One of the things that lots of successful women tell me, is that they feel lonely. This is one of the great taboos in our society and one of the big social issues keeping many women from making careers.
I’ve seen it far too often, women who really achieve something, but they don’t have any friends. Often, they start losing them once they start rising above the crowd, showing that they can be better, and perhaps worse, marking themselves out as different.
Because if there is one thing that a woman isn’t allowed to be in our society, it’s different. We aren’t allowed to be individuals, we only are part of a group. And we need this group, we have to be with others, to have a measure of safety. Alone, we’re vulnerable. Of course, in a group, with others, we’re still vulnerable, but less so. This means that it is vital to be part of a group. And to be part of a group, we have to be like the others.
Unfortunately, we live in a world where there are many pressures on women. All of society has expectations for us, and every deviation thereof means that we have to be punished. This punishment often is exclusion. We are expected to be silent, to be meek, to be a thousand things. But none of those things are being strong, being ambitious, or just being yourself.
This is why women often refuse to take the centre stage. Not only have we been taught since they were little girls that they should be silent, but they also know that if they do, they are excluded. They basically become un-persons, and even associating with them brings the same social punishment.
The reason why this is so strongly enforced is very simple. Nothing is as undermining to patriarchy as a woman who actually achieves something. Very frequently, in interviews, stories, and the like, you will see that a successful woman has to be brought down somehow, to make it not count. One of the favourites for this is to say that she is not actually a real woman by pointing out a lack of children. Another one that you encounter all the time is saying that she still is a woman, and likes womanly things. This is meant to take the sting out of it.
In comments sections, where those who write don’t rely on maintaining any kind of working relationship, you see others. When a woman appears on tv for instance, one of the big things that will be remarked on is her appearance. For men, this hardly ever happens unless they are truly exceptional. This attention of course almost inevitably is negative and hateful. By doing so, a woman can be reduced to an object, and an undesirable one at that.
One of the most fundamental needs human beings have is the need for social acknowledgement and friendship. If certain behaviours are punished by exclusion, human beings will naturally tend away from that. Of course, there are those with drives stronger than that, who are willing to face this punishment. But this means being lonely.
This can be broken however. That’s the strength of feminism. By accepting each other, by encouraging our sisters, we can create social spaces where those who differ can also find acceptance and friendship, making it easier for other women to do the same. It might not always be easy. To be honest, it isn’t. When you’re in a foreign city, lying in bed with a fever and there is no one who even thinks of visiting you, it’s not something that makes you happy.
But, through focusing on women, and by being open to our sisters, we can ensure that no woman will suffer this social punishment. And by doing so, we can work on taking the world.