How I (re)discovered the joy of female company

Female company is a beautiful thing, because women make communities. It took me 40 years to discover this; in this post I show you how it happened.
Essay

Female company is a beautiful thing, because women make communities. It took me 40 years to discover this; in this post I show you how it happened.

For most of my life I’ve found your average woman to annoy the shit out of me.

She has no hobbies, really, except for television and shopping. Maybe food, at a stretch.

She will go to business and networking events and talk about her children and family, and not strive to make her time valuable in a business sense. And at these events, she wears some variety of smart casual and talks to women rather than men.

She goes to women-only events, rather than striving to make her place in the Real World.

She moans about not getting paid the same amount as everyone else, spends an inordinate amount of time gossiping with people at work instead of actually working, and hasn’t got a critical thinking bone in her body.

And if she’s a feminist, she’ll champion obesity as if it’s a good thing; exclude men in the misguided belief that this is what feminism is, and believe that she ought to have more rights than anyone else.

This might sound very fucking harsh to you, but this is my direct experience of the world. I came to the city from a country town or two, into a university experience in which women wanted (and got) everything for free and men were shoved into a corner and put down by the entire culture.

I haven’t had any time for whiny women.

One day, when I was about 28, my mum asked me:

‘Leticia, is there a glass ceiling do you think?’

‘No,’ I laughed. ‘Glass ceilings exist because women expect them to exist. They won’t learn negotiation skills, won’t advocate for themselves, and prefer to whine that they’re not paid enough. I’ve never encountered one.’

Mum was surprised at my response. I think she preferred to think that there was one.

Because I have a take-no-prisoners kind of attitude—and, I ought to qualify, always have had—I’ve preferred to have no friends than to have normie friends. Every time someone says, I wish I could [do thing], my standard response, since I was five years old, has been, So why don’t you?

There is no point wishing when you could just take action to make it a reality.

What I learned very quickly was that most people idly say they wish they could do stuff, but they don’t actually want to. I found myself offering suggestions, thinking I was being helpful. But all that did was force the other party to squirm in discomfort and admit that they don’t actually want to change anything.

Therein lies the rub.

You won’t be able to do anything different, unless you do different things.

I believe that this is entirely why so many people end up in extreme circumstances, through illness, which forces them into circumstances in which they face what their hearts have been telling them for decades. My mum is a great example: She’s wanted to paint, since I was five. She never did until she had a stroke and was unable to work: Radical change after the event. I’ve got a friend who had cancer and only radically changed her life after the event. Examples abound; I’m sure you can think of one of them.

This is a long way around the issue that my experience of Your Average Woman has been (a) hobbyless, (b) disinterested in anything but herself, (c) wanting things for free, (d) seeing movements of equality as movements of domination, (e) won’t do anything to change her life in a meaningful way, (f) preferring to hang out in revolting single-sex clusters than function in a real society, (g) preferring to bitch about not being paid instead of learning the art of negotiation.

So I never bothered attempted to make friends with them.

They all seemed like idiots, to be honest. Intelligent conversation, of the kind that men offer up all the time, was actually rare.

My friendship circle became mostly men. Not surprising, right?

But then two things happened.

One was that I married a fella who was in bands with really cool people. More than this, those cool people were in relationships with really cool chicks.

One was that I started going to sewing classes.

On the being-a-missus-to-a-band thing, there’s one thing all band wives know. It’s that you can’t rely on other band wives to be cool people; most of the time, they’re not. In my case, I fell into a family that was fantastic. The band wives became fast friends, and this persists even as the bands themselves slowed down. The Imminent Psychosis family really is a family. Even though we come together mainly because of music, I’ve learned to accept each of their foibles, from the very stupid to the very insightful.

Being part of a small cluster of tight-knit friends has been a game-changer, because it’s the kind of friendship circle I haven’t experienced since high school.

Then, I started sewing classes.

To get a different outcome, do different things, right?

The context for this is that I have always wished that I was a better, more patient seamstress. You know, the kind who could turn out clothes that actually fit. The type who knows how to adjust patterns on the fly, fit them properly, and finish seams so they look lovely. As opposed to… adequate.

Now, even though these sewing classes are open to everyone, everyone who turns up is a woman. They range in age from 84 to 21. People arrive who have been sewing for their entire lives, and people who don’t know how to thread a machine.

I discovered that there’s something magical about spending one night each week, in the company of women, making stuff.

It isn’t just about sharing knowledge.

It is sharing a joy in doing this thing that is now considered more of a luxury than a necessity. It’s about sharing creative ideas, the woes when things go wrong, and the joys when things go right.

It’s also one of the calmest three-hour blocks in my life.

Traditionally, sewing has been a source of frustration for me. I don’t know why: Things would go wrong and I’d blame myself, perhaps. But in this little cluster of women, each making different things, errors are par for the course. If you screw up a seam and have to unpick it, no big deal. If you’re making a complex garment with many pieces, and you have to try five different ways of getting it to work, that is also no big deal.

What I’ve learned isn’t just patience.

It’s being one with the process.

And because it is all just women, there is a special kind of attitude where it’s ok to discuss everything from painting your bathroom to birthing a child.

Every aspect of womanhood is celebrated; helped along by a midwife in the group whose perspective on life is generally joyous. Occasionally she is not present because she’s off delivering babies. One week she rang halfway through the evening, and the teacher relayed to us that she’d just caught a baby, so there was an even larger group celebrating this most amazing evening.

Interestingly, my mother-in-law discovered the same kinds of things in her own crafty ventures.

We had a discussion about all of the foregoing, and she admitted to me that she’s appreciated female company more and more as she ages. She said to me that there is something really special about a group of women who get together to do something, that the energy is important and valuable, that the sense of community is something that you don’t get anywhere else.

And this is exactly the aspect of female company that I had not seen, had not been part of, had not appreciated, for much of my 20s and 30s:

It’s the female energy that you only experience as a woman, creating things with other women.

Creating things is what women do.

Frankly, it’s why we’re alive.

One of the most significant benefits, I’ve found—besides the stress reduction in my life—is a type of intense joy in community.

You have community when you’re a kid in Scouts or Brownies. You have community as a teenager when you’re with people you vibe with, from music to sports. But if you leave your community and go elsewhere once you “grow up”, unless you have an interest or a faith you lose that community part of your life. You become an employee, a hustler, a person who works and parties but who doesn’t share a purpose in life beyond work and socialising.

In other words, you stop being communal.

Bringing community back isn’t just about having a bunch of friends to talk to every day, or every few days. It’s also not about being social.

Community is about shared purpose.

For me, rediscovering female company in the form of a calm, focused sewing group has been an experience that I can only equate to lived meditation. Unlike the tight-knit dancing community of which I am a part, the sewing community is working to make things, to learn things, to craft objects, to share perspectives, knowledge, and ideas.

It’s become a whole-of-person activity. Instead of a singular activity. The outcome is that I feel nourished as a person.

When I first attended one of the classes, the teacher told me that women have been sewing with them for years and years.

Now I know why.

Now I know why, before ‘career woman is best’ mentalities, women had sewing groups, crafting groups, volunteering projects. I know why they were so happy to be involved in these activities that have a shared purpose.

It struck me in my class last week that it is something I am really going to miss when I take a break, when my own bub comes along. They will celebrate with me, for sure. And I will be champing at the bit to go back.

In writing this, I’ve been pondering what is the lesson for you, if you are a female reading this epic, rambling thinkpiece. Part of me thinks that there is something I ought to educate you about, teach you about.

But I’m not going to.

What I am going to do instead is to ask you, if you have a community that makes you feel nourished as a whole person, to leave a comment and share your experiences, how you found it originally, and what it is that keeps you doing it. And, critically, whether it’s shifted your perspective about women.

Because I’ll tell you something. Since I’ve been part of a handful of strong friendships with ladies, and have been involved in a female community with shared purpose, I appreciate femaleness (and being female!) in a wildly different way.

The appreciation is for not just being female, and the beautiful energy that focused women bring to a task. It’s for an entire side of femaledom that those of us born in the 70s and 80s were told is wrong. That having a career is more fulfilling than having kids; that doing Female Things is old fashioned; that taking pride in your home life and ability to make things is Old Hat.

Of course, the trouble is that this view is now considered conservative and regressive, when in fact what I’m learning is that the opposite is true.

Women make communities.

Because women making things together is a truly communal experience, with different energy, different ways of sharing knowledge, and a willingness to help. It’s enlivening, invigorating, and blissful to be part of this kind of rediscovery and reawakening.

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