Why We Need Women’s Communities Now More Than Ever

This world is increasingly painful. It feels strangely unjust. There is a lot of confusion here now.

Bonding with other women

I know loneliness. I have felt its powerful tentacles grasp me during many phases of my life: during University when I wandered through a bad relationship, away from home and without the proximity of a circle of close friends.

In the early days of my postpartum experience, shades of my house drawn tight, before I let the light of others in to see my quiet suffering.

And some days even now: although my house is filled to the brim with the noise of three busy children, so much so my husband and I find corners to stand and whisper in, I still feel those waves of desire to find companionship. Just today, sitting alone at my computer knocking on the keys for a work assignment, I became overwhelmed with the nostalgic desire to bake a hearty pumpkin loaf, steep delicious tea and sit with a favourite girlfriend to open up our hearts together and dissect the emotions of today.

This world is increasingly painful. It feels strangely unjust. There is a lot of confusion here now.

One month ago, in the backdraft of a stunning panic attack I packed my bags for a creative writing and yoga retreat on British Columbia’s Bowen Island. I had signed up for the week-long event in hopes of re-igniting my commitment to a craft that came and went from my purpose like  a fleeting promise. I went in hopes of applying salve to wounds deep from depression and anxiety.

We gathered.

A group of women connected by common interests and passion, perhaps by a few mutual acquaintances, but otherwise new and foreign to each other. Our bodies together in a yurt, moving seamlessly to the flow of yoga were unconquered landscapes finally for our own exploration. What was opened and dissected there and in the moments after when we sat criss-cross to write in journals, then to talk, was startling revelations of what it meant to be a woman: stories shrouded in pain, guilt and deep emotion. Old and fresh wounds gaped, and tended to with the loss of shared tears, tender hugs and an unwavering encouragement that was stunning to witness. I hadn’t expected to be so profoundly moved, not by writing prompts or yoga invitations but by the beauty of women sitting around a circle to share stories with each other.

This makes me believe in the power of female-only communities, which were once a normative part of life for many women (and still is in other parts of the world). Women gathered to bleed, they gathered to bake, they gathered to tend to their children in community spaces. Once female friendships were necessary, now they feel like luxuries we often feel we can’t afford in our days packed with work, child-rearing and household clean-up. These activities of life-making were often committed to communally, with a sister-friend to make the anxieties more passable, now we cry alone when our babies won’t nap, our toddlers won’t stop hitting, our grade schooler fails another math test. We feel the burden of these hiccups along life’s path would be embarrassing portals into the way our families and ourselves are flawed. We speak in terms of competition not community: my baby sleeps for 3 hours every afternoon, yours doesn’t? Hmm…

We need community now more than ever. We make sense of the world around us, which is far too painful and confusing today, through the perspectives that others bring to us. We make sense of ourselves, as we relate to other people. You can’t fight what needs to change, inside yourself and inside the world you live in, without understanding it first with and through the thoughts and feelings of others, and with their support and power too.

There are amazing healing properties to bonding, companionship and living in harmony with others, as I witnessed first hand with my writing and yogic sisters. Amazing explorations of science have tried to quantify that exact variable - the impact community has on longevity and quality of life. There is the Roseto Effect: the town of Roseto Pennsylvania in the 1960s had low rates of heart disease comparative to other parts of the country, which scientists came to associate with the cohesive community and communal way of life there amongst, predominantly, Italian immigrants.

For women, bonding with other women allows you to appreciate the many ways that you are different and yet how rightly entwined your experiences are. Violation and marginalization are not necessarily universal experiences and yet amongst a group of women you will find incredible likeness, which only provides prospects for healing. Those who have experienced the power of female communion - whether at a retreat, inside the confines of a community group, or with one or more girlfriends - know of the whispered solace that I tell of. A hand on the shoulder, a tear shed alongside yours, a short utterance or a long explanation, from the body of a woman this can be the only salve that heals.

We need community now more than ever.

We need women who can come together and support each other now more than ever.

There is great frustration and confusion here. There are wounds that need healing.

Women, and women grouped together, have the power to make this whole again.

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Karen Bannister is a writer and memoirist, connecting others to the power of their own and other’s lived experiences. She is co-founder of Her Story, Our Story a magazine and podcast that shares the stories of Canadian women for the purpose of mobilizing social change. She writes about women and community and women and storytelling. www.karenbannister.ca