Is the sisterhood painful as well as powerful; is the sisterhood painful because it is powerful?

Anonymous contributor

I have been thinking a lot about the sisterhood recently. That shared understanding, when you catch another woman’s eye in the street; that shared recognition and solidarity smile from a woman across the bar, when your boyfriend is being a dick. The fantastic supportive friends who ‘get it’ with whom you don’t have to start with an explanation of the injuries that the patriarchy inflict; we just know, right?

A male friend observed to me a while ago; there’s no such thing as the sisterhood. Really?  Well maybe guys don’t get it, but for me there very much is.  I have some amazing, supportive, sassy and smart female friends and colleagues. People who I know ‘get it’ without long, endless explanations. People who support, encourage and can be relied upon.  I can, of course, include some of my male friends and colleagues in this description. But sometimes, it is nice to have those female only spaces, connections and shared empathies.

But what about when that goes wrong?  In my previous research, with a feminist agenda, when I have faced hostility from women about the kind of research I have been undertaking, rather than overtly and publicly criticise other women, I have tended to ignore these kind of comments.  A question at a conference made me wonder whether there was value in producing a paper that reflected the hostility of women to feminist research; although I still don’t feel I can bring myself to write that paper, ethically and politically. Am I wrong?

What has also been significant within the academy, and gives me pause to wonder about how to respond, is some of the experiences I have had at the hands of other women.  Recent examples from myself and other female friends/colleagues include: a female colleague having another female friend and colleague present a research paper as their own; being briefed against to colleagues by a female deputy while undertaking a management role; being actively undermined and publicly vilified by a female colleague, who then came to offer support and suggest that I resign my role; being ‘disciplined’ by a female friend/colleague on the wishes of a male head of department who was wishing to bully female staff; being made to cry by a senior female project manager while working as an hourly paid RA on a project; being subject to lengthy email abuse by a female colleague working on a feminist project (!).  While we might expect this kind of behaviour from (some) men; why is it so much more hurtful when it comes from other women?  Over the years I have learned how to handle the injuries inflicted by the patriarchy, through the strong and resonant writings of many great feminist authors. I wonder if contributors can suggest readings that offer strategies for dealing with the pain inflicted by the sisterhood.

One thought on “Is the sisterhood painful as well as powerful; is the sisterhood painful because it is powerful?

  1. Dear Anonymous, thank you so much for this brilliant post, although I’m so sorry that this has been your experience. It’s great to spark off this discussion and I hope that other people engage too. I’ve been thinking of readings to suggest and ‘Ain’t I a Woman?’ by bell hooks is particularly awesome; I’m really attracted to queer politics as well because it tries to forge alliances beyond identity categories. Anyway, this is such an interesting and important post. Thanks again!



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