“You are a stranger, and you’re a pal of mine.”
-The Carter Family
In so many contexts of my life, I have come back to this value of participating in communities of women. My mother modeled it for me when I was growing up, in her tight-knit circle of women friends. It has brought so much to her life, as it has to mine. I went to a women’s college. I’ve always had close groups of women friends. I participated in a quilting circle in Virginia (all women) that influenced my perspective about so many things, from feminism to the economy to how to be there for each other to friendship. Before finding bluegrass I searched high and low for women’s harmony that hit the spot. Then bluegrass gave me that in spades. Now I’m very involved in community-building for women in bluegrass via the Handsome Ladies and the local Seattle Ladies Jam.
To be clear, “women’s community” and the word “woman” mean so many different things to different people, which is one of the things I love and value about this family of topics. Everything is a spectrum. I can only speak to my own experience and what I share here is just that. I acknowledge that my perspective is limited as a white cis woman.
Some of the values/beliefs I have about women’s community that I find energizing:
● There is room for all of us.
● Making friends with another woman is my favorite antidote to imposed competition between us.
● I believe women.
● Women are taught from an early age to highly value relationships, but the world often devalues relationships (especially between women). Valuing relationships with other women is subversive and affirming and world-changing.
● “Women” means all women, including trans women and women of color.
● As women we get to create space for each other to tell the truth about our lives.
● On boundaries: We don’t owe it to womankind to sacrifice ourselves for each other, nor would that be helpful.
Here are some of the things relationships with women have brought to my life interpersonally:
● Showing up for each other
● Feeling seen and heard
● Safety to be myself
● Literal safety
I don’t want to act out of alignment in any area of my life. If I value these things and I play music I can’t be the only one, which is somewhat of a guiding principle when I seek out community. If I’m heartbroken, I’m not the first person to feel that way, and look, here’s a heartbreaking bluegrass song I can learn that will remind me that I’m not alone in my experience. If I want women’s bluegrass community, chances are someone else does too. If I write a lyric that is truthful, chances are someone else will be able to connect to it. If we women share our truth, chances are other women will say “me too.”
I started being involved with women in bluegrass because I needed it interpersonally. I needed a refuge, and a supportive place to build my skills. And wow, it helped immensely. It was the balm to my pain. Not to be facile about a complex topic (but I also like that sometimes it feels this simple), I needed my girlfriends. But I also had valued women supporting each other, in a more macro-level idealistic way, for a long time. Actively participating in women’s bluegrass community feels so highly aligned with my values that I can’t believe how lucky I am. It feels like (and often literally is) finding harmonies with someone—there’s nothing like the magic when it clicks into place.
Of course, it doesn’t always feel like magic, nor does it have to. Obviously, relationships are hard work. Sometimes we disagree. Sometimes we’re human and we hurt each other. Sometimes we have different ideas about what it means to support one another, or we simply miss each other. It’s important to acknowledge that all this is an ideal—I want to feel seen and heard and to feel that I belong when I am in whatever community, be it bluegrass or music or a jam or the Handsome Ladies or any other community. That doesn’t mean I always do. I still think it’s worth it. We need each other personally and professionally, and to call that baritone part.