Sunday, October 28, 2007

Women, Stress, and Community

When I searched for a great picture to include with this article on women, stress, and community, the first two pictures I found of people talking over a fence were of two men, and the drawings were called "Neighbors talking over fence" and "Neighbors Helping Neighbors."

That was cool, but of the first twenty – yes, Twenty!! – pictures I found of women talking over a fence, all but one included the word "gossip." Thank goodness I found two great photos.

It's rather disappointing to see that the ole' double standard is still so actively alive and kicking. But, it sure proves my point: so many people mock the stereotypical 'women gossiping over the fence' that they don't realize just what it really meant and just how much emotional and moral support women really lost when the back-fence network disappeared from women's lives and lifestyles.

From the medieval blacksmith shop to the modern boardroom, a man's community has always been his work. That, and the pub or bar, is where men socialize, bond, discuss problems and solutions, all with the backdrop of the competitive male spirit. That is perfect for men; it's exactly the type of community-building socialization they need.

Before the advent of clothes dryers that allow a woman to complete all her laundry tasks indoors, and mega-grocery stores on every corner, and day-care, a woman built that same type of community over the back fence with her neighbors while she was outside hanging laundry, gardening, or tending her young children at play.

Far from being gossip sessions, these back-fence connections were community-building support networks. They offered everything from medical advice to parenting advice to marriage counseling to grief counseling; a hand to hold, a shoulder to cry on, and someone to watch your kids in an emergency. And, it was all reciprocal; you were there for your neighbors as much as they were there for you.

No wonder so many women are depressed and stressed out today. Their entire support network has been abolished in one generation, replaced by the clothes dryer and the grocery store. Now women can go out into the world and be productive while they socialize just like men! However, for women, the office or pub environment is not the same as the back-fence network.

For one thing, no matter how friendly she is with co-workers, the job site is a competitive environment, not nurturing. It isn't supposed to be nurturing, but lack of the right kind of social network leaves a very big hole in a woman's life. She can't go down to the pub and find the support network for the type of bonding women need, nor can she find there the opportunity to "tend and befriend" that women need when stressed. (See my previous article "Being With Friends Helps Keep You Healthy")

Today, experts talk about our men being sensitive and supportive, expecting them to fill the gap that most women don't even know has opened. But, let's face it, for the most part, all that tending and befriending is just not in the male nature. That's probably a good thing, otherwise all that predatory hunting in the jungle (urban or otherwise) would be tough on the male soul.

No doubt it's stressful for men when women try to stuff them into the costume of the grandmotherly or motherly neighbor. It just doesn’t fit….rarely can you replace the back-fence network with your Significant Other no matter how great he is.

To compensate, women have tried to replace this social network with fitness classes, book clubs, and volunteer work, among other things. While all that is great for the body, mind, and soul, it doesn't fulfill the need for the back-fence network. For one thing, most of those activities are specific to only one area of life, they aren't opportunities for the same sort of spontaneous conversation a woman can have in the safety of her own back yard.

There are some places where back-fence network is still healthy. My present neighborhood happens to be one of them for which I'm very thankful.

If the health of the back-fence network is at risk in your area, do something to save it! Find a way – any way you can – to get the ladies in your neighborhood together. Please don't think this is silly or frivolous. It isn't any more silly or frivolous than men's Power Lunches or Poker Night. You owe it to your health and your sanity to keep this women's community tradition alive.

Schedule a get-together for the ladies on your floor or in your apartment building or in your neighborhood once a month. Invite everyone regardless of age or social status. A community should be diverse. (I held a retreat at my home a week ago and invited women from all walks of life. The age range was 30 to 75. It was fantastic….everyone found some way to connect with everyone else, and that is what it is all about!)

If an invited lady consistently doesn't show up, don't assume she isn't interested. She may be shy, or nervous, or feel unwanted. Don't let anyone feel unwanted…..that is not what the back-fence network is about. It's about support and connection and community.

Whether your back fence is real or metaphorical, if you take the time to build the back-fence network in your community, it will reward you a hundred times over, more than any job or class or meeting ever could.

Good luck, and let me know how it goes!


Veggies.... said...

What a great post M!!! I remember vividly my mom, chatting over the fence when I was a kid, sharing the neighbourhood news etc....NOT gossiping, my mom was not that kind of person.

Sad to say, Ive worked in too many offices etc, where gossip and backstabbing was the order of the day. I was never a participant, didn't understand why adults would get their kicks, picking on someone else. Nowadays, its called harassment and hopefully, it will be better contained/alleviated as time goes by.

People need to find ways to reconnect again, so true. Thanks for another insightful post. G

Geraldine said...

PS I dont have an MP3 player (the only person on the planet!!) do you have the CD for the Guided Sleep Meditation? Id love to get a copy if you do.

Michelle said...

Hi G,

Yup...I remember my mother and grandmother as well, chatting over the fence about herbs, and exchanging home-made goodies, and just being supportive friends, not gossiping about others.

To me, it's important to recognize that women socialize, connect, and network differently than men.

When we try to connect in ways that aren't natural for us, we end up with what we have now...a lot of women stressed and depressed with no end in sight.

For our health and wellbeing, we need to allow those connections and networks to form in the way that is right and natural for women.

Michelle said...

Hmmm....I tried to reply to these comments in order. Apparently that didn't work.

Anyway...downloading these files is similar to downloading from iTunes.

The MP3 files from Amazon can be played on the computer, they can be copied to an iPod or burned onto a CD. Most CD players can play MP3 format CDs. (Mine is seven years old and it plays MP3s with no problem.) The best thing is the price....the download is only 99 cents.

However, if a CD is really better, below is a link my Amazon store. The CD containing the "Guided Meditation for Sleep" is in on the Meditation page, the third row, middle column. You do get two meditations on the CD for $16.98

(I tried to enter a link directly to the Meditation page, but the link was too long and got cut-off…sorry.)