Let’s have some ‘real talk.’
This world does not want women and femmes to support one another. Growing up, we’re told that we should all be in constant competition. We’re told that our main goal is to gain the affection of a mate and that every other woman is a threat to that goal. It’s repeated back to us in media, the glorification of ‘cat fights’ and fed to us by the beauty industry, so we are always in search of the next product to ‘one-up’ our friends.
I don’t know about you, but I am done with the idea that other women and femmes are a threat to my worthiness.
Supporting women is not just a mantra on a t-shirt. Surrounding yourself with an empowered, diverse group of friends can actually have a surprisingly large amount of health benefits.
You’ve probably heard of the ‘fight or flight’ response. It’s the idea that when we’re in a stressful situation, our body either wants to fight or flee but, in the year 2000, a study was conducted on the stress responses on cisgender women and they found that they didn’t respond to stress in the same way cis males do. They have a stress response coined as the ‘tend and befriend’ response.
The ‘tend and befriend’ response posits that when women are under stress their method of stress release is to nurture and to seek out social support & attention. When women ‘tend and befriend’ oxytocin is released in their bodies which releases the stressful feelings they were having.
The theory of why this occurs is that if a human is pregnant, they have a much harder time avoiding prey and dangerous situations, so creating allies and ensuring the safety of their offspring, may save them from undesirable situations.
How it affects us now, is that it’s much easier to destress by spending more time with our friends socializing and nurturing one another. Even though we may feel like we want to shut everyone out during particularly stressful times, this isn’t, biologically, the best course of action.
Turns out, you have a good reason to drop your responsibilities for a bit and go spend some time with your people!
Most of these studies are very binary and were conducted on cisgender men and women. That doesn’t mean that the results were binary. Though the ‘tend & befriend’ response generally effects cis women and the ‘fight or flight’ response generally effects cis men, this can vary from person to person.
Boost Immune System
Weirdly enough, creating a community with women & femmes can actually improve your physical health.
Scientists believe that the ‘tend and befriend’ stress response could be the reason that women generally live longer than men. The ‘fight or flight’ response puts the body in a heightened physiological state that can wreak havoc on the immune system.
There are other benefits as well. Women with large friend groups are also less likely to have as many physical ailments as they age, they live 22% longer than those who are more isolated and they have a significantly lowered mortality rate from breast cancer.
Creating and maintaining our social connections is just as important for our physical health as regular exercise!
Women tend to be better at sharing their emotions with one another. I suspect this is more because of social conditioning than a biological predisposition, but the fact remains that those who identify as female have an easier time opening up than those who identify as male.
This can be very therapeutic and help us work through issues as they come up in a timely fashion, giving us more confidence that we have the tools to solve our own problems.
A study done at Sonoma State, in 2013, also found that creating friendships with a group of other women (especially a racial, financial and age diverse group of friends) could help your self-esteem and create more confidence. You’re also less likely to feel envy, superiority and to compare your physical appearance to others.
Like you needed another reason to make new friends!
Knowing that our bodies are wired to need connection with our community, allows us to take better care of ourselves. Instead of locking yourself away to deal with your stress, start reaching out and asking for help when you need it. We are here to support one another, it’s just an added bonus that it also helps us live healthier, happier and longer lives.
Jennifer Doan is a sex educator, coach and the host of the podcast Taking Back Slut. Jennifer is committed to helping people connect to their sexual power in a way that feels safe and comfortable to them. Connect with her on Instagram @jenn_doan for sex rants and unapologetic nudes.