You’re Not My Sister, Sister

20523 - The Dolly SistersReaders, I have a sister. She’s sixteen, snarky as hell, and utterly delightful. Henrietta is excellent at Harry Potter trivia and understands the vital importance of pretty tea cups. I wouldn’t trade her for all the Turkish delight in Harrod’s! While that may not seem like a meaningful sacrifice, the lemon variety should really be renamed Gelatinous Grace Crack. Having a lifetime supply of it on hand is one of my fondest dreams. Moral: Wee sister, I love you.

What I don’t love is when the world throws around the word sister like it’s just another noun. As soon as a group of women is put together, we’re encouraged to call ourselves a sisterhood. Last year, I was lucky enough to final in one of the most prestigious writing contests in my genre. Not only was it a huge resume bonus, but it put me in contact with a group of extraordinary women: smart, helpful, and imminently talented down to a one. However, within a week, I started getting twitchy.

“We’re sisters,” they declared!

“I didn’t know you last Tuesday!” I thought, but wisely did not point out. (It’s mind-boggling, I know, but away from this blog I’m praised for my tact. Crazy, no?)

It wasn’t that I didn’t like them or that they weren’t lovely women, it’s just…I have a sister. Not only have I known her for sixteen years, but we’ve been through a lot together. We’ve cried through movies (Well, I’ve cried. She’s pointed and laughed at me.), I’ve given her countless Talks-with-a-capital-T, and we have both endured the embarrassment that is our father talking to strangers on vacation. Kittens, I changed her poop-filled diapers. There aren’t many people I’d still love, after their feces wound up under my fingernails. Sisterhood is a big damned deal. It takes love and trust and time.  It doesn’t magically happen, just because two people have vaginas.

Sometimes, if she is truly lucky, a woman will have friends who become like sisters. It’s imminently possible. In my experience, however, these are rare and precious relationships. In my life, I have two: Kate and Mae.  They are the women I’d help creatively dispose of a body (The swamp! The answer is always the swamp!) and whom I’ve called for every dilemma, from dating problems to the breed-appropriate naming of small dogs. They are also the ones who will stand up next to me, as my maid and matron of honor, when I marry Professor McGregor later this year. Pardon the cheese, but they are the sisters of my fucking heart. I love them and I wouldn’t be who I am without them. They’re family.

Maybe I’m too reserved with my emotions.  It’s possible, perhaps, that I’m a stone cold ice queen who needs to work on letting people in. Honestly, though, I don’t think so. I think that people are entirely too cavalier about relationships, in general. If someone is your sister, you take a bullet for them. Telling someone they’re like family comes with a vow: If it ever comes down to it, I will change your diapers. That’s, pun unintentional-but-hilarious, some heavy shit. I love meeting new people and try to always ease life for those around me, but sister is reserved language.

Matching reproductive organs don’t make us family. Common experience doesn’t make us family. I believe in supporting other women, as a rule, but The Sisterhood makes me uneasy. I am a feminist. I am a citizen of the world. I am not, however, a sister to all.

Unless, of course, you have a pair of magic traveling pants. If that’s the case, welcome to the family, home slice.

– Grace


18 thoughts on “You’re Not My Sister, Sister

  1. Grace, I’ve always been squeamish about the use of the word “sisterhood”. When I moved to Canberra, I joined a MeetUp group called “The Sisterhood” (which has since been renamed). I joined this group because it was all female members and had a lot of members which meant that when I attended any meetups I would meet lots of people. The founder of this group calls everyone “sisters” which is all very sweet, but yeah, I do agree with you. I have one real sister and a couple of honorary sisters who I would do anything for. Sure, these other women (some of them) are just lovely, but they are not my sisters.

    • I’m so relieved not to be the only one uneasy with the use of this word, Yvette! I think it’s so important to be friends with and support other women, but sister is sacred to me. Not to be used for such a large group!

  2. What a lovely little bubble you live in! I bet Daddy called you Princess and didn’t hurt you. Lucky you are blessed in the world and your sorority was justified in keeping out the lonely ones. Float on precious one! Because, when the storm comes and your wings get damaged, your grief and confusion may beg for compassion, then you will know that sisterhood is not back and white, and you are not Lord of It -compassion is when sisterhood means, I will be with you as you weather the world, dear fellow human

    • Sadly, I cannot say any of that is true. I love my father, but I’ve never been a princess. I don’t talk about it on this blog, but I was the victim of abuse as a teenager. Sororities and their use of automatic “sisterhood” have always rubbed me the wrong way.

      It’s not that I don’t believe in compassion or helping other women, as the exact opposite is true. It’s actually what I’ve been studying for over a decade to do with my life. However, I do believe in precision of language. I also believe in holding some things sacred. My family, my sister, and my dearest friends are one of those things, precisely because the world is so damned rough.

      • The comment above was really uncalled for! I was never called a princess and was abused too. And while I am a huge supporter of women and feminism, I don’t adhere to the whole sisterhood either. I have a sister and my best friend that I have known for 20 years. They are my sisters.
        I also have friends, acquaintances and women I share experiences and a bond with.
        As you said, having a vagina doesn’t make you family

  3. Interesting. I tend to strive for accuracy in language, so I don’t this myself (although I do have dozens of non-blood “aunties,”) but it has never really bothered me when women do. (Besides a knee-jerk “Whoa! Too much, too fast” kind of reaction.) I wonder if the difference is whether one actually has a sister or not? Like maybe there are all these sister-less women out there who wish they had a sister very much and so co-opt them to fill a hole. I’m sure it’s not their goal to be presumptuous.

    Somewhat related, back when I was getting married and reading lots of marriage-y things on the internet, I read this conversation about whether to call your new in-laws mom and dad. I tend to find that really weird, so never would do it anyway, but one person argued against it saying that she had done that and it was fine until her parents died, and then it felt wrong and disrespectful of her relationship with her actual parents. I think that might be a similar thing to what you’re saying here.

  4. I tend to feel the same way in that my sister is my sister, and other women don’t qualify for that special relationship just because we share a gender. It’s like the same way I can get funny about people whom I don’t know very well calling me ‘friend’. It’s not that I think they’re horrible people, or that the possibility isn’t there, but rather, generally speaking, I like to take my time and get to know people. I am lucky that I have a few friends – but there aren’t many that I would call close friends (or ‘proper’ friends) and even less that I feel so close to that we are like sisters. And maybe that’s because my sister is one of my best friends.

  5. Hmmm, I understand where you are coming from but I can’t say that I feel the same way. For one, I have a sister and, suffice it to say, we don’t get along too well. Or, as I like to put it, if she wasn’t family she sure wouldn’t be a friend. The other thing is that I am German, and over there, every nurse is called Schwester (I suppose that’s a relic from the times when nursing people was mainly done in convents). We also don’t tend to overuse the word in the context of “comrade of the female persuasion”, so altogether I guess I have to be grateful for one less thing to be pissed off about – there are far too many around as it is 😉

  6. This is a really interesting perspective, and I admit that it’s one I never thought of before now. I don’t have a sister, but I always wanted to be part of some sisterhood-esque thing (I believe that’s the technical term, yes?) — so, I have a small handful of what I think of as honorary sisters. My best friend, for example, has been my best friend since we were six years old and will definitely be known to my children as their aunt. That said, though, I can see how the whole “too much, too soon” thing would be unnerving in this context! I think it sounds analogous to one-on-one interactions where someone unilaterally declares you their bestie after knowing you for 48 hours, in which case…queue tremendously awkward silence and discomfort.

    Also, I don’t know what crawled up Hepzibah’s ass and died, but…holy wildly inappropriate — and totally out of context, thus necessitating serious mental gymnastics on their part — Batman. (I checked their Word Press profile, and it goes to a domain listed as wtf-world. I’d say that lends some insight into his/her approach to life.) Mad props to you for a) leaving it up, and b) responding rationally. You’re an admirable woman, Grace.

  7. I have a younger sister who is annoying as the records often played on the radio during Sundays are but I love her. I chose to move so I could be closer to her, so we could spend more time together even if that meant overspending on books and movie/concert tickets. We’ve been through a lot so I don’t take calling another my ‘sister’ lightly.

    I get what you mean and some people were offended I don’t open up to them quickly. It’s a not flaw, maybe a bit strange to a now very open culture but I’d like to keep it that way so when I do call someone my sister, it actually still means something deep and important.

    I absolutely love this entry and I am now a fan of your blog. 🙂

  8. Hello!
    I’m new to wordpress, and I’ve stumbled onto your blog accidentally, but to be honest, I’m glad I did. After reading a few entries, I decided to comment. Ta da!
    I have to agree with your point of view. I have a sister, she’s ten years younger than I am, and a regular pain in my ass… but I wouldn’t trade her for anything. Though that resolve is tested every time she gets her sticky little hands into my makeup. The idea of being declared as someone’s best friend after knowing them for a couple of hours (that happened once) or even a couple of days is disconcerting. Generally I have no problem talking to people, but seriously? I am not your family, I don’t know you. Unfortunately I always get a few weird glances from people when I voice that particular opinion… It’s nice to see someone else say it. Seems I’m not alone after all.

    Have a nice day!

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