Letter from the Editor: Desperately Seeking Sisterhood

One of my favorite depictions of the bond of sisterhood is in the BBC’s rendering of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. (I’m #TeamBBC when it comes to screen adaptations of this beloved classic.) The profound bond between Lizzie and Jane is delightful to watch, with heart-to-heart talks, Lizzie’s selfless care of Jane when she falls ill at the Bingleys, and the commiserating glances (and shared shame) over their family’s social disgraces. These sisters are biologically related, but the emotional bond isn’t a given, as there are three other sisters in the family as well.

Deep, transformational bonds like the one shared by Lizzie and Jane may seem to be a thing of the past or even of fiction. We see the ideal, and our hearts yearn for such a sisterhood. For many women, however, our experiences are more akin to Mean Girls or Pretty Little Liars. (Lots of drama and unrest.) And yet, most women wish for at least one kindred heart with which to hash out life’s conundrums and provide support through thick and thin. In this issue of Christ and Pop Culture Magazine, “Soul Sisters,” the features and support articles highlight this inherent longing for sisterhood and how cultural artifacts speak to our expectations and assumptions about it.

Sisterhood is a powerful force.

Identifying our need for beloved sisters, whether biological or emotional, may be simple, but it’s not simple to find our people and experience sisterhood for real. Allison Barron leads the way in this quest through her feature, “RWBY and Leading with Contagious Joy,” about the animated TV series RWBY and how it mirrored the sisterhood Barron herself was seeking:

“I needed a community of people to come around me and help me get through a difficult time, to feel joy again. But once I was rejuvenated, I couldn’t just stay there and benefit from others’ love without giving back. Any kind of one-sided relationship is unhealthy and loving other people involves giving as much as taking. That’s enough reason for me, but the Bible gives us even more: “God’s purpose was that the body should not be divided but rather that all of its parts should feel the same concern for each other” (1 Corinthians 12:25). We’re supposed to be on the lookout for each other, and that includes encouraging each other to be joyful.”

The deep bonds of sisterhood set our hearts toward life, just as the characters in RWBY demonstrated. Kathryn Freeman’s feature, “Insecure and the Need for More Authentic Friendships,” builds on this foundation by looking at the relational joys and woes of Issa, the main character of the HBO series Insecure. Freeman explains:

“Issa’s friendships provide the anchor and sometimes the engine as she navigates the uncertain waters of her life. In Issa’s constant state of insecurity, the only sure thing is friendship. The show accurately speaks to both to the importance of friendship and the necessary ingredients for cultivating authentic friendships that all of us have been created for.

[…]

“We need friends who stretch us, who are willing to help us face hard truths about ourselves, and who love us enough to tell us when we are wrong.”

True sisterhood should both comfort and discomfort us, which is why we need deep relationships with women who will bring a different outlook and perspective. If we are to grow into the fullness of who God means for us to be—His unified Body—we need to cultivate friendships from a greater spectrum of souls.

In “The Sisterhood of St. Joan,” June Mears Driedger points to three films with strong female characters who form a sisterhood by which we can see female diversity even within a woman’s own heart. Too often we plug women into the all-heart category, failing to acknowledge that women also have powerful mental acuity—a duality that is found in Saint Joan of Arc. Driedger observes:

“In the real-life person of St. Joan of Arc, we find someone who is both thinking and doing. Here we see a balance of these seeming opposites: a warrior who led military battles and a mystic who saw visions and heard God’s voice. While popular culture is fascinated with St. Joan of Arc—more than most other saints—it has failed to capture this tension of action and contemplation at the heart of her character. To manage this tension, popular culture has created a sisterhood of characters based on shared concerns of saving the world. Some characters lean more toward the mystic and others lean more toward the warrior. Three films in particular—The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc, Resurrection, and Alien/s/3—give us powerful examples of this sisterhood of St. Joan of Arc.”

Pop Culture is full of depictions of sisterhood—some better than others, of course. S. E. Kesselring saw a sisterhood connection in three stories that we wouldn’t obviously connect: two films (Guardians of the Galaxy and Pitch Perfect) and one biblical account (Ruth and Naomi). In “Guardians, Bellas, and Ruth: All That Sisterhood Can Achieve,” Kesselring builds a case for why seeing healthy sisterhood is helpful to us:

“Sisterhood… [is] a bond beyond simply having a female sibling, one that’s more intimate than mere friendship between women. It truly is an underutilized relational archetype. There are many examples of biological sisters in movies and books, of course, but it is hard to find depictions of non-familial female relationships that look any different than mixed-sex friendships, and even fewer pass the Bechdel test. The stereotype of female friendship in our culture involves negative, shallow behaviors, such as gossiping and backstabbing. These things do happen in real life, but they are not definitive of female relationships. Genuine, caring sisterhood does exist.”

Finding soul sisters is crucial to the formation of women—and the healthy portrayal of it in culture nurtures our expectation of what that can be. I would also argue that the way sisterhood is displayed in culture (in its artifacts and in relationships) will greatly affect how we all—both male and female—think of female bonds. Sisterhood truly is a powerful force.

In This Issue

RWBY and Leading with Contagious Joy

We want to build a sisterhood like RWBY, one that spreads seeds of its joyful community elsewhere or looks for it in others.

by Allison Barron

Insecure and the Need for More Authentic Friendships

We need friends who stretch us, who are willing to help us face hard truths about ourselves, and who love us enough to tell us when we are wrong.

by Kathryn Freeman

The Sisterhood of St. Joan

In the real-life person of St. Joan of Arc, we find someone who is both thinking and doing.

by June Mears Driedger

Guardians, Bellas, and Ruth: All That Sisterhood Can Achieve

A fair representation of women in entertainment would include positive aspects of sisterhood, encouraging women to pursue healthy sisterhood in their own lives.

by S. E. Kesselring

Beware the Frozen Heart

A Disney story set in the snow can help thaw a girl’s heart.

by Amy Peterson

Celebrating C. S. Lewis: Till We Have Faces

It exposes how we see ourselves and project our notions upon God—often quite erroneously and to our own demise.

by Erin Straza

Listening Closer: Beauty, Beats, and Blues in the Girlhood

Novelist and rapper, Kate Tempest, and filmmaker, Céline Sciamma, open us up to stories far different from ours in “Theme for Becky” and ‘Girlhood,’ respectively

by Jeffrey Overstreet

The Kiddy Pool: Katniss Everdeen and the Greatest Love

“The Hunger Games is compelling precisely because it calls upon audience to consider what kinds of sacrifices, for whom, and for what causes, we’re willing to make.”

by Erin Wyble Newcomb