I love women. I think their bodies are beautiful and their emotions are courageous and their minds are endless. Their capabilities and determinations and the obstacles they’ve overcome are easily the largest, deepest pools of inspiration I could ever hope to dip my toes in.
I’ve had women in my life that are marvelous in every way. Mysterious and honest simultaneously — a difficult combination to master, I assure you. Women I’m addicted to spending time with. Women who make me better just by breathing in my vicinity. More often than not, my friends have convinced me they own the oxygen around them, and I’m just lucky they’re of the sharing kind.
And still, the people who’ve hurt me most in life are women.
During a sleepover in fifth grade, as I held on to my best friend’s hand while falling asleep, I realized women and the relationships they share are special. I didn’t grow up with sisters, but even juvenile me began to recognize it didn’t matter. I could handpick my lady siblings. I could willingly walk through the unknown with like-minded women who would be there for me, and vice versa.
I miss fifth grade me.
Now I have no idea where that best friend is. She moved before 7th grade and by the end of the following year, she’d forgotten all about me. My high school best friend slept with my boyfriend while I was out of state. My college best friend became resentful after we graduated; every step I took toward my career was a step further away from her.
It’s hard to hold my best friends’ hands when I fall asleep now.
You see, while women have this unique ability to create unbreakable bonds with one another, they’re extraordinarily good at hurting one another. Relentlessly. Without remorse. And often.
It’s difficult to find women who will perpetually support you and whom you want to perpetually support. I’ve wracked my brain trying to figure out why women hurt one another because of men or attention or careers. In the end, I think it’s because we’re convinced there are only so many lanes in this rat race. If someone asks to share our lane or simply wishes to enter the race, we panic. We start to doubt our own capabilities, convinced one woman’s growing talent will somehow deplete ours. We begin to think there won’t be enough room for us. That only a certain number of female voices can be heard, so it has to be ours. It can’t be hers or hers or hers.
There can only be one.
It’s the evil lie of competition. It’s the fallacy that there’s only a designated amount of room in this world for women. That we’re allotted a small corner in which to be strong and brave and creative. And ladies, we unfortunately buy into it. We think there’s only one man available or only one career spot open or only one way to be a mother. We build up walls to maintain this mindset, driving a wedge between the ladies we once celebrated.
We convince ourselves that in a male-dominated society, our voice will be stifled if other female voices are heard. So we tell one another you can’t or you shouldn’t or you’re selfish if you do. We talk about one another behind closed doors and turned backs, letting our egos rear their ugly, unforgiving, ruthless heads. We judge rather than praise, hurt rather than help, and hate rather than love.
I often wonder what society would look like if the aforementioned weren’t a common occurrence. I wonder how I’ve contributed to perpetuating this phenomenon. And, of course, I’m ashamed when I’m reminded that I have. I’ve let my ego loose and I’ve rudely discouraged and I’ve answered jealousy with more jealousy. I wonder how much of the problem I’ve caused.
I wonder how we can be better. How we can inspire and build up and support the women around us, despite our long list of debilitating insecurities. I wonder how easy it would be if we just realized that the more female voices are heard, the louder our own will be. That if we could just get back to enriching the lives of the women we happily share our oxygen with, we’d be better for it.
I wonder if the pain other women have caused will always leave me slightly weary of my female counterparts, despite the fact that their bodies are beautiful and their emotions are courageous and their minds are endless. I wonder if I’ve ever left someone wondering the same thing. I cringe when I realize I probably have.
But mostly, I wonder if there are still fifth grade girls holding one another’s hands when they fall asleep, realizing for the first time that the relationship they share is special.
I hope so.
Read more from Danielle: A Twenty-Something Nothing.