Hello Sister. Shall we sit down together for a while? We’ll take the squishy sofas in the corner and have gingerbread lattes, and maybe something toothsome and smothered in chocolate, and neither of us will chat nonsense about how we’ll have to compensatory “diet” for that slice of cake afterwards, and you're forbidden to work out how many points there are in it.
I know how you’ll worry about it later, because I know you. I know so much about you.
You're the one who let me cry on your shoulder when my marriage was falling apart. You listened and you didn't judge, and you knew how I felt because you'd been there too.
You're the one who sat beside me when I was at my most exhausted; my most frightened; when I was delirious with pain and convinced that I couldn't go on – you took my face between your hands and you said “you can do this. You can.”
You're the one who took my screaming two year old from my arms, and told me that she'd be ok; you'd take care of her like she was your own. And you're the one who put your arm around my shaking shoulder in the corridor and reassured me that this was true; that she would be ok, because your girl was ok too.
You're the one in the supermarket who made silly faces at my grumpy toddler at the checkout as I tried to unload my trolley.
You're the one who gave me my smear test, and you kept apologising when I winced, because you've been there too, and yes, it's grim.
You helped me choose my wedding dress, and you told me I looked beautiful.
You picked my children up from school for me.
You went in every day and made lunch for my grandad when he was too old and frail to do it for himself.
You took care of my grandmother when she was dying.
You delivered my friend’s dead baby, and you came in and cleaned the hospital room up when it was all over.
You are the one who understands why I feel wretched for at least four days out of every month.
You know how it feels to see that tiny pink line on the plastic stick…and you know the misery of not seeing it.
You know what it's like to be coveted; to be reduced to naught but whichever body parts are most pleasing to the male gaze, and you know the disgrace of being found wanting.
You are a mother, a wife, a widow, a spinster, a grandmother, a daughter. You are friend, sister and stranger.
We have shared as much as our deepest secrets, hopes and dreams; our vulnerabilities and our fears. We've shared nothing more than a momentary knowing smile. Despite this I still know you. In small and myriad ways, I know you…because I am you.
I am woman.
We are women.
We might not always like one another, and we might not always get along, but we still have more that binds us together, than the things which seek to rip us apart. Ultimately, whatever we understand woman to mean, we are all united in the universal experience of not being a man, and in a world which caters to the needs of men first, and women second, this is a tangible reality.
Every day we see women abused, assaulted, murdered, sexualised, violated and dehumanised. We are not just sisters, daughters and mothers. We are slags, sluts, bitches, cows and whores. We call each other these things. We stay silent when other women are slurred. In a world where women are brutalised and disrespected and disregarded, Is it any wonder that we fail to love ourselves, and then fail to love each other?
Janice Raymond writes:
“When a woman sees a sister dehumanised and brutalised throughout history, throughout her own life, in almost every culture; when a woman sees the endless variations of this abuse and brutality, and how few women really survive; when a woman sees this graphically depicted all around her, female friendship is erased from memory and women are not affected by other women….Violence against women is not only central to women's oppression. It is central to the lack of female friendship.” (Raymond, J, Not a Sentimental Journey: Women's Friendships, 1990.)
It's up to us all to be a counter balance in a world that hates us. We can't always agree, and nor should we – there is a danger in being so preoccupied by the notion of tolerance, or committing the ultimate liberal faux pas and – horror of horrors! – offending someone, that we’re too afraid to take a stand for what we believe is morally correct.
That is an act of true friendship, and if you’re lucky enough to find a friend who will speak truth to you, especially when you don't want to hear it, then I wish you well, sister. As for me, I will keep my door open, and should any sisters be passing by, you are most welcome here. There will be cake, and plenty of it.