During the month of May, EBONY.com is celebrating sisterhood with our "Women Up! Black Women Rising" editorial series. While some of our most cherished relationships are with other women, there is a pervasive narrative that would have us believe that women don't –and can't–get along. But with all of the negative images about Black women that we ingest daily through the media, we cannot afford to be fighting amongst ourselves or avoiding each other because we believe the hype and stereotypes about who we are. We will not make it long in this world–professionally or personally–without a strong network of women in our corner. So here are five ways you can start seeing women as sisters instead of adversaries.
1) Cheer women on. We have internalized the myth that a woman's success or happiness somehow chips away at our own success or happiness. But it just isn’t so. If another woman gets a job opportunity you wanted, celebrate her, be inspired to keep aiming high, and continue to buck a system that teaches you that only a few women get to succeed. Likewise, If the boyfriend in your head is having a real-life relationship with some other woman, congratulate that woman! (Ex., "Good for you, girlfriend of Idris Elba!")
Because contrary to popular belief, dating is not a zero-sum game: just because you're not with the man you may have wanted, it doesn't mean your man has been taken from you. Thank God you've been spared from creating (or continuing) an unnecessary history with someone who was never intended to be for you. Release your clenched fists, open up your hands and patiently wait (and work) for what God specifically has for you.
2) Keep the peace. While you may understand that sisters shouldn't fight, your sister may not have reached that point of introspection and maturity. She may be harboring jealousy against you, actively trying to embarrass you in public, and aiming to start drama with you so that you can feel about yourself the way she feels about herself. Don't fall for it. Especially in a work environment, deflect and defer every attempt to get you to act out of your character in public. Understand that your sister is struggling with something internal that has nothing to do with you and try your best to keep your cool in your dealings with her. For the sake of your own sanity, keep the peace with any woman you have to share space with regularly.
3) Give an ear, not advice. People seek out advice when they want it, but most often, they just want to be heard. Provide the women in your life a safe place to vent their frustrations without fear of being gossiped about later. Offer them a space to be listened to and validated in their feelings. Unless they specifically ask for your advice, let your sisters just speak their truth to you in a corner of the world where judgment is suspended. That could be the greatest gift you could ever give them.
4) Pull your sister to the side. Though we all like to buy into the damaging "superwoman" ideal, women are humans and make bad calls in our personal and professional lives daily. When you see your sister messing up in a way that poorly reflects on you, your field, or even all of womanity, by all means, say something. But pull your sister to the side. There's nothing empowering or enlightening about dragging your sister through the mud in the name of whatever cause you profess to be defending. That's your sister making a mistake. That's you down there screwing-up–in the past, present, or maybe even in the future. People respond better when they hear hard truths in a soft and loving way. When your sister knows you're talking to her out of love, that will exponentially increase the chances that she'll be receptive to what you have to say and will stop doing whatever wrong-headed thing she's been doing.
5) Invest in Women. Maybe you're not the jealous type and maybe you're so focused on yourself and your ambitions that you don't even notice what other women are doing with their lives and careers. It's time to take notice. Pay attention to the struggling sisters coming behind you and support their efforts however you can, whether through words or deeds. Mentor women who need mentoring, cry with them when they cry, celebrate with them when they celebrate, encourage them when they need encouragement, because no one knows how hard it is to be a woman in a man's world like your sisters do. And no one can keep you like your sisters can.