To all my women friends past, present and future. And to all the women feeling lonely.
As a birth educator I could tell you that it is because we produce oxytocin when we get together. Oxytocin is the hormone I used to refer to in my classes as the “hippy hormone”, you know? Peace and love. Yes, the one you feel when you hug someone for at least 7 seconds and the one we produce when we listen to a story that has a beginning, a sort of climax and a resolution. The one in orgasms.
We all produce oxytocin, but we women seem to produce it just by being with each other.
But as a 47 year old woman and mother I can tell you reasons that go beyond the physical.
In my particular case I grew up in the company of only girls in a catholic nun school in Spain (there weren’t that many alternatives back then), at home my family wasn’t religious so I became quite a strong atheist at an early age, I also didn’t see any positives of being amongst just girls when the world was educating me to want to be admired and pursued by the men I should be decorating myself for. Being an atheist and with no boys or men my life had no purpose in that place. So I was glad when I left to go to high school, where I embraced the idea of being admired as an object, I became a dancer in discos, a waitress in the most popular trendy venues and followed (partially as a result of personal trauma), any guy who will merely acknowledge me, I was finally a desirable object.
The little decisions I made were based on the so-called romantic songs, stories and movies consumed from an early age. Never thought for a second about what I wanted, the train of thought was more along the lines of “who I wanted to want me”
I came to London following a guy, but he abused me and I left him. The tragedy was that I didn’t leave him for the abuse, I left because he had been with other women. Then came a period of being pretty lost in which I learned the hard way that I was indeed an object and that hurting me was something acceptable to men. I was raped by my flat mates.
What I realise now is that I had no women friends through all those years, and I never even thought about it. I was alone because I was a victim, I was a victim because I was alone. For a woman, alone in patriarchy means without a man, have you ever noticed that guys will tell us that: “where are you two going on your own?” When you are with your friend on a night out.
But the unspoken reality is that we women are dangerously alone when we are separated from women, from our networks, our comadres, and I didn’t know how dangerously alone I was then.
Obviously in the preprogramming that happens in the captivity of patriarchy, I had learned through plenty of propaganda that women can’t truly be friends, we are always in competition for the male, who rules, decides and chooses.
And the only women friends I ever had from school I then took for granted and parked them somewhere with the memories from my childhood days. I was in London, I was cool, independent and free or so I thought.
Many highs and lows later I’m still struggling trying to come down from the full speed rollercoaster traumatic journey that I have learned to dress up as life.
I could tell you many stories that might resemble an ordinary existence, I met my husband 25 years ago, had 3 children, we relocated to Scotland during lockdown…But the reality is that now that I have moved to Glasgow in both society’s and personal difficult times, I feel extremely lonely, I realise that I miss my women, my friends in London, with who I will go to the local pub every now and again and talk about everything. I still miss my friends from school who were kind and wise enough to know that eventually I will one day come back with my ego packed away and feeling extremely lucky to have them in my life when I run out of laughter, something that, as I get older, seems to happen more and more often.
When I laugh with them I feel as if I’m eight again. And we laugh so much my head hurts.
It is only with age that I have come to realise that the most democratic space I know is the group of the four middle aged women we have created in over forty years of friendship. We couldn’t be more different or love each other any more.
It was women I needed when I became pregnant twenty years ago. I wanted the women from my genealogical tree to come back from the dead and tell me how I was supposed to birth.
And I needed women, and didn’t even know it, when I suffered from postnatal depression twice. Later on, professionally I discovered that there are statistics about how women who live in strong communities don’t suffer from postnatal depression.
It was probably while becoming an activist and campaigning online that without thinking I started creating communities of women, with some of them I have campaigned in various cases and now we are around forty thousand of us in all my social media accounts.
And again, when I taught pregnancy classes, I created networks of women. Occasionally I might meet one of them in the street and they invariably tell me: “you know? we still meet up, I saw them last week, I wouldn’t have done it without them”.
I started my job as a birth educator feeling offended that with all my knowledge people will see me as a woman leading some baby group, I ended up thinking that all that mattered to me after eight sessions was that the group bonded so the women had a non judgemental network to support themselves.
People see me as strong and confident. They think I speak of what I know and have in abundance. But I promote what I need. I speak of what I lack.
I have been seeking my own kind for so long without realising the obvious thing that was staring at me in the face, we women are never truly alone we are told that we are.
I love a viral picture that said “women let’s support each other as we do in the toilets of a disco” We should!
Recently I decided to try something different to cheer me up, and I went to a cardio dance type of class, when I lived in London I used to go to one where a young attractive guy with a body sculpted by dancing, moved in a way most of us mere mortals will never do while he jumped amongst the women in a sexual way triggering all sorts of reactions that now I realised were learned behaviours we use as a defence mechanism in the assumed hierarchy in which we exist.
One guy and about 20 women and yet, it was a male dominated space, and after every single class I felt miserable because I was never good enough. And I complained a million times about the reaggeton misogynistic lyrics that were in Spanish and I had to endure. I was no longer the old attractive object but I was in a space that wanted me to be that, I was transitioning to the other stereotype “the grumpy old woman”.
So while feeling insecure I went to a new class in suburban Glasgow and they were all women, mostly my age or older and it was such a lovely space, bodies like mine, women like me, a teacher who didn’t put up a show. And every penny goes to support cancer patients. And it was so nice I just giggled throughout purely by the safety and comfort of being with other middle aged women doing what we could and want.
I felt immediately better about my mood. Which reminded me of something that happened with my school friends, last time we saw each other in Spain, we talked about various ailments, some of us awaiting medical appointments. Few weeks later we checked on each other and we were fine. One of us said: “I think we needed that gathering and laughter more than we knew”(picture of the event here).
Women scientists, we need more research about the impact of women's networks on women's health please! And on women's pleasure since we are at it, I learned from my friend Elaine Miller last night in her stand up show that the knowledge of the clitoris having 8,000 nerve endings hasn't even been researched on women! It was something a psychiatrist found out after directing the clitoris of sheep!!
And now that I am mostly amongst women, that I actively seek women’s company and spaces, I’ve joined FiLiA a feminist organisation that is totally female. I could tell you that I joined them because I want Women’s liberation, because I’m a feminist, because I admire their work. I could tell you that I joined them because I was tired or impatient, or both, of fighting patriarchy on my own.
But I was reminded the other day of why I joined FiLiA, my sisters there don’t know this but recently I hit a personal low when I punched myself in the face. I had to come to terms with the fact that I self harmed.
I have been really struggling lately due to trauma and personal circumstances, I’m in therapy but also very tired of being a survivor.
That awful day last week, I was crying my eyes out so much that I didn’t even know why I was crying. I cried in an office to someone, I cried to the administrator at my GP surgery, I cried to someone in Marks & Spencer and to a volunteer in a helpline for people who are struggling with anxiety. And then at 4 o’clock in the afternoon I wiped my tears and got ready for a meeting with a small team part of FiLiA with whom I’m working on a specific project.
I felt responsible, I didn’t want to cancel (that week I have already done that). The video conference opened up on my screen and the audio wasn’t working but I could see the three women laughing, I wasn’t. I started crying and apologising. They made me feel ok about crying and said that they will listen to whatever I needed to share. And they did what the brilliant women in my life have always done, they just acknowledged me and my pain, they gave me ideas, they made me laugh, they shared what is equal to us, our struggle and joy.
And eventually we all laughed. I dried my tears and we naturally and without a fuss moved on to our work topics and I was fine. They took me out of my despair and I can’t tell you exactly how they did that, but I guess being there and showing me the mirror of sorority that we all hold for each other, so I could remember who I am.
For example, thanks to Lisa-Marie (co-founder and CEO) I have been reminded that I don’t need to say “sorry” so much. And despite my theoretical knowledge of horizontal and collective feminist organisations, in FiLiA, I quickly realised I still had some learning to do, when I was looking everywhere for one source of power who told me what needed to be done.
And also when I was feeling bad for trying to do too much and not hearing the line they all say in FiLiA: “if you can’t do it just bounce it back!” I didn’t bounce anything back. I realise now I didn't know how.
I had been everywhere on my own, trying to prove something. I wanted to do it, I wanted to impress, to be able and available, like I have learned, to be liked…
Being part of a collective of women has taught me invaluable lessons about myself.
I’m now letting another guard down yet again, learning to be vulnerable and be seen for who I am in the safety of those who are like me. The paradox is “me” doesn’t matter in the “we” that makes each of us matter.
Each of the women in FiLiA are simply amazingly inspiring. It is like a league of supersheroes, only better because they are real. I am so proud and so excited to know that I will be finally meeting them at the conference! While I confess that despite the incredible array of topics that I consider unmissable, it is the women only party that I’m most looking forward to.
I understand now that when I was a child we were in an all female space because of men. Now I’m in an all female space because of women.
And that is why I joined FiLiA because I don’t want to ever forget again who I am.
I am a woman and I’m powerful because of me and because of them.