Program coordinator Amelia Meman reminisces about her feminist friendships and analyzes how these relationships foster empowerment and powerful networks.
This Women’s History Month, the Women’s Center was inspired by feminism’s legacy of collective action. While feminism is very much based in the personal and individual, it is also a movement built through the camaraderie, collective consciousness, compassion, and connections between people. That’s why, this March, the Women’s Center is celebrating feminist friendships. That’s also why I’m writing this blog post.
Every time I come to think about this theme, I feel all warm and fuzzy inside, because I immediately think of the bonds I made at UMBC that have continued on. More on this later, but I’ll tell you this much: nothing brings you together, like the hot crucible of simultaneous existential crises via The Patriarchy. Our angst-ridden mental toil aside, describing a friendship as “feminist” might feel weird to some people, but I wonder what it means to those it resonates with.
For me, it’s not about the friends who encourage me to burn my bra and always validate my decision to not shave–although they also do that. It’s also the friends who affirm me and remind me that I am a person with power who deserves good things in the world. My feminist friends go to rallies with me and talk Butler with me, but they also are the first to watch Neighbors 2 and they’re the best at recommending sci-fi and fantasy novels.
The personal is political… and the political is personal
I think that all of my relationships are political. This is probably by virtue of being a feminist and a philosophical thinker, but it’s also because my friends are my political allies. We are constantly thinking about the political power that comes with being women, being queer (AF), being trauma survivors, being white and/or people of color, being (dis)abled, etc. and being radically together. We’re friends who empower each other to live when so many other things in this world act to kill us. We’re constantly navigating privilege and oppression, and we get a lot of things wrong. We teach other, call each other in. We are committed to the process of constantly learning how to be better humans to one another and all of the people we interact with.
Does anything scream friendship more than this group shot of the Great British Baking Show judges?
So when I say that the personal is political, I mean that things we like to keep in private (i.e. whether or not we’re having sex, what kind of sex we’re having, birth control, abortions, survivor status, etc.) are personal experiences that are also–with feminism–political. Rather than continue to make the prudish world of vanilla, purely procreative sex comfortable, feminists talk reproductive justice, use the words “vagina,” “penis,” “vulva,” “anus,” etc. Those things that people would rather sweep under the rug? We dig those out and we burn the rug.
Just so, the political is personal. This, for me, is feminist friendship. My unity and belonging with other feminists is tied, not just to our affinity for one another as funny weirdos, but also to our political mindset. As we dance, we move toward liberation. As we laugh, we banish the silence pressed into us as women and femmes. As we eat together, we feed each other the love and power we deserve.
The political is personal, because my liberation is tied to theirs, and we both know that as we watch the latest season of The Great British Baking Show.
So as we move throughout Women’s History Month and think about all of our herstorical sheroes who give us life (often literally), think about those friends that are around you who make you shine brighter. Whether that’s your mom, your professor, Oprah, think about the women who inspire you.
Take a breath, and think about your best memory with that person. How did you become friends? What do you all do best together? How do you feel when you’re around each other?
Seriously take like 15 seconds to meditate on that.
Alright, now you can come back to me.
Didn’t that make you feel shiny?
In the Women’s Center, we like to talk about shine theory. Jess is the one who introduced me to this concept a while ago (see her awesome UMBC Women Who Rock series), but basically, shine theory is a lens through which we can think about friendship. Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow (of Call Your Girlfriend) coined the term “shine theory” in an article on powerful women as best friends. Friedman wrote: “when you meet a woman who is intimidatingly witty, stylish, beautiful, and professionally accomplished, befriend her. Surrounding yourself with the best people doesn’t make you look worse by comparison. It makes you better.”
Friedman and Sow add that in its simplest form, shine theory is this: “I don’t shine, if you don’t shine.”
Feminist friends, to me, push you and support you so that you can shine as bright, if not brighter, than them and we all get a little better for it.
GWST-ers 4 Life
I would be remiss to not note that the thing that brought some of my best, most steady feminist friends together was our journey through the UMBC Gender and Women’s Studies Department. We were knit together through a shared affinity for feminist politics, and I know I was able to find myself through them. Not because they showed me a self I wanted to be, but because they allowed me to actually BE the person I always wanted to be.
It wasn’t all hearts and rainbows and radical self-care quotes from Audre Lorde. It was a lot of shit. We went through heartbreak together, we grieved together, we powered through classes like beleaguered Weather-people in a hurricane. In queer theory, we read Michel Foucault’s interview, “Friendship as a Way of Life,” in which he lays out this idea of queer community:
The notion of mode of life seems important to me. Will it require the introduction of a diversification different from the ones due to social class, differences in profession and culture, a diversification that would also be a form of relationship and would be a “way of life”? A way of life can be shared among individuals of different age, status, and social activity. It can yield intense relations not resembling those that are institutionalized. It seems to me that way of life can yield a culture and an ethics. To be “gay,” I think, is not to identify with the psychological traits and the bisible masks of the homosexual but to try to define and develop a way of life. (p. 137-138)
Being “gay” or “queer” or, in our case, “feminists,” is not about defining who we are, but about creating a way of life that suits our needs and that is, potentially, radical. When the institution is so often your oppressor, molding new culture and ethics through friendship becomes a way of also creating new futures and pathways that the institution did not initially have open to you. For example, I don’t know where my self-confidence would be without my therapist and the power of my friends, but I know that the impacts of sexism, racism, ableism, etc. were limiting my self-confidence, and when I learned about myself as someone who was strong and capable of loosing that sort of weight, I was able to achieve more and better. I have a job, I’m pursuing my (very high) educational goals, I’m publishing this blogpost; this is all enabled through this alternative way of life that teaches me that I have power, I am power, and that my friends and I disrupt oppression.
Feminist friendship, shine theory, all that glorious glowing goodness that brought us together–it created power.
So the next time you think about your friends, your shiny people, your feminist sheroes, think about the power you all cultivate and bring forth by being your badass selves together. Think about how that power can grow with you and the friendships you share. Think about what your perfect world would look like for you and your feminist friends–and then make it.
More resources, if you’re interested:
Michel Foucault, “Friendship as a Way of Life”
Dan Willey, “Gay Hair”
Gaby Dunn, “It’s A War Out There: How Queer Female Friendships Can Save Us All”
Cori Wong, “Feminist Friendship” TEDxCSU
Make feminist friends and build up your network at our Women’s History Month celebration on March 28th from 6 pm to 8 pm in the Skylight Room! RSVP via myUMBC!