This One's For The Girls
by Barbara Neal Varma
There we were: five wild and carefree women racing around our office parking lot in Sheila's shiny new sports car, a surprise gift from her husband for her 49th birthday. Debbie was riding shotgun up front, leaving the three of us tucked in the convertible's token back seat, our ample women's hips wedged in like chunky pickles in a jar. In another five minutes we'd have to revert back to the mature working women we were, but for now we were caught up in a hairpin turn that made us squeal like teens at a Kelly Clarkson concert. Another meeting of the Bad Girls Lunch Club, another example of a national phenomenon.
Step aside, Stepford Men's Club; today's
male huddles have got nothing on the rise in popularity
of women's get-togethers. Whether it's conversations at
Curves, gathering at Tuesday night book clubs, or
stepping out with the Red Hat Society girls, women these
days are grouping up in earnest, reaping the benefits of
having a band of female friends to share their trials
But why now? Why, when the war for equality and integration has been won not only in the schoolyard but the locker room, are women insisting on buddying up with their own kind?
Perhaps it's because women get together to
relate, while men may get together to play golf or
compete, theorizes Peg Wyant, a network savvy high-tech
entrepreneur. Australian writer Lauren Short agrees. In
her study on women's friendships, Short explains,
'The friendship styles of men and women are different.
Women are encouraged to form close emotional ties. They
are given to believe that relationships should be at the
center of their lives.'
Just look at how women do the 'simple' act of getting ready for bed: pick up the toys (the kid's, the dog's, the husband's), put the dishes in the dishwasher, make sure the doors are locked, the e-mails have been answered, and the last load of laundry is folded and tucked away. Then head to the bathroom to perform the nightly beauty ritual that seems to get longer every evening. One woman notes, 'My husband brushes his teeth, pats me on the fanny and slides under the covers before I've even applied my latest potion to cure aging as I sleep. Maybe the real cure,' she said, 'is found in getting more sleep.'
Face it, while we're bringing home the turkey bacon and frying it up in a pan, we never, ever forget we're women'with 'just one more thing' to do. Always.
But not when we're together. Women's group time is a time to shed perfection or the striving for. For a few precious moments there's no one else to take care of, no boss to impress, no mess, emotional or otherwise, to clean up after. At our weekly lunch club there's no appliance or computer in sight, only a friendly waiter to greet us with a smile and a desire to serve. Toronto therapist Carole-Anne Vatcher routinely asks her clients if they have good friends in their lives, because she is certain that those who do have much better coping skills. When interviewed she said, 'I have the sense that women's friendships help to keep them sane.'
Bonding up with those of like gender certainly has its benefits'like when Diane Grier's pregnancy took a turn for the scary. Her placenta was misaligned in the womb, a not-uncommon condition call placenta previa, and she was suddenly confined to bed with only her fears to keep her company. Her husband was all care and comfort, but for Grier a true sigh of relief was breathed only when she found out that a girlfriend had experienced the same condition with her first son, now a strapping young man in his early twenties. That friend had the one thing Grier's loving husband didn't have: an experienced uterus. It took her 'been-there-done-that' assurance to truly soothe Grier's nerves.
'It is our friends who keep us anchored and grounded amid the sea of changes within us and around us,' confirms Patricia Gottlieb Shapiro in her book Heart to Heart: Deepening Women's Friendships at Midlife (Berkley Publishing Group, 2001). Indeed, peer support and interaction is the foundation for every support group from Alcoholics Anonymous to Weight Watchers, Incorporated.
But why is it so hard for us girls to dish with our guys? After all, this is a time when gender identity is being usurped by gender equality, a shedding of what society believes girls are supposed to do with their social lives and what things men are supposed to not be interested in. Men and women are crossing the line and entering careers traditionally held by one gender or the other. Your nurse is just as likely to be Bob as Brenda; your car mechanic, Jennifer instead of Joe. Does it really matter who we share our life stories with, whether man or woman, when every female fighter pilot, every male au pair dissolves our preconceptions about gender roles within our society?
Truth is these aren't things you can tell your man, your mom, or even your therapist'in fact, they're often about your man, your mom, or your therapist. Even in an age of communication equality and Dr. Phil, there are just some things that are best discussed between women. When I want to problem-solve or be assured I am loved, I consult my husband, but when I need a dose of empathy because my breasts are still tender from that morning's bout with the mammogram machine'which I think I lost'I go to the girls.
Everyone brings to the table a perfectly normal need to
be understood. And even as we adore our men, teach our
children, and respect our elders, there's an almost
instinctual tendency for us to gather with other women.
Science provides some explanation. A landmark UCLA study of female friendships, "Female Responses to Stress: Tend and Befriend, Not Fight or Flight," published in Psychological Review in 2000, said gathering with friends in a nurturing way lowers the stress and strain of daily life. The study suggests that rather than the 'fight or flight' response typical of people under stress, women are wired for more complex options. Human females release brain chemicals'specifically oxytocin, that urge us to gather with other women, as well as tend our children. The more time spent with friends, the more oxytocin is released, not just counteracting stress but inspiring a sense of calm and well-being.
Talking with each other we fill the well. We rejuvenate our souls to the extent we can tackle the world again and make it a safe, pleasing place for our children, our loves, ourselves. A synergy is created when like minds meet to compare notes about anything and everything and sometimes nothing at all; an energy that is sustaining and necessary for the everyday walk on this Earth that can sometimes challenge us so. We gather to get energized, and we come to leave things behind too: yesterday's frustration at the dry cleaners ('But it's a cotton shirt just like his'why are you charging me more?'), this morning's boredom in the boardroom, the mess and stress of knowing we have to host the in-laws for the weekend.
Shelley E. Taylor, author of The Tending Instinct (Times books, 2002) and world-renowned expert on stress and health, contends that women have a genetic instinct to form friendships as a means of coping under pressure. Taylor says our evolutionary heritage suggests women who form strong bonds with one another are more apt to survive (and their offspring) than those who do not. Over time, women have learned to turn to one another for support and solace and have thus become important allies during times of turmoil.
So the next time you get together with other desperate housewives or network with colleagues in the corporate sisterhood, know that you're doing something good, not only for yourself but for each other, for all others you value in your life. Men included.
About the Author:
Barbara has written for ByLine magazine, Writing-World.com, Senior Living newspaper and others. Her essays have won awards from Writer's Digest, the National Writers Association and Anthology magazine. In addition, she holds a master's degree in the theory and process of communication and can provide relevant and expert insight on interpersonal communication among friends. Published clips can be viewed at her website: www.BarbaraNealVarma.com