Hegebrook Sisterhood

By Allison Green

Categories: Alum Experiences, General, Women's Voices,

I don’t believe in sisterhood.

I came out into a lesbian-feminist community in the mid-1980s that was split between women who thought us purer, lovelier, and in all ways superior to men and those who wanted to claim a fuller humanity, including the potato-bug undersides of our psyches, like our racism, our capacity for violence, our complicity. Enumerate the seven deadly sins, and I’ve sinned them, even against my sisters.

When I was at Hedgebrook, one woman was completing a long stay. Envious that my circumstances had afforded me less time, I snuck into her cottage the night she left while it was still empty. I wanted to see how she’d lived. Turns out she had stolen the vases from all the other cottages and raided the garden to fill them.

Back in Willow, I felt no shame for spying. No, I was satisfied: my petty envy was matched by her petty thievery. We were even.

I write this on the last day of a residency unaffiliated with Hedgebrook, one on another island in another cottage as beautiful, in its way, as my beloved Willow. And although I am grateful for this opportunity of time and solitude, I am also conscious of how different the experience is from the one at Hedgebrook. There is no farmhouse table at the end of each day. There is no opportunity, after blaming chef Jess for our gluttony, to share what we’ve written, give feedback, commiserate. Here I have talked to no one except in greeting since I arrived. I’ve been alone in my joy and in my inevitable anguish, when the words haven’t come. I realize now how grounding those evening meals at Hedgebrook were, how necessary. They helped me return to the page each day.

The farmhouse conversations continued after I left Whidbey Island. I shared in the successes of women who sat at the table with me: one published a young adult novel; another recently received an NEA fellowship. My writing group emerged from an alumnae gathering, and it has been a crucial source of support and criticism for a number of years. Now, as a member of the Seattle Alumnae Leadership Council, I have had the opportunity to talk with dozens of fascinating women, all of whom share an understanding: this work is hard, but we have to do it.

Although I don’t believe in sisterhood, I know that gender has played a role in these interactions. In her studies of gender and communication, Deborah Tannen has found that in public conversations men tend to dominate, but in those considered more intimate and personal – at the dinner table, for example – women talk more. Consider, then, the magic of Hedgebrook: the public space is the dinner table. That dichotomy of public vs. private space that sometimes freezes women’s tongues just doesn’t exist in the farmhouse. What results is a lively community of writers – not more generous than men, not kinder, sweeter, better – but freed from narrow expectations of gender to reach the fullest potential of our work.

Of course, the sisterhood I don’t believe in is the Hollywood version, the doilied and dolled up version. But I do, after all, believe in the Hedgebrook sisterhood. It mirrors back to me the writer I truly am: both envious and admiring, despairing and joyful, petty and generous. It frees me to be fully myself.

No Comments

Leave a Comment