we don’t define ourselves as feminists, or our ideas as feminist theories, we are my true depiction of Feminists, in that we all struggle together to ensure that we have a legitimate opportunity to choose to live the life we desire, for ourselves and for the children we are giving birth to, the women we are raising and the boys that will grow to love those women. The gatherings reflect the support and encouragement we need to keep going forward! Time and time again, when we talk about what’s missing in the women’s movement, I think we are ignoring the value and foundation that circles of girlfriends provide. These communities are the foundation upon which each of us can launch ourselves to dream big, hurt big, and live the life we desire. So let’s recognize the importance of these circles and encourage, facilitate and support communities of girlfriends getting together and moving forward along the journey. It’s not easy being a woman and life isn’t always fair, but it wouldn’t be as great as it is, if it wasn’t for the girlfriends we gather along the way.