Women Helping Women

Some years ago I was in a very complicated, vulnerable situation and needed support to discern my next steps. A dear friend of mine was trying to help me foster connections that could bolster me as I found my way. She lined up a lunch with one of her friends, so that the three of us could meet for this purpose. I was struck by how my friend described this woman to me — as someone who believes in “women helping women.” If I’d ever heard that phrase before it never struck me quite like it did then. As the conversation among the three of us unfolded, it became more evident to me just what those words meant. They both saw the dynamic of my situation with a clarity I did not yet have, the part of my story that was colored by cultural conditioning and the disparity between how men and women are treated in society. These two ladies extended a lifeline to me that day, both with their rich understanding and with their practical advice for empowerment. The value of “women helping women” has stayed with me ever since. 

I’ve been a late bloomer in realizing all the ways in which women are not treated equally to men, all the ways I have limited myself based on how I saw women defined or excluded. It wasn’t until I was a young adult, with experiences that awoke me, that I started to see the impact of things, such as… 

...how destructively sexual harassment can play out in a woman’s life and career… how women don’t report sexual violence because too often they will be dragged through the mud of re-victimization… that women will stay in abusive situations (be it physical or emotional) because the courts cannot protect them or their children from the abuser should they try to leave… 

...how pay inequity based on gender is very real… that too many women who work in the home as a caretaker of children are not valued for contributing equally to the family economy (though of course they do)…that too many women who work outside of the home are expected to still do the bulk of domestic duties… 

...that women have been left out of positions such as the R.C. priesthood, while the majority of programs that sustain any given parish are largely staffed by women… that, despite all the capable and amazing women in our country, we've never had a female president or even vice president… that when little girls don’t see women in positions of power they have a hard time trusting women in power (e.g. won’t use a woman doctor) or envisioning themselves in such roles of leadership and thus aim lower than their potential… and so on. 

In other words, sexism is real. Sure, many good men have helped women rise to their rightful place at the table. Many good men have joined with women seeking progress, and that is necessary and appreciated. Yet more often I’ve experienced — as I did when having that lunch with my friend and her friend — that the one to help you most with a problem is the one who can relate because they are on the same journey. It’s like any movement in history, where the greatest change happened from mistreated individuals deciding to stand together and, in doing so, empowered one another. 

I continue to learn the value of “women helping women” as the blessing of this incredible solidarity impacts my life for the better time and time again. Gratitude fills my heart over the many wise, courageous, and strong women who have gone before us, as well as the many with whom I have the privilege to travel now. 

May you be inspired!

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