I understand why some men are afraid of women.
Sometimes I’m afraid of us, too.
They say fear comes from the unknown, so I guess it makes sense.
I grew up with mostly male company: brothers and boy cousins. I didn’t have a sister. My mother didn’t have a sister. I can count on one hand all the times I ever saw my by-marriage aunts or my one girl cousin.
As a result, I never saw groups of women interacting with each other. Besides my mother, my closest family relationships were with boys and men. Good ones, all, who included me as one of the gang. I learned to drive go-karts and tractors and spent the days exploring, fishing, getting dirty, splitting wood, and one-upping each other with stories about it all at the end of the day.
There was no infighting, no hidden agendas, no pettiness. Instead there was competition and proving and invention. And constant jokes, laughter, and fun.
So that’s how I learned to show up in the world.
(I found out the hard way that’s not the best way to relate to other girls. More on that later.)
Meanwhile, I would occasionally hear about sisters from girl friends who had them. They would horrify me with their stories of the cruel and calculated meanness frequently meted out by their female siblings. It all sounded so foreign and terrible that I was grateful not to have one.
My first clue that I was missing something important about girlhood came much later in life, as I moved through school and work generally baffled by my female peers’ behavior. It eventually became apparent that because I had no exposure to female group dynamics in my family, I lacked any model for how to operate. Where that knowledge was supposed to be wired into my brain, instead, there were a bunch of neurons that can only be described as mostly inappropriate male-pattern goofiness.
By now, like a non-native language speaker, I’ve scrabbled together a functional competence in navigating female group dynamics. But I still routinely miss the signals most other women seem to read instinctively in a group – how and when to leave the room together for private conversation, countless implicit obligations (usually involving cleaning), when I’m supposed to join a conversation or stay quiet.
A moment of silence for my mother’s best intentions. A fiercely independent woman by nature who was constrained by the expectations of a conservative family, she deliberately chose not to indoctrinate me into expected female roles, ‘protecting’ me from that fate. Being raised free of imposed female role expectations has served me in some ways, allowing me to pursue intellectual and career pursuits before domestic ones. After all, here I sit, entrepreneuring right now. Thanks, Mom! But my ignorance has also made me an outsider and cost me a sense of belonging and community. It leaves me as a woman who wants to play like a boy in a man’s world but can’t (because woman). And as a child-boy-girl adventurer in a woman’s world, where boy behavior (ahem not cleaning) is frowned upon. Beh.
Despite the bevy of self-helpers out there telling us to “just be ourselves”, there’s not a lot of acknowledgement of what a lonely road it can be to be your authentic self. Our society defaults to a group-think dynamic that harshly judges outliers. We women are often the toughest critics, especially of ourselves and other women. There’s a price to be paid for self-hood.
And yet, what most of us want, really, is to be seen and known and valued as the unique, irreplaceable individuals that we are.
I’m told that’s what distinguishes sisterhood at its best: a bond of deep knowing, cherishing, and supporting. It is a dimension of the female experience that I will never fully know, but I treasure my female friends and my in-law sisters because they are the closest I will ever come. With them, I can risk being my real self – an adventurous, goofy little-sister-boy-child-woman person.
And while I may miss some signals along the way, I do want to help. It's just that my way is a little different.
The fashion industry is full of women. Lots of them. And they come in groups. There are nice ones and mean ones and tough ones and fierce ones and competitive ones. I will never be fluent in their language. It terrifies me to enter their arena.
But I am doing this to help my sisters.
Maybe the boyish games of my childhood inspired the dream to do something big and brave. (Willing to die, if necessary, a hero!) Maybe that's what makes me want to take this risk of starting a category-creating fashion brand, something completely different and unproven, in a field where I don't know the rules.
So, there it is: Embrago is my way to be a brave adventurer and also to help clean up after the party, that is, to do my part and demonstrate solidarity with other women.
It is something new that I offer to support you and ease your burden.
In this different but sincerely sister-minded way, I hope to show you that you are seen and cherished and valued.