I love holding a book in my hand, feeling the pages, wondering at the covering, flipping back and forth to the author's bio. I love lining my walls with books. Having moved almost every year, I get - to my aching bones - how irrational it is to lug these things around and then spend time filing them back away into bookcases, but they seem to create a sense of home to me.
Living in Western Kenya all of that's gone. There are no real bookstores of note, and we had to leave our book collections at home. Enter the Kindle. Even in remote areas there's often a 3G connection, so all is magically (it's run on magic, right?) at my finger tips.
And this technology has permitted me another great love - the book club! Maybe Oprah has made it now seem lame, but I love book clubs. I love getting together with a bunch of other people to discuss some world we all just stepped into, to see how others experienced it.
|See how happy?!? Well, except for old shifty-eye in the middle. There's one in every group, right?|
So, amid our discussion, after we had all become comfortable with one another, I threw it out there:
"So, I know at least one man who is interested in joining this book club. What do you ladies think? Should we let men in the group?"
The response was immediate and unanimous, a resounding, "No!!"
But I was taken aback and a bit baffled. This was not a timid group of women who are afraid they will be streamrolled or silenced by more forceful men. It was smart and accomplished group who were not easily intimidated by opposite sex. Our small group included a woman who had done relief work in Haiti and Sudan, an oncologist and an epidemiologist with a "trailing spouse."
This was a group of strong women with feminist tendencies and lots of male friends, so why the emphatic insistence on keeping the book club free of penises?
I've thought about this a lot, and I've come to think that it's most likely it's because there's something sacred about the space created by a sisterhood of women which we are so often missing in our modern, meritocratic, "ungendered" world. As much as our spouses are often our best friends, and we mix easily with colleagues and friends of both genders, there's something special about the energy created by a group of women - people who share your experience of walking around on this earth and navigating life as a woman.
In a place like Kenya there is plenty of culturally institutionalized separation of genders. Women spend time cooking and washing clothes together. Women buy and sell vegetables and meet at the market place. Women spend hours chatting while plaiting each other's hair. When I gave birth at a Nairobi hospital there were almost no men, but laboring women leaned on aunts, cousins, sisters and even other laboring women. Here, especially in the rural areas, the rhythm of the day is completely different for women and men.
We in the West might see all of this separateness as enforced and unequal, but it's possible we've overlooked that this separation also ensures a source of comfort, support and solidarity, which American women might be missing out on. Sure, we have the occasional "girls night" out and things like "knitting circles" are gaining in popularity, but we don't have as many regular times in which it's just women gathering in a safe space to talk and be together. Maybe that's why the women in my group were so quick and eager to keep this space a sisterhood.
What do you think? Am I reaching here? Or are we missing something from our past when gender spheres were more separated?