Tightly knit female communities are not new to society; for generations women have supported each other through oppressions of patriarchy. Today, however, female communities are no longer invisible and inside closed doors.
The modern ‘women supporting women’ feminist movement is gathering greater momentum, especially in the face of a culture that pits women against each other. The general perception of women as begrudging and petty is false and a direct result of divisive patriarchy and men writing women – women have largely been excluded from the creative processes involving portrayals of themselves. This monopoly over the narrative has led to asymmetries in the depiction of groups of men and women; the former is considered ‘cool’ while the latter has gained an unfavourable reputation of being mean and frivolous.
A visible example of female communities in popular culture today is Taylor Swift's squad, which consists of several strong career-minded women that support each other. The ‘women supporting women’ idea is emerging in Indian media as well, with shows and films like Four More Shots and Lipstick Under My Bukha being almost entirely focused on relationships between women that enrich each other. It is, of course, entirely easy to dismiss this as frivolous virtue signalling but most women can attest to the value of having a ‘sisterhood’ of sorts. The intention is not to turn the tables and exclude men to create exclusive women-only cliques –. to combat boys clubs and locker rooms in professional and personal settings with exclusivity would defeat the goal of feminism. Real equality is achieved through a balanced society. Men and women benefit from each other’s companionship.
Equality, however, is a distant goal yet, and women face an uphill task in their personal and professional lives to achieve the same level of dignity and respect as men. In this context, women forming communities to support each other and increase representation could be highly beneficial. This is how:
Creating a safe space
Any woman reading this can attest to the fact that an empty parking lot, a bus filled with men, or an isolated street is immediate cause for concern. However, safety concerns are generally more subtle and nuanced. A safe space is also a board room meeting where you can speak your mind, an online platform where you are free from harassment, and a space for discussing women-specific issues without the fear of dismissal and judgment. Having women present on any platform is reassuring. Carving out these safe spaces is important in both the personal and professional spheres.
Mental and physical health
Research suggests that women socialising with women results in the release of serotonin and oxytocin (a bonding hormone). These hormones are said to create a ‘calm and warming’ effect which can help combat anxiety. This, of course, cannot be generalised but it is important to find honest and fulfilling female companionship; to have a circle of friends and confidantes with whom we can freely express ourselves.
Networks build opportunity
There is still a significant disparity between the sexes in several domains. This is especially true in STEM fields; women are frequently overlooked despite being meritorious. Increased representation can be accomplished through strong networks of women that create and convey opportunities to other deserving women. Such networks can also be utilised to build capability within a community of earnest members. Increased representation of women in STEM fields due to movements such as ‘Women in Technology’ can, for instance, increase the number of women participating in these fields.
Support and representation
Women in positions of power have the capacity to influence and make key decisions. For decades, men have been at the forefront of decision-making, and women’s concerns (such as paid medical leave for period pain, and equipping office spaces with sanitary products) have simply not been considered. Women in board rooms can now provide a voice for and represent these concerns. This is a tacit but invaluable method of extending support that goes top-down and impacts all women within an organisation.
Due to a shared context in experiences and suffering, women can form great support systems that can have far reaching impacts on both professional and personal spheres. With more women entering the workforce from mutual support, men, too, will have the opportunity to explore beyond designated gender roles. Nothing but powerful change has, and will, come from women getting together with a purpose.
(Edited by Varsha Roysam)