“Already they were conscious that the nature of women’s close friendships would shield them in the weeks to come, and that the men, on the other side of the fort, were often not bound to each other by similar ties. ‘We did not need to “make friends”’ Madeleine would say, ‘we were solidly together already. ‘We were,’ Betty said, ‘a team’.” (Moorehead, 2011)
A blog post has been slowly developing in me over the past several months; thoughts coming together gradually, inspired by both literary and real-life sources. A combination of two literary works in fact, and my own life circumstances in which I have seen friendships blossom and support come from some amazing women in my life. Not that this is an entirely new revelation, but I have recognized just how important women are in each other’s lives and how unique and special women’s relationships are. I’ve always gotten along very well with men; I can easily be ‘one of the guys’ because I have always been a bit of a tomboy, I like to joke with the boys and I’m not generally offended by crude stories. But, the older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve connected with my femininity, and the more my friendships with other women have grown to become an essential and marvelous part of my life. The nature and depth of relationship that women have is unlike a mixed-gender relationship. That’s not to say there isn’t value in friendships with men; indeed I’ve had and have some very close male friends who have contributed great insights, wisdom and companionship, but it is different.
I have reflected, too, on how different a conversation between two women is versus one between men or between a man and woman. The way that my female friends and I interact is centered on open communication, understanding, compassion, emotion. Of course we have fun and joke and converse about unemotional topics, but still we really care about one another. The women I’ve had in my life will go out of their way to assist in tangible and intangible ways when another friend is going through difficult circumstances. They are thoughtful and considerate of what they might do to ease a burden, bring a smile or engage in practical or symbolic acts of kindness. They will go out of their way and even compromise their own comfort in order to comfort another. Perhaps this analysis is biased quite simply by the kind of company I keep, but nonetheless, I think the potential for such relationships is universally existent.
Arguably, being of the same gender would bring about obvious similarities that would create comraderie: analogous challenges, parallel experiences, an understanding of what it means to be a woman. I will contend that the depth of relationship that can form between women goes beyond mere chromosomal structure and the resultant biological or social consequences that follow. Most women have an inborn inclination towards nurturing. Partly a biological imperative of childrearing, this may have been altered over the years as women’s roles in society have changed. However, in my experience, there is an innate empathy that exists and develops inside a woman if she chooses to cherish it.
The excerpt above comes from a wonderful piece of historical non-fiction I’m reading, entitled A Train in Winter and written by Caroline Moorehead. It chronicles the lives and experiences of the women of the French resistance during World War II. The other day, I read the above passage, which quotes imprisoned women resistors in France living under arduous and enfeebling conditions. They endured famine, cold, loneliness, fear, and widowhood. They wondered when their next meal would arrive. And still, these women banded together and loved and cared for one another. Older women acted like mothers to the young girls who had lost theirs. Creative energies continued to flow and the women entertained themselves and the others by putting on dramatic productions. They equitably shared what little food they had, giving more to the women who were weakest. Through onerous times, they grew closer. Each knew that the relationships they developed in prison would be the only source of comfort they would receive for many months.
Thankfully, I’ve never lived through such types of grueling circumstances as this, however some of my family have, as I’ve written about before. I imagine my Granny helping to take care of others in Auschwitz; I do know she made friends there, my other grandmother being one of them. I only wish she were still alive and well so I could ask her about this facet of life in the concentration camps as a woman. Nonetheless, I have been blessed with a few extremely profound friendships with women in my life, where there was mutual understanding, trust, respect, fondness and a desire to care for one another. These trusting relationships have meant outlets for sharing life’s most precious and most troubling situations, and for giving and receiving empathy and sometimes advice of great value. These friendships have proven to be a great source of reciprocal comfort, because knowing that a person is listening without judgement and with compassion, sharing their experiences and providing insights with your best interests at heart is invaluable. Indeed, I have loved a few formidable women with whom I’ve had remarkable friendships. Now more than ever, my life’s door seems to be wide open to new and brilliant relationships, and because of that, I feel very wealthy. I only hope I provide them with the same kind of comfort, joy and companionship they bestow to me.
“But most important of all was the fact that the women, despite differences of age, background, education and wealth, were friends. They had spent the months in Romainville very close together and it was as a train full of friends, who knew each other’s strengths and frailties, who had kept each other company at moments of terrible anguish, and who had fallen into a pattern of looking after each other, that they set out for the unknown.” (Moorehead, 2011)
Moorehead, C. (2011). A train in winter. Vintage Canada: Toronto.