This week I will teach about the various feminist movements in the United States to my undergraduate students. One of the interesting things I always take away from the movement is how much solidarity there was; well to a certain extent. In some cases, the “American” feminist movement was heavily situated on white women and their ideals and needs and completely disregarded any other women outside of that context. Ultimately black women, latina, lesbian women created their own spaces in order to thrive and address the issues they faced which was in a sense very different from what white women faced.
I reflected on a recent talk I watched by Tiffany Dufu called Mentorship Matters-Send the Elevator Back Down. The clip by Dufu talks about the importance of women mentoring other women and ensuring that there is room to bring other women into the spaces they occupy so they aren’t the only woman in that space for obvious reasons.
Due to my own hurtful incidences with women I have experienced in the past, I have been wondering about spaces that women have occupied in history and to present within my own spaces. As someone who continuously tries to practice the concept of opening spaces or sending the elevator down, I always find it quite jarring when I see a particular woman in one space, in essence a space of privilege, preaching everything about women’s empowerment work but will do everything to ensure no one else enters into that very space. Whilst they continue to be hailed as the only person in that space, one has to wonder where are the women who can be mentored to take the mantle once she is no longer working in her role? A concept I call "The only me syndrome" is the idea that people love to be in spaces alone, for glory or due to fear of the "shine" being dimmed from them. The concept of sisterhood is something I write quite a lot about www.africanfeministforum.com/sisterhood-is-my-political-weapon-and-feminist-tool-2/.
Some women have openly confessed to me that they have been so “hurt” by other women that the thought of allowing another woman in their space scares them. Some have stated that they have worked hard to "climb the ladder" and other women should as well. The lack of trust in self or other women however shouldn’t stop us from opening spaces for other women to thrive. I see this a lot in my line of work in development in various women’s rights spaces.
For so many years I have met many of the women in many of the spaces I have worked in who have not left the door open and it does have consequences. One of which is replication of similar challenges. What is beginning to happen is younger women are creating their own spaces, organizations, companies etc.. and replicating the same mistakes due to this lack of mentorship that doesn’t exist. The other is slower upward mobility wherein women aren't moving up as fast as they should or accessing opportunities that they very well qualify for due to this lack of sharing or sending the elevator back down as Dufu will call it.
I started to think of my own experiences and how black women have been the key people who have been my angels to open doors for me in my career. My first job I got because of a referral by a mentor of mine who knew my work in college and hired me to work as an orientation coordinator, my grad school process was reviewed by all black women, my opportunity to go to Senegal for a life changing conference and the list goes on and even current opportunities I get now are because of black women. For these women who opened the door I will always be grateful. I use and practice the concept of opening doors, sending the elevator down a lot in my work, both with women and girls. With my work with my organization GESL www.girlsempowermentsummitsl.org, we encourage a lot of sisterhood and peer mentorship as well as standard mentorship relationships, the idea of sharing ideas of what the girls have learnt with peers who may not have access to our programming is strongly encouraged. I believe I have done my due diligence of bringing women into spaces I am a part of and linking them to opportunities within those spaces.
For those women who continue to stay in that space for too long without mentoring other women into the space, look around you are you content with just you being in that space? Wouldn’t it be more enjoyable to work with others who are just as qualified as you who can challenge you to be your best self? Now this is not to say that women HAVE to help other women as this burden sometimes is not placed on men as women place on each other. At a recent gathering hosted by Kimberly Forster of For Harriet www.forharrietonline.com one of the topics of discussions was around trust and black womanhood, to be precise the question was “Do black women trust other black women?”. The discussions were intriguing, some members of the audience refuted the question completely, some mentioned that solidarity is important with black womanhood, and I found myself grappling with this notion of false sisterhood that we sometimes create without actually doing the work.
Doing the work means building authentic and none agenda driven relationships with other women. I am a firm believer of sisterhood but over the years I have come to realize the right types of sisterhood as well are just as critical. One of the biggest road blocks of sisterhood is “The only Me” syndrome.
In what ways are we serving other women or doing a disservice to other women in the name of “The only me” syndrome. This syndrome suggests a mentality of lack, when we have a mind set of abundance that there is more to grow and more to learn we can begin to think of letting other women into our space for purposes of building and working together, being challenged, and most importantly growing together. Think of ways to support women around you, they can be something as small as reviewing their application for college, referring them to an opportunity etc..
If we don’t challenge the notions of patriarchy that confront us on a daily basis, and find ways to trick the system, we will continue to move in lateral positions instead of in an upward manner.
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