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We were talking about everything under the sun as friends do when we haven’t talked in a while.  Her conservative views come across casually, and I appreciate her voice:  it helps keep me balanced. I was surprised when she said she thought of joining the Women’s March on Washington back in January, but in the end, she decided against it. She couldn’t see herself marching with a bunch of women who are showing solidarity one day then stabbing her in the back the next.  I hurt so much for her when she said that because I know where it came from.

Her mother threw my friend out of the house when she was a mid-teen. Her mother had been divorced for some time, and her religious views bordered on delusions and aberrant behavior.  My friend figured out how to survive, bouncing from house to house, only wanting to finish high school and move on with her life.  She had no rock, no foundation to stand steady on, only the one she made for herself.  She graduated high school. Went to college, earned her degree, got a job. She’s worked shit jobs just to make ends barely meet, lacking health insurance that she needed and dealt with things few of us ever encounter. She walked and hiked and cross-country skied taking photos, had good times with friends along the way.  She figured out how to survive and remain creative. Her life is better now by her own hand, and I’m so relieved that she has some relief.  She worked for everything she has instead of lying down and blaming the world. She never cried herself “victim” of a bad childhood, the economy, or sucky boyfriends. I am proud of her, and I wish more women could use her story as a lantern, a way to keep going.

But for all that, my friend is still woman-wounded. The first wound hasn’t healed. It’s hard to trust womankind when your first woman emotionally abuses you and throws you away.  She and I have stories in common of women who put up roadblocks or planted landmines on the job. Yeah, men do it too, and it all seems to come down to survival of the fittest.  I’ll not help you succeed (by answering a simple question) because your success will drown my own. Women have exchanged clans for cubicles, and it has to stop.  I’d like to see women help each other instead of grabbing for some dusty, low-hanging, genetic fruit, hoping to poison the other.

Perhaps you’ve heard the saying that “nurses eat their young?”  We worked with a woman who changed careers from a desk job to pediatric nursing, and oh, we have no doubt she’s going to bully everything in her path. It is her nature.  Some say bullying new nurses girds them for the oncoming stress of the job, but I ask, is cruelty the only way to teach competence and confidence?  Is bullying your child the best way to raise her, just as bullying a classmate will make her more socially viable? Do we secretly hope if they off themselves, we won’t have to carry their sorry asses anymore?  Is the risk of self-pride, self-sustenance, and the clan so great that a woman can’t stand up for another?  Are we certain that kindness and compassion will raise a society of black holes that destroy with no hope of a return?

How about all those times we used subtle words and gestures to hold a woman down, things like he’s not good enough for you (but he is for me), or that job’s out of your league (but not for me). How many times did we choose not to celebrate a woman’s success either in person or social media because it somehow dampens our own light? Are we that fragile?  Apparently so. Where are the stories of women who find ways to shed their fragile shields, allow themselves to receive a kind word without fear of retribution, allow themselves to give to another without fear of the knife?

Madeleine Albright suggests there is a special place in hell for women who do not help each other.  I don’t believe in hell, specifically, but I see the ashy pit that remains of our behavior. Ancestral knives in the back are hard to shake off, a broken trust that reverberates through centuries.  And here is my friend taking care of her ailing mother today.