Why we need Solidarity

Photo by Markus Spiske auf Unsplash

“One of the most important things is solidarity between women”.

I don’t think there is another sentence that has burned itself into my consciousness more than this call for solidarity during my Bachelor’s degree in European Ethnology. Discussing the effects of capitalism, power imbalance, and gender inequality in everyday life, my professors emphasized the importance of solidarity as a form of empathy, support and awareness of different needs and life situations, to counteract the inequality-creating structures of society. 

Although, due to my scientific focus on gender and sexuality studies, solidarity was in the foreground in the context of “between women” or, in my preferred extension, “between different identities to address inequality”, I crossed the demand for solidarity in many different contexts over the years: During the Corona pandemic,  one way to show solidarity especially towards physically vulnerable people was to wear a mask. In everyday work, solidarity between colleagues and employer should be maintained – or demanded. In the context of gender (in)equality, it became quite clear to me that the need for solidarity is not only rooted in a juxtaposition of male (privileged) versus female (unprivileged), but rather demands an intersecting perspective on inequalities which considers the construction of gender beyond the binary within its intersecting categories such as nationality, sexuality, body, age, class,  religion and skin color.

Since I am doing my PhD and my own research on formal and informal networking practices to counteract gender inequality, I often think about which role “solidarity” between the different networking partners plays.

Networking implies different ways of how people connect with each other and access resources throughout those connections. At the same time, we know from literature that strong networking ties are mostly based on homophile ties, which means that networking choices are based on similarities like gender, interest or needs. Not being able to network based on social categories like gender, sexuality, age and so on leads to less access to resources, power and therefore inequality.

Reflecting on my thoughts on the correlation of solidarity and networking, I am wondering if choosing people to network with, automatically also means showing a form of solidarity towards this person, including all their social categories? On the contrary does not connecting with someone implies not being in solidarity with the other members? If men choose to network more with other men, does that mean they cannot be in solidarity to the women in the network? Are women automatically more solidarity towards each other just because they connect over common issues of gender inequality? 

In a conversation one of the female members of the male dominated network i am collaborating with asks me about the concept of “the queen bee”.  This involves the idea of “the one woman” who has achieved success in a traditionally male-dominated field but does not engage in connecting towards other women to not endanger her own position. She asks me if these “queen bees” are a major obstacle to gender equality, perhaps even greater than the supremacy of male members of the male-dominated work environment. How should I respond to this? How can I express that also women are reproducing inequalities without drawing all the responsibility for gender equality into their corner? Is there solidarity in blaming other women for gender inequality, rather than structural gender stereotypes, discrimination, and sexism that cause inequality? Within this situation I thought back to my professors from university and what they would have answered to a question like this. So I answered her: “One of the most important things in the fight against gender inequality is solidarity between women.”

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