Why Women need a Tribe

By Tanja Taljaard and Azriel Re'Shel on Wednesday March 23rd, 2016

Why women need a tribe

Is Sisterhood the Most Powerful Force for Women's Health?

Female friendships are just a hop to our sisterhood, and sisterhood can be a very powerful force – Jane Fonda

In ancient times women shared a lot more than they do today. They shared care of their babies, gathered food and cooked together. The women and the children shared their lives intimately, and were a source of strength and comfort to each other on a daily basis. Traditions like the Red Tent, where women came together during menstruation to be together, often with synchronised cycles, were a beautiful time for nurturing, sharing women’s business and keeping each other resilient and happy.

Today, women are a lot more isolated in their own homes and lives and more separate from each other. The opportunities for coming together are much more limited and the time spent together in this way greatly reduced. Because of this women miss the beautiful healing and nourishment that comes from being with other.

Alt text hereRed Tent women’s circle

Creating a Cycle of Nourishment

Women are at the centre of family life, the pillars of a family, providing care for children and often the wider community. Other women fill the emotional gaps in the intimate partnerships women have. They strengthen these relationships, as a support and assurance that one person cannot be everything to you. Being with other women helps you to be a better mother, and the moral support, physical, emotional and mental support and stimulation create a beautiful harmonious environment for children to thrive.

Women are natural nurturers and empathic givers. It is vital for them to receive and be nourished as continual giving out ends in depletion, an increasingly common health problem. Women instinctually know how to nourish each other, and just being with each other is restorative.

Alt text hereWomen instinctively know how to nourish each other

The Power of Female Friendship

The true benefits of friendship are immeasurable. Friends make our lives better and studies show that friendship has a bigger impact on our physical and psychological wellbeing than family relationships [1]

Women share a special bond; they bare their souls to each other, support and encourage one another. The author Louise Bernikow said:

Female friendships that work are relationships in which women help each other to belong to themselves.

The power of female friendships has also revealed some of its secrets to science. Researchers have found that the hormone oxytocin is, for women especially, the panacea of friendship and, by extension, health.

Alt text hereWomen share a special bond, they bare their souls to each other

How Friendships reduce Stress

A landmark study has found that women respond to stress differently than men. This fact has significant health implications. When people experience stress, the fight or flight response is triggered and releases hormones such as cortisol. Oxytocin – a hormone studied mainly for its role in childbirth – is another hormone that is secreted by both men and women in response to stress. In women, it buffers the fight or flight response and encourages them to protect and nurture their children and to gather with other women.

Drs Laura Klein and Shelley Taylor refer to it as the “tend and befriend” pattern [2], and it happens with not only humans, but also the females of many species. When we actually engage in tending or befriending, even more oxytocin is released, further countering stress and calming us down. Until fairly recently many research studies on stress focused on males, Taylor said. “Women were largely excluded in stress research because many researchers believed that monthly fluctuations in hormones created stress responses that varied too widely to be considered statistically valid.”

Alt text hereTending and befriending can reduce stress

Men produce high levels of testosterone when they’re under stress, and according to Dr Klein, it reduces the calming effects of oxytocin. They are therefore more likely to deal with stress with aggression (fight) or withdrawal (flight). A woman on the other hand, produces estrogen that enhances the effects of oxytocin and compels them to seek social support.

Aggression and withdrawal take a physiological toll, whereas friendship brings comfort that diminish the effects of stress. “This difference in seeking social support during stressful periods is the principal way men and women differ in their response to stress, and one of the most basic differences in men’s and women’s behaviour,” Dr Taylor said. This difference alone contributes to the gender difference in longevity.

A 2006 breast cancer study found that women without close friends were four times as likely to die from the disease as women with 10 or more friends. And notably, proximity and the amount of contact with a friend weren’t associated with survival. Just having friends was protective. [3]

Alt text hereWomen with close friends are less likely to die from disease


Jane Fonda, activist and actress says: “Friendship between women is different than friendship between men. We talk about different things. We delve deep. We go under, even if we haven’t seen each other for years. There are hormones that are released from women to other women that are healthy and do away with the stress hormones. It’s my women friends that keep starch in my spine and without them, I don’t know where I would be. We have to just hang together and help each other.”

Fonda and her close friend Lily Tomlin did a TED talk on the importance of female friendships, and likened women’s friendships to a renewable source of power:

It’s because our friendships – female friendships are just a hop to our sisterhood, and sisterhood can be a very powerful force, to give the world … the things that humans desperately need.

Watch: Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin

Words By Tanja Taljaard and Azriel Re'Shel

Originally posted on https://upliftconnect.com/




Reviving the Ancient Sisterhood


What it Means to Hold Space for Someone

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66 Responses to Why Women need a Tribe

  1. I lead monthly women’s circles. Find more info on my website http://www.pachamamawisdom.net to see if it’s something for you. If you want to join but can’t afford $20, you can come for free. When women gather magic happens!
    Ps. My website will be launched by the end of this month, if you want to join a circle before that, shoot me an email.

    • Hi Deb,

      I’m sorry to hear you’re feeling a lack of connection. COVID-19 isolation is certainly not helping either… The followers on our facebook page are quite ‘engaged’, you might find greater virtual connection with like-minded souls there? Alternately, have you tried posting on your local community facebook page for someone who might like to exchange phone calls? There are so many people looking for connection right now. All the best on your journey Deb <3

      Much love,
      Team UPLIFT

  2. I just returned from a MEDICINE WOMYN’S RETREAT (here in Vermont) where 96 women of all ages came together for a weekend. I enjoyed this conversation as it helped explain why there is the need for women to come together…..and how the benefits are many. Thank you….

  3. Hmm. I have some excellent female – and male – friends, but have never felt a special connection to women because they were women. I feel a special connection to people who share my interests, values, projects, etc. They may or may not be female. Further, I have to say that males seem to enjoy the company of other males more than females do other females – hence perhaps the reason for this kind of article.

  4. Very inspiring! I felt a kinship with Jane, I felt we had very similar feelings about our female friends. I’m on the verge of a kind of rebirth with friends who I haven’t been with due to my business overshadowing my personal life. I’m truly excited about it!!
    Thank you for this!!

  5. I am disappointed that the study didn’t look at the fact that men also do better with support. I really do not see this as a gender issue it is being made out to be. We all do better with support!!

  6. This article is sure full of rainbows & cute puppies & kittens, but it utterly failed to mention how fiercely hard women are on each other. It would be heavenly if most women actually liked other women but they don’t. Women who do find a true friend or friends are blessed beyond measure, but in my 61 years, I’ve found it better to be extremely careful about believing in another woman’s friendship. I’m very happy, though, for women who have found other women to be a refuge. Hope they realize what a wonderful thing they have.

  7. I find that this sort of article subtly creates divisions and is actually reinforcing gender inequality. In my experience good, caring people of either gender make great, supportive, reliable friends, who will be there for you in times of hardship. A group of either gender that is narcissistic, self-serving and competitive will make life miserable. I had the great honour of working with Kenyans in the UK on a very successful young female ambassador programme called Face of Kenya, one of its important aims was to try and stop the negative impacts of Tribalism and for the young women to be ambassadors for the whole of Kenya (not just their Tribe), to show how education and skills improve lives and to be an inspiration for the next generation of females to become engineers, doctors etc. which will benefit the whole of society. This article to me is saying that we must be separate to men (unequal), it’s our hormones and there is no surmounting the gender divide. We must form a separate Tribe for our health…hmmmm. There are 42 Tribes in Kenya and Tribalism is something that is seen as a big problem when it comes to creating, harmony, Peace and equality. To me articles like this are the cleverest at leading to further female oppression in society, we must be on guard against all forms of division and separation as inequality is extremely bad for our health.

    • So you don’t consider women to have value unless they take up STEM careers and became pseudo men with no female friends. Breaking up indigenous tribes is taking community away from people and leads to loneliness. The reason why people are lonely in Western cultures is because their tribes have broken up and geographical mobility has been forced upon them.

  8. It’s hard for me to have female friends, especially where I live which is a rural area. Maybe I’m just odd, but I seem unable to relate to most women and they to me, as I have been told that I have an active force field around me. And I have observed the female packs before, and my brushes with them was not comfortable. It was an interesting article, but it did highlight for myself the social isolation that I do experience.

    • Hi Karen, its been very hard for me to make Friends too. AAnd i have suffered from isolation but i had no idea i was just depressed and wanted to only be inward. I thought no oone understood me or that i couldent make any Friends. So things have changed and i worked on the depressiona and i also had very low self confidence. Today I am staring a womans groups because i need it and they need it too. We need connection and we need a safe space to be ourselves untill we are ready for the next step. I encourage to look at what is stoping you from making weman Friends..Its either a beliege you have about yourself or about others. But definety work on the every female representation in your life , you might be surprise at what you find. Blessings.

  9. My psychologist husband gave the Shelley Taylor’s book years ago when it first came out – I’m also a psychologist, and I’ve used her work personally and with many girls and women – it’s an awesome, powerful thing to understand the female power of “tend and befriend” !!
    The Red Tent is also a warm, beloved book.

  10. Women and men, we ALL need a tribe. I am far from my tribe right now and missing them. In tribes it is good for the genders to separate regularly to work on stuff, talk and share. I’d have things to say to my male friends I couldn’t say to my female ones. My female friends doubtless have stuff to work on that is nothing to do with me. Separating makes us stronger and wiser with more to give for when we come back together

  11. Yes friendship is important for everyone. Its the gender compartmentalised way this is phrased.

    Haven’t we feminists been trying to shut down boys clubs for decades? Ooops, maybe that wasn’t the nicest idea for mens wellbeing. Glad we’re entitled to change our minds so often.

    Nno Oxytocin with male friends… brothers, fathers, boychilds, lovers? Thanks for the ‘study’, Harvard.

  12. The photo of the topless women in the forest was actually taken by a friend of mine named “Mauricio Valverde Arce” who lives in Monteverde, Costa Rica. He rarely gets credit for having taken this beautiful photo series so I always want to point authors and readers in his direction.

    His facebook page is here: https://www.facebook.com/mauricio.v.arce1
    To the authors of this article: Please give him credit for this photo and check his other work out. He is an AMAZING artist.

  13. Two books to read, if you are interested: The Red Tent, and a children’s book: The Village of Round and Square Houses.

  14. Obviously some people missed the point of the article. Can we not have any discussion any more without political overtones? Whether or not she was a traitor depended on what side you were on. She spoke out, maybe not in the most PC method, but she voiced her opinion at a time when most women kept quiet. We have all grown up since then.

  15. Why does this video primarily show pretty white slim able-bodied women in their 20s? Have these assholes looked at a demographic chart? This isn’t Uplifting this is discrimination, racism and ageism all wrapped up in a priviledged white bow

  16. Interesting..I did not kno there was a red tent culture in the west…In Nepal there Chaupadi culture where when women menstruate, they are put in cowshed… we are trying to abolish this…the girls put in cowsheds no doubt enjoyed each others company but not the discrimination ns ociety imposed on them.

    • The red tent is a part of many cultures, including native american. In many cultures it was believed that woman’s powers were heightened during this time and it was a danger to men to expose them to it so the women sequestered in the tent. It’s only a negative thing if you let it BE negative. For many it may have started as a negative but you know, it’s all in what you make of it…..take it and run with it. Make it a time for women to bond, plan, and enjoy the freedom from men and all the work and responsibility that comes from being around them.

        • Cowshed, tent, cabin….they aren’t there because WE don’t want them there. Intelligent women take this as a time to be rid of them. To share with her sisters. But, if you want to be nothing but negative, have at it. Your loss. Those of us in the Sisterhood celebrate ourselves.

  17. I have one sisterhood that is powerfully instituted and I am so grateful for this. I am glad we can always find the opportunity to laugh when we want to and and can find fun like this one amazing funny product from fakeababy called the new fake sonogram videos. It is very funny. I know this is best for gags.

  18. To cloister oneself with others away from men often enough will bring an imbalance that must generate it’s opposite to challenge it. And what will be it’s natural & ultimate tendency to manifest? The strengthening of it’s opposite. Hello Donald Trump & Ted Cruz (or possibly something of the likes of Hillary Clinton? As oppose to Elizabeth Warren). We’ve heard about the “we generation”, but how about the “We Gender” where instead of me, me, me, it will be us, us. us along with me, me, me.

    • “To cloister oneself with others away from men often enough will bring an imbalance”

      Sure…just keep telling yourself that. Repeating it won’t make it true but it may make you feel better.

    • I don’t think you are getting this. But, hey, that’s okay. These women are not cloistering themselves away from men. It is a time to share. To listen, to talk, to cry together, to learn new things, to do many things. You know, like grandmas used to do when teaching daughters to cook. Ot the women doing quilting bees. Today, women get together all the time for “girl’s night out”, but that is not always productive when they usually go out to drink and sit and complain. Having time away from the usual is healthy. They are not talking about living in a women’s commune like Amazons…no men allowed. But, hey, even as kids we wanted time alone with our girlfriends and life got in the way of that. Boys make signs “No girl’s allowed”. Do not men do the same things? Game night at the homes of one another? Guy’s night out? Sports teams? Men’s clubs? Hunting outings? Fishing outings with the guys? Working on a car together? Playing cards? It seems men get more of that freedom than women do most of the time, because usually women are stuck home with the kids. I can’t tell you how many times my husband came home and after dinner, he would just tell me he was going to his brother’s or other places and left. Never asked me if I needed a night out or to watch the kids even when I went shopping. Just assumed it was fine to walk out and leave the kids with me! If I went to see my family, or a girlfriend, my kids went with me. Not once did they go with him. It’s not unusual at all for men not to see the point of these things. They have always had their “cloistering”. LOL Now when women see how good it it and how healthy, and simply because it is not typical, men find fault with it, like you. Happily, not all men think your way. And, BTW, when I mentioned this to my husband, he said it never dawned on him. Yep. Because that was and still is most of the time, the way it has always been done. After that, he was more attentive to my needs and until he passed away a few years ago, due to communication and accepting things do not have to always be “that way,” our marriage was a much better one. Sometimes people only think of one side of things because no one shows them the other side!! 🙂 Now you have been showed. What you do with it, is up to you.

  19. “Men produce high levels of testosterone… therefore more likely to deal with stress with aggression (fight) or withdrawal (flight). A woman on the other hand…”

    The man hate is strong in this place.

      • – Sounds like biological determinism for gendered behavioural norms to me, a pseudo scientific justification for reinforcing sexist stereotypes. I’d bet whatever studies they’re quoting have been ripped to shreds in the wider academic literature.

  20. Great piece, shame the English was a mess. If you open speech marks you must close them, and the word is not ‘instinctually’ but instinctively.

    • Actually “instinctually” is an English word. 🙂 And the pull-quote boxes are designed to have just the beginning quotation mark – if you take a look at all the other articles in this site, you will see that this is their style of design for their pull-quotes. It’s not the fault of the author.

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