Let's be honest: women have a bad reputation. No, I don't mean what you're thinking. And this bad reputation is not something imposed by the perceptions of men or society-at-large; it is one given to women, by women. Women are "mean."
You only need to look as far as your tv screen or movie screen to see evidence of this (ex. the movie "Mean Girls"). In schools, at camps, on sports teams or in music lessons, and even at church, girls can be very nasty to each other. Even my Facebook news feed displays evidence of this, ranging from middle school aged friends all the way up to grandmothers. Thanks to social networking, we are now given an outlet to share our feelings about anyone, at anytime, in a very public forum... even if those feelings are negative, hurtful, and ultimately harmful to the other person. And most often, the victim of this nastiness is another girl/woman. We tear each other down in so many ways. It seems as though the "mean girl" stereotype is becoming more and more pervasive, and we're doing this to ourselves. (And ladies, I just have to share my humble opinion: no matter how much we try to re-appropriate or "take back" the "b" word and make it positive, it doesn't work. Even if we try to pass it off as a joke, or as a way to empower ourselves, we are ultimately contributing to the lexicon that continues to spread this "mean girl" trend. Sorry if you disagree, but I just had to put that out there.)
Now, I just have to say, I love women. The relationships I share with other women are some of the most valuable, fulfilling relationships in my life. So instead of focusing on this trend of nastiness, I thought I would share a little about why I feel female-to-female relationships are so important, and why I think we should all work just a little bit harder to get rid of the mean girls within us.
(Disclaimer: to any men who might be reading, or any women who feel like I am going to be "man-bashing," please know that is not the intention of this post. I also value the relationships I have with members of the opposite gender; just this post is not about that.)
Here is a little background on my personal female relationships and why it has been so important in my life. I was fortunate to grow up with two strong female role models intimately involved in my life: my mom and my sister. I continue to have strong relationships with both of them, and deeply value their wisdom and advice. Outside of my family history, I went to an all-girls' summer camp for four years, for two years in high school I swam on an all-girls' swim team, and I ultimately decided to attend a women's college. I used to have mainly guy friends, and never considered myself a "girl's girl," but that has changed over time. And all of these experiences combined have contributed to this incredibly strong emotion I have about the importance of positive woman-to-woman friendships and interactions. Here is a brief list of positive things that can come from these women-friendly situations:
*Supportive, nurturing environment. In college, I was free to be whomever I wanted to be without the fear of repercussion. Sure, there was some drama, but for the most part it was an environment where I could figure out exactly what type of woman I was supposed to be, without having to worry about teasing or negative influences. I was surrounded by women who wanted to support other women and build them up instead of tear them down, and this was exactly the encouragement I needed to grow and challenge myself.
*Accountability. While I was "free to be whomever I wanted to be," I was also held accountable for my actions as a woman. If I say something offensive of insensitive, I have close female friends that will confront me about it. If I am behaving in a way that is inappropriate, I have women in my life who will gently step in and remind me of the correct course of action.
*Truthfulness. With my very close friends, I always know where I stand. Sure, there are some people I've meet and I can't quite figure out if they're being honest with me; but once I break down the walls and form a solid, strong relationship with another woman, I find that I never have to doubt her honesty or intentions.We can take off our masks and just be real. And that is truly freeing!
*Challenging. My girlfriends don't just let me rest on my laurels when I'm feeling good about myself. They encourage me to keep going, to see what else I can accomplish. In addition, I have friends from all different backgrounds, political spectrums, and social mores. The diverse group of women in my life challenge me to keep my mind open, to re-think opinions, and to continue seeking out the truth. (And the best part: even in the end, if I don't agree with them, we're still friends).
*Friendships. This one might seem obvious, but can I just say: I have been so blessed by the varying depths and elements of each of my unique friendships with women. My girlfriends totally understand what is going when I cry over something silly, or when I am frustrated about a minor inconvenience. They understand days that I feel sluggish or cranky; they understand days when I am excited and energized. They know how to comfort me when I am grieving, they know how to cheer me up when I'm sad, and they know how to support me when all I need is a hug. (Seriously, women give the best hugs). And I hope I am able to do the same in return! Even friendships that aren't quite as deep still have that underlying connection: we are all women, and while our lives may look very different on the outside, and we may believe different things or like different things or act differently from each other, on some level we are connected. And when it comes down to bare bones, it's that level that makes all the difference.
*Wisdom. This is a big one for me. The wisdom that other women possess - especially older women - is usually tossed aside because us younger women are "more informed" in things nowadays. I've been contemplating this a lot since I've become pregnant. In thinking about the history of birth, it was a woman-centered event. The birth was attended to by a woman (midwife), and there were other women around to support the laboring mother. And besides just the birth event - there was a community of women to support a new mother through pregnancy, labor, and child-rearing. But now we live in a place where we've all grown separated. We are internally focused and private. We seek advice from complete strangers because we lack the wisdom of experience from generations of women who have been there before us. Yes, it "takes a whole village to raise a child," but think about the broader implications of a whole community/village of women who support each other through major life events! Think of all the wisdom that has been lost because we are too proud, busy, or "informed" to ask our mothers, grandmothers, aunts, and older friends for advice. These women have "been there, done that." Through celebrations and tragedies alike, we all share common experiences that bind us together. Where has all the wisdom gone? Good news: it's not missing; it's just a little harder to seek out because we are so unaccustomed to sharing it! So please, young women: I challenge you to seek out the wisdom of a female mentor or family member. I promise, you will be amazed at their stories and advice. And wizened women: please, share with us! We need direction and guidance, and you have a lot more wisdom than you give yourself credit for! Let's be a community of women, of all ages, who can share freely and openly and learn from each other. God created women with a gift of relationships for this very reason!
I could come up with many more reasons why female relationships are important, but at some point you'd stop reading. So I will conclude with a story (and yes, it's from camp):
There was a cabin full of girls who were being very nasty to each other. They were putting each other down, gossiping, teasing, etc. Finally, after a few days, the counselors had tried everything they knew to do to encourage positive relationships among the girls. One morning, they took the girls out to the archery range. They gave the girls paper and allowed them to draw/write what was frustrating them (things about someone in the cabin, etc.). (Okay, I am fuzzy on the details of what they wrote or drew, but that's the general idea). Then, they tacked these pictures up on the archery targets and let the girls have at it. They got to "shoot out" their frustrations. After a few minutes of awkwardness, the girls really got into shooting at the representation of everything they didn't like about someone else, or everything that was frustrating them or hurting them or annoying them. After the pieces of paper were full of holes, and the girls were feeling pretty good about themselves, the counselors removed the paper from the targets. Underneath was an arrow-riddled pictured of Jesus.
The point of the exercise was not to let the girls get their frustrations out. The point was this: when we put each other down and show hatred to each other, we are showing these things to God.
See, every woman is created in the image of God. We can't love God and hate each other.
Women are wonderful and amazing (you should know; most likely you are one!). And yet we put ourselves in this cycle of self-destruction, because when we put down other women, I believe we are ultimately putting down ourselves. (And often, the reason we put down other women is because we are trying to feel better about ourselves and our insecurities... by making the others look bad). Let's stand up against this self-imposed attack on our identity. Being a woman is awesome. And it's made even better by the existence of positive, communal relationships with other women. That's no accident! But for these relationships to work, we must abolish the "mean girl" spirit within us. This task may look different for each of us, but I hope you'll join me in this challenge. A community of positive, encouraging relationships among women will stand through the tests of tragedies and triumph, and will ultimately prevail as one of the most valuable gifts you've ever let yourself receive.
So, what about you? What are some blessings that have come from your female relationships? Or, what are some solutions you've found to combat the "mean girl" paradigm?