I am a member of what I consider to be the last Fairytale Generation. My generation, which falls somewhere between X and Y, also seems to have landed on the cusp of a resurgence of Women Empowerment. Our mothers were instilled with the value of finding a “good husband” to settle down, have children, and live happily ever after. And in turn, this is the fairytale that they handed down to their daughters.
I’ve found that happily ever after is not as clear cut as the stories we were told. Many women that I’ve spoken to (myself included) often wonder if the women of past generations found true fulfillment in that narrative, or if they, like us, called Bullshit. This is not to suggest that women who have husbands and children are not empowered, rather that empowerment might require more work. (Though I’m not referring to the “marriage is a lot of work” spiel.)
There are various strategies that women can tap into while on their journey to becoming more empowered. Yoga, therapy, journaling, higher education, etc. come to mind. While I’m a champion of all those methods, my heart leans toward a more collective approach to working towards women empowerment: sister circles. The more I mature (translate- the older I get), the more I draw from my sister circles. A sister circle is the term I use when referring to the women in my life who are active participants in my journey, and vice versa.
I. Would. Not. Make. It. Without. My. Sister Circle.
I am my mother’s only child. Though my dad had children who are older and younger than me, the distances between us in age and physical locale contributed to sibling relationships that could be defined as cordial at best. Still, as far back as my memory reaches, I always longed for siblings – with a special request for a sister. 😊
My childhood best friend had sisters who were the first people outside of my blood relatives that I felt a kindred connection with. Their love and sisterhood opened my eyes to a different kind of love that is hard to comprehend as an only child. It’s a love that allows you to love both “because of” and “in spite of”. In other words, loving her simply because she’s your sister and in spite of sometimes painful disagreements or what you perceive to be her shortcomings. Loving another person in this way is a conscious choice. I’ve carried this way of sisterly loving into adulthood and into my friendships. It’s what allows me to be vulnerable and to honor the vulnerability of others within my sister circle.
Although a sister circle might consist of biological sisters, the women in sister circles share unique bonds, because their sisterhood was a choice. Within a sister circle is a group of women who have chosen to trust each other, to support each other, to sometimes cry with each other, to advise each other, and to be honest though not judgmental with each other. A sister circle is there to remind you of how phenomenal you are at times when you may have forgotten.
Women Empowerment is reciprocal.
We uplift each other. There is no dominance in Women Empowerment. To empower is to provide someone with tools that they need to draw their own strength and ultimately reach their own ideal of success. These tools can come in the form of encouragement, instruction, financial support, referrals, lending a nonjudgmental listening ear, amongst other things. True empowerment can only work when each person feeds into one another and does not just feast from each other. Because as the adage says, “Alone we are strong; together we are stronger.”
If women can come together to celebrate each other’s triumphs and encourage each other when we fall short, that is when we open the door to an entire generation of fulfilled, empowered women. A healthy reciprocal sister circle is one in which everyone can shine.
My daughter will be fierce.
The next generation of women will no doubt be more empowered than the Fairytale Generations. We can already see evidence of this, through their unwillingness to go along with the way things have always been done just because it’s the way that things have always been done. One example is the acknowledgement of sexual misconduct that occurs in the workplace, on campuses, and in social settings; which has subsequently led to perpetrators being dismissed from work, expelled, and/or prosecuted. Women have reshaped the narrative surrounding body image and sexuality and have begun denouncing misogynist rhetoric. This has prompted more parents to have conversations with their children about what is appropriate and inappropriate sexual behavior.
One principal reason these campaigns have been so successful is that women have banded together to set a new standard for how we demand to be treated. It is our support for one another that empowers us as individuals. Historically, women of color have been the last to benefit from feminist movements, but I’m optimistic that the internet-driven global approach of the fourth-wave feminism movement will have a long-term benefit to brown girls like my daughter, too.
Every generation is responsible for paving the way to a better tomorrow for generations that follow. By fortifying our sister circles, today’s women will make it possible for my daughter’s generation to become collectively empowered.
Kashanna Eiland is the co-founder and Executive Director of Empowerment through Education and Exposure, a nonprofit agency that promotes post-secondary education and career opportunities for Chicago youth. She is also a Social Impact Strategist and Speaker who helps socially conscious individuals and organizations bring their bright ideas to fruition.