It has taken me 32 years to fully enjoy the friendship of women and all it took was a few Sun Salutations once a week. What started as a once-a-week vinyasa yoga class with some girlfriends has turned into a fantastic support system and a place to seek professional advice, personal encouragement, and some of the loudest, most unabashed genuine laughs of my life.
Like an unsurprisingly large majority of girls, young women and not-so-young women, somewhere along the line I learned that other females were the enemy and I had to be better than them. Of course, some of this desire is rooted in our biology and the primal urge to survive and evolve, but as a gender we’ve become more cutting and bitchy as the stakes have lowered. I don’t even remember the last time I had to gather resources to ensure my genetic success.
More than biology though, society makes it hard for young women to become true and trusting friends. There is always a feeling of “not enough”, not enough confidence in one’s self, not enough attention from boys, not enough room at the top, not enough popularity, not enough acceptance, not enough success to go around. Subtly and consistently, women learn it’s a jungle out there and you are always in competition with one another.
Writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie covers this aspect of misguided competition elegantly in her TED talk “We Should All Be Feminist.” Instead of using competition to drive us to accomplish more and to better ourselves, we see it as a way to vanquish one another for no gain, other than making someone feel less than you.
Well into my 20s, I was a “I just get along better with guys” girl and a “I hate gender-specific get-togethers” person as a way to avoid being thought of a so-called stereotypical female (ditzy, prissy and dumb). The stereotype of a “girls’ night” always included lonely and single empty-headed women dishing about men, misadventures with men, lamentations over idiot men “who didn’t deserve you anyways”, pitiful pining over men out of their league – and chocolate martinis, a must. This was reinforced everywhere from pop culture to my “nice” male friends, so who even want female friends?
This systematic pressure makes women alienate and distrust each other instead of banning together, becoming stronger and embracing the possibilities of achieving greater things together.
The undoing of this toxic and standardized thinking came simply enough: an invite to a yoga class and dinner afterwards from a female friend. Then we planned to do yoga and dinner again the next week, and again the next, and so on.
Along the way, other friends were invited and joined us for our weekly “girls’ night” and before I new it we had a Yoga Coven. For those unfamiliar with the term, a coven is a group of individuals – who may or may not be magical witches – pooling their resources and power together, supporting one another and becoming stronger, and possibly more magical.
This group has since become much more than Downward Dogs and Chaturangas. Between our weekly yoga and dinner sessions, we’ve attended each other’s weddings, we’ve spent major holidays together, we’ve supported each other during family issues.
The Yoga Coven is often the first to hear about big life changes such as new jobs or promotions, and sometimes members are the ones who passed on the tip that lead to the big life change. We bounce all kinds of ideas off each other from “Should I cut a fringe?” to “Did I suffer a sexist micro-aggression today in the office?” And many times, we just share memes or pictures of cute animals from the Internet.
It’s all of these moments woven together that have made me a better and happier woman.
Christi Hang is an editor and writer based in Jakarta. When she's not working, she's trying to read more, eat more, explore more and hang out with her friends more.