What if women decided to stop struggling alone, and worked to lift each other up?
By Dulce Zamora
My husband, two daughters, and I moved from the U.S. to Singapore last year. We left behind a close-knit group of family and friends, which made us really homesick. Holidays, birthdays, and everyday life seemed more hollow without our loved ones around.
We lived in Singapore for 8 years before, so we thought it would be relatively easy to adjust to life here. However, most of our close friends from our first stint were now gone. They moved to other countries. Most were expats like us, and expats do move with jobs, much like military families do.
My family and I mourned the double void in our lives. Not only did we lose everyday contact with our beloved in America, but we also lost our core group in Asia. I was all too familiar with this type of grief, this sorrow borne out of ghost-like membership to different communities. I felt it as a child, when I left the Philippines and immigrated into the United States. I felt it as a young adult, when I left my multicultural California neighborhood to work as a journalist in places were female minorities were either few or nonexistent. I now feel it as an Asian American expat.
My experiences are not unique. I have encountered citizens from all over the world who experience similar heartache. Some of these folks have never even left home, which shows that one need not leave their neighborhood to feel the pang of loneliness. You can be surrounded by people you love and who love you and still feel alone.
I finally figured out an antidote for me. The answer came during a solo trip to New York City. I went there last week to attend a writer’s conference. It was the first time I traveled for work after 12 years as a stay-at-home mother. My goal at the conference was to pitch my book ideas to literary agents.
It was nerve-wracking, but I did make a conscious effort to fortify myself. My salve came not from some medical marvel, but from my wounds. I told the girlfriends that I missed so much what I was doing. They showered me with encouragement via email, text, WhatsApp, Skype and Messenger. Some who lived within a day’s commute to New York made the effort to see me while I was there.
One particular day in New York stood out. I spent the day with Lisa and Erin (two very good friends from my single in NY days). While talking up a storm about our lives, we walked around different Manhattan neighborhoods. Chelsea, the Flatiron District, Union Square, Washington Square, NoHo, and SoHo became the backdrop of our daylong soulful sisterhood dialogue and adventure. It was then that I realized that I was never alone. Even when my tribe wasn’t physically with me, they were always present in my heart and memory. I had a village of strong, beautiful women backing me up all along. They were just spread out in different countries. I am so glad we live in an age when we can easily reach out to each other through digital apps.
Putting together my village over the years hasn’t been easy. I had to step out of my comfort zone many times, whether that meant joining a different lunch table at school, switching jobs, moving to different places, or seeking other groups within my neighborhood. That’s how I met many of these women. The courage I needed to activate to find them continues to help me practice bravery today. When I need them, they are there to help me with my next challenge. This does not mean that we agree on everything. Some of them now live their lives differently from mine. We don’t always have the same political or social views. However, we are able to see what we do have in common and move forward together from there.
As I write about my village of supportive women, I can’t help but think of a piece of history I encountered last week. While walking around New York, my friend Erin pointed out a historical building near Washington Square. It was the site of the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire where 145 people died because of sweatshop conditions that prevented escape. The majority of these workers were young immigrant teenage girls who did not speak English. The factory owners did not trust them and deliberately locked stairwell doors to prevent them from taking breaks or stealing anything. The company also refused to install sprinklers or other fire safety measures because they were largely known to purposefully torch their factories in order to benefit from large fire insurance policies. Owners paid off politicians to look the other way, and hired police officers to arrest anyone who protested their unethical work environment. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire changed all of that. Many of the girls got trapped in locked stairwells, and dozens jumped from the burning building into the sidewalk where they died. The tragedy spurred at least 80,000 people to rally for better working conditions and to demand fire prevention and safety laws. As a result, New York politicians finally took note and made the necessary changes.
Today, women still work in less than stellar conditions. Our salaries tends to be less than men’s. To get a promotion, we must be aggressive yet not too aggressive lest we be seen as trying too hard. Or, we run the risk of alienating the men at the top of the ladder, at which case they will not invite us to exclusive team-building activities. Women who stay home to care for children are often not seen as having real jobs, or contributing to the family income. People say things like “There is no question that what you do is priceless, but the fact is that you are not making any money.”
I am conjuring up all this controversial stuff because I think women are still battling the same type of fires we did in 1911. Some of us lack the language and means to fight back. That’s why we need each other. We have the opportunity to lift each other up no matter where we are in the ladder of life, or in the world. I am heartened that my global village of women is there to help me when I need to buttress my courage. I wish the same for all of us, and encourage people to be each other’s champions.
Too many times we are encouraged to knock each other down. There are stay-at-home mothers versus working mothers. There are breastfeeders versus formula feeders. There are female executives who “heartlessly” climb the corporate ladder versus the female executives who balance work and family life. There are women with nannies, and women who have to do it all. There are conservative women and there are liberal women. I could go on and on with the rivalries and resentments that run deep within women’s groups. Wouldn’t it be great if we could lift each other up from where we are, regardless of our financial, religious, or political affiliations? It sounds like a hippie-ish fantasy, doesn’t it, to support one another? To this, I ask: Why does supporting each other have to be a fantasy?
As I summon my courage to raise my family and to pursue my career goals in the most authentic way possible, I find strength in my global village of female friends. Finding my village did mean ditching the old model of what I thought my community should look like. I found that my friends and I didn’t have to do the same things, or feel the same way about everything, or live in the same place. We just had to support each other. And if that sounds sappy and uncomfortable, I ask: Why is being emotional deemed a weakness? How did that standard come about? I’d like to explore how we, as women, can harness each others’ unique powers by setting up our own standards, and not necessarily play by the old rules. Doing so could help everyone, male or female.
© 2019 Windswept Wildflower