In the intense heat of civil unrest in the 1950’s, jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald, like most of the African American musicians at the time, was facing unprecedented opposition as she struggled to get into the prime music venues. Racial prejudice and the threat of violence had forced well known artists like Ella underground to play dingy nightclubs and small time concert halls away from the dazzling public platforms of her white counterparts.
But in the midst of darkness, Ella’s outstanding talent, passion and soul, had touched the heart of one of the biggest actresses in Hollywood at the time – Marilyn Monroe. Introducing a precious alliance that would change the course of Ella’s future.
Marilyn picked up the phone and made a direct call to Mocambo, one of Hollywood’s hottest music venues – known for entertaining Tinseltown’s crème de la crème. Marilyn cut a deal with the owner with a pledge: if Mocambo would book Ella, Marilyn would sit at the front table every night she performed. Marilyn Monroe was one of the biggest stars in the world. It was a no brainer. The rest is history.
Whenever I think of sisterhood I think of this story.
Being an only child I always secretly envied my peers who had real bonafide sisters. I desperately wanted someone to braid my hair and give boy advice to. I wanted someone to bicker with and complain about and ultimately I craved for the sisterly bond that was on par with the March sisters and Tia and Tamera Mowery.
At one point I’d even fantasised about meeting my twin in a shopping mall – and then I realized that was pretty unlikely and that I had been watching too much Nickelodeon. I gave up trying to convince my parents to adopt long ago and decided to become a nomadic solo warrior. Which meant I climbed a lot of trees and dressed up my dogs to look like medieval people. Don’t ask.
Needless to say I wasn’t sister-less for very long.
The thing is there is a loophole to belonging to sisterhood that does not require any genetic tie whatsoever. It’s not about blood (unless you’re in some freaky witch cult!?). It’s about alliance. It’s about love. It’s about faithfulness. And above all, if we can learn anything from Ella and Marilyn’s friendship, it’s that sisterhood is not a position – but a movement. One that we’ve inherited.
From Sheryl Sandberg getting parking for pregnant Facebook colleagues, to Meryl Streep’s Female Screenwriters Lab. Malala Yousafzai, who’s campaigned for her fellow sister’s right to attend school to Jasvinder Sanghera, who’s charity Karma Nirvana provides a lifeline for her sisters forced into marriage. The glass ceiling is beginning to crack. The media might pit women against each other – Ang and Jen style – but from where I am standing comradeship supersedes competitiveness.
I feel protective about my fellow women. And I have been protected by them.
Is it corny to say my girlfriends just get me? Okay, not all the time. But I’d say a solid 80% of the time.
And when they don’t get me they say: ‘NOOO! You’re thinking too much. Pass me those nibbles.’ I return the favour.
Sisterhood is more than coffee rendezvous, wine parties and luncheons. It’s about about raising your fellow sisters up WHILST enjoying snacks and fine artisan beverages.
They are the people you drink tea with in the garden. They are the ones who answer the phone at 2am when you’re overwhelmed by tragedy. Who pick you up when you’re stranded on the A21. Who saddle up as wing-woman to a dead awful hippy party in the promise of free home brew and a quick emergency exit. The ones with the nerve to call you pathetic when you are sobbing over a man who tried to break you. They are the ones who give you a TEDx style talk on why You’re the Hero of Your Life Movie when feel like giving up. They are the ones that read through your 50 page manuscript and check for spelling mistakes. Who lend you clean underwear when your period catches you off guard. (FFS.) And who let you sleep top and tail in their single bed at their lofty university dorm because you got kicked out of your London flat and had nowhere else to go. They are the ones who have your back and make that phone call – like Marilyn did for Ella that day.
Their example has made me want to be better, work harder, so I can take a hammer to that glass ceiling.
Sisterhood transcends race, colour, experience even family genetics – it’s an alliance of souls that is alive and electric and real. We might be nothing alike but we are bonded. I am so grateful. It would seem that fortune favours the sister-less child after all.
If you enjoyed this post why not check out ‘Feminism in 2016: Where We are and What’s Next?‘