Commentary: Claiming sisterhood
I confess that it’s taken me a lifetime of living in the United States to realize that American women, unlike Latvian women, think in terms of sisterhood.
It all begins, I think, with sleepovers (what we used to call slumber parties) when girls are young. The idea of a sleepover made no sense to my Latvian parents. Why would anyone want to spend the night at someone else’s house sleeping on floors or couches or who knows what when she had her own house and bed to sleep in?
It’s not as if anyone was forced to spend the night because of a blizzard or because someone’s parent was too drunk to drive home. And think of the cost, my parents said. It would require buying new pajamas and decent, unscuffed slippers.
What really was at issue here was transgressing boundaries. It was one thing to have girlfriends, even to have a girlfriend from out of town visit for a week during the summer, but having a bevy of girls scantily clad in pajamas (granny gowns or flannel pj’s were still “intimate” apparel) letting their hair down literally and figuratively was somehow unnerving. There was no NEED to be that close and personal.
It is amazing that I did attend one sleepover – and that was when I was a junior in high school. It was a revelation to me: I thought I knew these girls, and they thought they knew me, but the group dynamic had a singular effect and we were not quite the same afterward.
Several weeks ago I was invited to join a group of women at a remote Nevada location for a weekend retreat. We had a culinary celebrity and her assistant who made three grand meals for us; we did yoga; told jokes as performance; listened to a “cowgirl” read her cowgirl poetry; learned Israeli liturgical dances, took a long hike up out of a canyon, and drank our share of fine wine and mojito. On the last day, after a late breakfast, we took turns either reading excerpts from our favorite works of literature or spoke about how grateful we were for having been together.
As a group we knew some women very well; some a little, and some not at all. Our hostess, of course, knew all of us, and because she is the kind of person who promotes friendship, understanding (regardless of differences in beliefs or values), and greater self-awareness and connection to nature and the world, we felt transfigured, illuminated from without and within.
Sisterhood is, I think, born of openness and a lack of fear. It strengthens us in a mysterious way.
• Ursula Carlson, Ph.D., teaches writing and literature at Western Nevada Community College.