Last night, I sat down on a Zoom call (as many of us have been doing lately) with a group of ladies several decades my senior. We laughed, caught up, drank wine, and, despite the coronavirus pandemic, had a great time. The kicker? I’ve met all of them within the past year.
I knew these Zoom companions through an international women’s organization I joined in college. Although still a “baby adult,” as I like to tell my parents, I’ve already had the privilege of belonging to numerous female-only groups in my twenty-four years of life. Single-sex social and philanthropic organizations, in my experience, are a great opportunity for women to develop as leaders, friends, and intellectual equals.
Seen and heard
I realized the importance of women-only groups early on, as I was fortunate enough to attend the only all-girls high school in my state. After nine years of co-ed grade school, it’s fair to say I was done with boys by the time eighth-grade graduation rolled around. Plus, growing up with only a brother, I craved female interaction. Although the effectiveness of single-sex education is hotly debated, I can anecdotally share that not having males around helped me to feel comfortable raising my hand to answer more questions. It helped me not to feel self-conscious about what would otherwise be deemed “silly” teen interests, like One Direction. And, later, it helped me approach my potential date with confidence when asking that dreaded teenage question, “Will you go to prom with me?” (by nature of this being an all-girls school, all dances were girl-asks-guy!)
Even though I didn’t go to an all-girls college, the benefits of my high school experience stayed with me then and to this day. Being among other women gave me a sense of support and sisterhood and helped me go out into the world feeling secure in my identity.
Later, as a sophomore in college, I went through sorority recruitment at my university. When active members asked me why I wanted to join a sorority, I truthfully answered, “I miss having a community of women who are like sisters.” Once I joined my sorority, I quickly met some of the most important women in my life. Sure, I had my co-ed theater groups and coworkers, but the college relationships that have translated best into “real life”? The women with whom I shared insecurities; late night talks about faith, the future, and families; and many beautiful memories.
There’s a beautiful and intimate quality of female relationships that’s hard to replicate. Magnify that by two, three, or more women? A group of women is a powerful entity and a special place.
Where can we find them?
Last year Forbes asked, “Do Women-Only Spaces Still Matter?” In my opinion, the answer is a resounding “yes”! Even if you’re out of college and can’t join a sorority, there are plenty of opportunities to find these women-only spaces. If you work in an office, start there. Is there any type of employee resource group for women? If not, start one, or at least begin the conversation. Having a group of similarly-minded career women is a fantastic resource not only for networking, but working through the shared experience of being an employee at your workplace.
Looking for something outside of work hours? Try a book club, if you’re not already part of one. Good at a craft or want to get better? See if you can find a community of equally talented women—local libraries and coffee shops (especially the bulletin boards) are good places to start, or take your search online. For the urbanite, women-only clubs in major cities are becoming more common—read more about some of the interesting groups here. If primarily-social groups aren’t your thing, look into women’s philanthropic or volunteering groups.
A women-only space doesn’t need to be a formal group who gets together for a specific reason. Close to your childhood friends? Set a recurring time to talk each month, and create different discussion themes or questions: your most embarrassing middle school moment, for example, or your best (or worst) high school fashion fad. As long as you’re creating a space with intention, the rest will follow.
Near, far, wherever you are
While I’ve been separated from many of the special women in my life recently due to quarantine, I’m even more grateful for the groups that have shaped me and even prepared me to handle this time with grace. My adolescent dance friends are in the back of my head reminding me to stretch before I do my online workouts; my sorority sisters are crafting with me as I complete after-work craft projects on my little Chicago back porch; and my girlfriends from my weekly church women’s group are with me in prayer each day. Whether or not we’re still in contact, these women have made me who I am—and I have the beauty of our all-female spaces to thank for that.