The following is the text of my comments to the National Organization for Women Greater Grand Rapids Chapter. I was so glad to have the opportunity to speak alongside the fierce and inspiring Pastor Chaka Holley and the brave words of Lyza Ingraham, and alongside powerful award recipients including Kathy Humphrey and Lady Ace Boogie. The theme for the evening was “Voices from the Margin.” Apropos of the comments I made in the fifth footnote to this article, I chose to talk feminist ideology and feminist movement, although I very much enjoy telling my own, personal story.
Thank you so much for inviting me to speak tonight, and just for the opportunity to be here, among so many fierce and committed sisters. I want to take a few minutes to talk about the Sisterhood, why it’s the best part of being a woman, and why sisterhood must be at the core of future feminism.
We have a long tradition of strong bonds among women. For a long, long time, while societal pressures isolated us as women – isolated us in our homes and childcare, isolated us in relationships that use a cloak of invisibility to keep us from escaping violence, isolated us in the pink collar ghetto or in the non-profit worlds many of us run in, often running according to mysterious and handicapping rules that the rest of society is free to ignore – for a long, long time, solidarity with other women – Sisterhood – has been our antidote to this. Sisterhood is a big part of what got us where we are – it shapes the way in which we are like no other movement, and our ideology is really like no other ideology. The sisterhood isn’t something sisters need to apply for – we shouldn’t ask why “they” haven’t joined the sisterhood, but how or why we have estranged them. The sisterhood is the birthright of all women.
As sisters, I don’t think we’re perfect, and I’m not back-tracking to the idea that, if we just put women in all the positions of power, there will never be another war. Don’t get me wrong, we’re going to put women in all the positions of power, anyways. But, one of the things we need to continue understanding better is feminine relational aggression. We should be paying attention, because probably many of us have gotten sucked into it, at one time or another, and many times, this is how we led the sisterhood astray. Sisterhood cannot mean ignoring, or worse, supporting bad actresses, and we need to know that, many times, when those bad actresses strike, it is relational aggression that is happening within the sisterhood. A feminism that keeps having “Patricia Arquette moments” will not do justice to representing all our sisters. But isn’t sisterhood a way to understand our own role in recognizing when sisters go astray and calling them back into the conversation? We just have to be good big sisters, right? We can’t be big sisters who victimize our little sisters, or exclude them. If we’re good big sisters, good sisters in general, to each other, it will be far more, and not less, natural for us to see it as our civic duty to the Sisterhood to fix the problems in feminism. In that light, whether they were actual sisters, or that girl a year ahead of us in school, or that women a step or two more senior than us in our chosen professions, I know for me, as far as I look back, there have always been big sisters looking out for me, big sisters to whom I looked to know my way. And now, I’m still looking to big sisters, every day, to know my way. I need to work harder as a big sister, myself, to help other sisters build their identity and find their ferocity.
If we can unite as a sisterhood, we have some critical opportunities. First, we are on the precipice of women in visible leadership like never before. The difficult choice in front of us is this – and I say this without a hint of irony as a transgender woman – when we get our chance to lead, will sisters lead by pretending to be men? Or will we lead authentically, as the women we are? Will we just keep talking about why women say they’re sorry, too often, and never about how men say they’re sorry, not often enough? Will we keep arguing about pantsuits and “girl” bodies, or will we talk about girl hearts and girl minds in leadership? Second, we have unprecedented visibility of ethnic minority, queer, and other sisters. We are just that – sisters – so will the sisterhood be a sisterhood for all of us, or just the “right sort” of sisters? Will it continue being okay for some sisters to not have water, education, menstrual, prenatal, child care, to not have choices? Will we parade in voices from the margin so we can feel sorry for “them” (I suspect some of my minority or queer sisters had the same groan I had over that thought) or will we push each other as sisters to spend all our time at the margins, where all the opportunity is? Finally (and I think you know this is the right answer), when we get all our sisters into the fight, into the margins, will we recognize that it will make a better sisterhood for everybody?
Let me start where I began – sisterhood is the best part of being a woman. It is our shared destiny as sisters that is our greatest challenge and our greatest opportunity. So let us all rise and fall, together, as sisters.