Does sisterhood really exist?

January 18, 2012

On Monday I attended a debate with several high profile women, all mums. We were discussing the notion of sisterhood, and one of the women said that she felt many women are not supportive of each other.

I have to agree. Particularly in my industry – media – where I’ve witnessed women trample all over each other to try to get up to that glass ceiling.

In my experience, women are supportive of each other up to a point. They’re supportive of their friends, of course, people they feel an affinity with. They’re supportive of a cause – breast cancer awareness, for example, or the White Ribbon alliance. But women are not, in my experience, on the whole supportive of each other just because they’re women.

It’s a bit like when you go to a mother and toddler group, or stand at the school gate. Just because you’re all mothers, doesn’t mean you have anything in common. Your values, your interests, are unlikely to be the same, although you may force yourself to be friendly for the sake of your children (and probably should, in fact).

Similarly, I have lots of friends in the parent blogosphere, but equally, as in real life, there are people who I’m not interested in, or don’t get on with, or in some cases, would cross the street to avoid (yes, of course the feeling is mutual).

Recently lovely blogger Lisa Pearson, aka The Mummy Whisperer, launched a campaign, Mums Stand Together. I applaud anyone launching a campaign and trying to make changes they feel are important.

But the point about the parent blogosphere, I think, is that it reflects real life, and just like real life, we’re all different. Trying to make us conform is (to use one of my favourite expressions), like herding cats. There are so many different factions – notice I didn’t say cliques – and it’s unlikely you’ll ever get everyone singing from the same hymn sheet; and if only one organisation supports you, then isn’t that just preaching to the (mostly) converted?

OK, maybe I’m being cynical. But I’m not the only one who knows where the bodies are buried, am I?

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  • Helen! Bespoken Dreams January 22, 2012 at 10:21 pm

    Thought provoking. I only really tend to stick to following the wedding industry, writers and bloggers on Twitter and have 99% of the time found all to be helpful and engaging. I have met some really lovely ladies/friends through Twitter too. am a non mother. I think each ‘group’ or industry must come across their own hurdles; with weddings I find plagrism is rife, with ‘mums’ I understand there to be the split camps on parenting. To me, social networking is an extension of office life, so I take the exact same approach as I do in real life; if there’s an office mare, ignore, if there’s an office trouble maker, ignore! You are never ever going to please everyone and as we’ve seen from One-Direction-Gate above, those jealous instincts are yes, childlish, and yes, sometimes stay with females through to their adult life. If you have your own morals then sisterhood will exist with those who you want it to exist with. Sad case of life I’m afraid. But, yes, I’m definitely with Geri Haliwell on this one!
    SOS Support Our Sisters! X

  • Kate On Thin Ice January 22, 2012 at 9:39 pm

    I wanted to thank you for making me think. This is always a very good thing and i am still reflecting on this topic even having posted today on the Britmums prompt on sisterhood.
    In an ideal world, we would take the time to get to know people before writing them off but we cannot practically do that with everyone.
    We can try to be kind or at least not attack others.
    I think insecurity and/or mental health issues have a bearing on online attacks and battles.
    For myself, whilst there are such huge battles to fight for women in terms of getting them a fair deal, any moves that help women support each other are to be welcomed. These moves would include mentoring schemes in certain industries where women might find it difficult to make their way.
    It is possible to be friends with people with different outlooks on life and that can make it all a very interesting ride indeed.
    I want to revisit your post and the comments and your responses. It is a complex and interesting debate.

  • Mamacook January 19, 2012 at 9:02 pm

    I think women do a lot of supporting and caring for the rest of their families and set incredibly high standards for themselves. When they encounter other women with kids, there is a subconscious comparison that sometimes creeps in.

    We all do it to some degree on some occasions, we can’t help it, I think how we then deal with that, how we be an adult about it all is the important thing.

    I also think a lot of women worry too much about being liked. Conflict isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Disagreement can be positive, a good debate can be a good thing but I find online particularly that it’s not always viewed as anything but negative.

    I suppose the really bad thing that some women do though is once a person isn’t liked, then the gossip mongering starts. Whereas men would get it out in the open, fall out permanently or get it sorted and move on, women seem to hold more grudges.

    As for whether I think there’s a sisterhood? No. There’s not a brotherhood either. Does that matter? I don’t think so. Why should we be so defined and restricted by our sex?

    • Liz Jarvis January 19, 2012 at 10:47 pm

      I think you’re right, most of us do want to be liked/popular. And I think the problem with the online world is that many people misconstrue disagreement as personal attacks, and then things escalate very quickly.

      And I think you raise a very interesting point. There isn’t a brotherhood – and men can actually be quite brutal to each other.

  • Mary D-W January 19, 2012 at 4:06 pm

    I’ve been pondering on this all day, having had varying degrees of non-sisterhood experiences in my time.

    However, it has just been truly brought home to me by my 9 year old daughter – her step-mum has got tickets for One Direction (if you don’t know them yet, you will do as your little folk get older!) this weekend in Cardiff. It was a surprise for her and she is so so excited about it…. but hasn’t told any of her girlfriends at school – because “they’ll be jealous and won’t be friends with me anymore”. Ridiculous huh? Well, when I just picked her up from school, true to her word, she hadn’t told anyone so I let it slip and the first thing that one of her “BFF’s” said was “I’m not your friend anymore”. Wow! I was gobsmacked. Out of the mouths of babes….

    There’s room for all of us surely? Our differences are what make us so wonderful and together we are incredible – we don’t need to compete and we sure as heck don’t need to have our next generation of women growing up with this sort of thinking….BRING BACK THE SPICE GIRLS, Girl Power!

    • Liz Jarvis January 19, 2012 at 10:44 pm

      You’re right, our differences are what makes us wonderful. But isn’t competition quite healthy – as long as it’s not taken too far?

  • CoffeeCurls January 19, 2012 at 3:56 pm

    I think diversity makes us all who we are and it’s a real shame when, as adults, we feel pressured to fit in with the in crowd.

    I’ve seen tweets recently mentioning #sisterhood and #followladder, along with a few others, and have tried to find out what they specifically refer to. I was initially excited by #followladder as I was told that it was intended to bring together tweeters with similar business or personal interests; however I was a little naive on that score and now see it is another ‘give me mass followers’ scheme.

    I hadn’t been able to find out anything about #sisterhood and have missed all previous posts about it. I can guess at the meaning but was hoping to find a definitive purpose behind it – maybe if I read the other blog you’ve referred to it will all become clear.

    Personally I do support the sisterhood, in the sense that (whether I like them or not) I don’t want any woman to suffer breast cancer or be beaten by her spouse. I applaud women I read about who juggle life, family, work, friends and then do something amazing in their spare time.

    But at the same time I find it sad when ‘playground politics’ spill over into adult life. A lot of support groups seem all too critical and all too quick to turn on a fellow sister rather than giving her a second chance. Almost a pack mentality.

    I think in essence I like the idea of a sisterhood, of unconditional support and loyalty but in reality I’ve never seen it work like that.

    I’m going to read the other post now (and no doubt ramble pointlessly in the comment section there too….) in the hope that this sisterhood is bringing something new to the table.


    • Liz Jarvis January 19, 2012 at 10:42 pm

      It would be lovely if we could all be supportive of each other, but as you say, the reality is it’s really unlikely.

  • Cara Sayer January 19, 2012 at 8:26 am

    Hi Liz.
    As usual an interesting piece on an interesting & always going to controversial subject. I’m not a blogger but I am on Twitter a lot (as you know) & I find most people friendly. There are people who have never replied to a tweet since I started so I simply do as I do in real life. Stop trying 😉

    One of the things I learned when I was *cough* a bit younger when I backpacked and was meeting so many new people is that I don’t like everyone & not everyone will like me.

    The same with the online world. I have been around for two years now & I still chat to people I met on my first day. My timeline’s busier now but I find it an interesting place to be. I am me online as I would be offline & I expect others are the same.

    Sisterhood will always exist but so will friendships & useful connections but we can’t make everyone a friendly team cos it ain’t never been like that in the real world either.

    I say enjoy the friendly & supportive people you have in your life wherever they may be & don’t worry about what other people are doing.

    Hope you don’t mind me sticking my oar in 😉 I’m pretty sure you won’t

    C x

  • Nicki Cawood January 19, 2012 at 8:12 am

    I judge each person on their own merits, not what equipment they carry. I feel the same way about blogs, books, articles etc… I will follow, read, recommend and generally support them if I like them, think they are useful to myself or to someone else, and if they are interesting. And that is that.

    I appreciate the sentiment and the reasons behind this campaign but from my perspective I can’t help but feel that in this so-called modern world that a sisterhood of sorts is outdated, impractical and largely not wanted.

    If am being completely honest, I don’t like all of the women I have met, online or off. Some of them are bitches. Some of them take healthy debate to a whole new level of nastiness, and at the other end of the spectrum some are so perpetually nice that I find it hard to identify with them. I know many fellas who are the same. We are all individuals and while I appreciate that supporting each other is an admirable and kind thing to do, I won’t support any one group of people purely because of their gender, beliefs, or ideals.

    An interesting subject, and a great post Liz.
    Lisa, I’m sure you will get a lot out this campaign, as will others but for me, I’m a keen advocate for treating people as individuals and being supportive of others based on merit regardless of their gender.

    • Liz Jarvis January 19, 2012 at 8:18 am

      Thank you Nicki – I agree, people should be treated as individuals and not as an amorphous mass.

  • HerMelness Speaks January 19, 2012 at 7:36 am

    I believe in like-minded people coming together who share common goals or aspirations and who may face the same challenges. Motherhood and trying to run a business being one example of a group of people who could support each other, share experiences and potential solutions.

    Coming together for its own sake, though, leaves me cold. As has been said, just because we gave birth doesn’t automatically align our views and personalities as women. I personally HATED ‘Mum & Tods’ on a Tuesday morning. But the same way I would have hated it sat in a room with men I had nothing in common with.

    When I say support other women and girls to my daughter, I tend to mean wish them well in their endeavours and do nothing to deliberately undermine what they are trying to achieve. It is the unnecessary back-stabbing we should eliminate which I see a lot of in social media – the new school gates of the online world.

    • Liz Jarvis January 19, 2012 at 8:19 am

      I think you’re absolutely right – ironically, in fact, when I put this post up, there were snide comments on twitter. Says it all really.

  • Gigi January 18, 2012 at 9:16 pm

    I find this one tricky. It’s a bit like saying because we all have breasts we should like eachother and hang out. I try to support women starting up in business and writing blogs of course. But essentially that’s just the foot in the door isn’t it – because surely if women want to operate in the real world we can’t make allowances for people just because of gender can we? If the business doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, does it still deserve our unwavering support? If the blog is dry, or unengaging should we still promote it because it’s written by a female/woman/mother? I think the world/blogosphere/twitter have a colossal amount of exceptional women operating/inspiring and doing some frigging cool stuff. If we support all, rather than the really exceptional ones, aren’t we doing everyone a disservice?

    • Liz January 19, 2012 at 7:26 am

      Yes I agree with you Gigi; when I first started blogging I felt as though I had to comment on other parent blogs I wasn’t remotely interested in, even when the writing was shocking. I stopped doing that about six months later.

  • Mummy Whisperer January 18, 2012 at 8:45 pm

    Hi Liz,
    Yep I can see what you are saying.

    The main reason behind my campaign is the ramifications of these actions and tendency to be publicly unsupportive – which is the effect on our social standing. We basically fall right into the media’s hands.

    From all the comments people have been making about my blog post (not to me, though I notice!) I’m going to sit on this for a bit, and maybe split the campaign into two – one the part about the importance of mums in society and the other about taking time to consider another mums situation before wasting valuable time, energy and social power having a go at them.

    Just one point of clarity – I did approach love all blogs, Brit mums, Tots 100 and Cybher, and all were supportive (if there are other organisations I missed out I apologise). The campaign isn’t specifically blogger orientated, but I thought I’d start it here, and it has definitely been a ‘learning experience’!

    Love all blogs and Brit Mums asked me to write them something for the weekend, and you are right in that only Brit mums highlighted my post. Sally from Tots100 wrote her own post, but did let me know that she was doing so. I’d contacted Cybher, despite knowing that it wasn’t really suitable for them as they are specifically not just for Mums, but they have been very kind in their helpful advice. So it wasn’t my plan for it to appear as though only one group was interested – but hey, you can only try to cover all the bases can’t you!

    • Liz Jarvis January 19, 2012 at 8:13 am

      I’m not sure the media is to blame for the fact that mums don’t necessarily support each other. I can remember my mum telling me she felt as though she ‘didn’t fit in’ with other mums at the school gate. In an ideal world everyone would be supportive of each other – including on twitter!

  • Catherine January 18, 2012 at 8:16 pm

    I remember years ago being told about “The Queen Bee Syndrome” and how the woman at the top does her best to sting all below her to secure her place. Over the years I’ve seen it for real but seen the opposite too. It seems the insecure or those who feel threatened behave in this way (maybe brothers do it too!?) I’ve found some of the most supportive people to be Mum’s and conversely the most destructive to be Mum’s too. I shall supportively retweet 🙂

    • Liz Jarvis January 19, 2012 at 8:14 am

      I’ve heard of Queen Bees but I didn’t realise there was a syndrome – this makes so much sense to me!

  • Crystal Jigsaw January 18, 2012 at 8:12 pm

    Personally, I try not to get involved with cliques, and there are a lot of them amongst mum bloggers. I’ve experienced a lot support, particularly today, from bloggers and people I interact with (including you :)) so I will say today has been a good day so far as sisterhood is concerned.

    But I know this isn’t always the case. When you create a group situation, a new website, begin a campaign etc, it’s inevitable there will be many differences of opinion. But what I often find sad, and it happens considerably on Twitter, is where many women judge other mothers despite not knowing the full facts. I also think in a lot of cases, some women feel they “need” to oppose or go against the grain because they think it makes them look strong and independent. Standing together would be an ideal world.

    CJ x

    • Liz Jarvis January 19, 2012 at 8:15 am

      Yes I agree, women do judge each other without knowing the full facts – it’s one of the reasons I try never to judge anyone for the way they feed/educate/raise their child. Not always easy!