Women love to come together in little circles of economic intercourse.
From the monthly breakfast in the small old mill town my mother went to, to the entrepreneurs gathering at the spa, to a trendy gathering of aging supermodels in West Hollywood, women gather in groups with one simple purpose: to sell things to each other.
The offers in the market may change, from organic soap to financial planning to society fundraising to screenplays, but the experience of trading changes little from very low to very high.
There is always something new to buy and something old to sell, someone to connect with and someone else to show off for, a tale to tell and gossip to hear. The exchanges at these events don’t just satisfy the pocketbook, they satisfy a need for community, for belonging.
When in doubt, seduce. That is a tip Elaine May offered to improvisers, but it is a good rule for any gathering of women. Women flirt with each other, paying attention, using their expression to get what they want from other women, building networks through the power of desire, usually the desire to have status in a community of women.
The structures of the market are fundamental and have been played out for as long as women came together to offer what they have to others. There are cliques and preening, feuds and phony adoration, deep connection and deep animosity.
Women fight for status, knowing that everything counts, from appearance to lineage. The training for these kinds of bees starts early, girls exploring their own spark of womanly power.
For transwomen who have never been trained in these skills, entering these venues is always a challenge. Women understand that there are always mines to avoid in social settings, games being played, but as transwomen we have been taught that our standing even to be in that space is subject to the indulgence of the power women. We know that we have limited standing to fight for ourselves, that women in the network need to rally for us, and we are never sure that they will.
Entering women’s venues is always about what you are ready to buy, what you want to sell. How are you willing to trade for acceptance, how are you able to seduce for status? Can you assimilate into the group, offering fealty and valuable trade goods? Can you offer leadership, bringing novelty and style that others want to chase, want to own, want to desire? Following and influencing, doing both to do better.
Being powerful in the world of women demands being powerful in the markets women share, be they humble and earnest or glossy and intense. It means entering and understanding the nuanced and arcane rules, being aware of possibilities yet unseen, being exposed enough to build bonds and defended enough to ward off attacks.
This is hard magic to feel confident about, let alone to gain mastery of. We know where we don’t fit, have a sense of what we have to claim, what price is impossible for us to pay.
Without the magic in the market, though, the buying in and the seducing beyond, much of the power we need in the world will escape us.
My mother wasn’t good at this back and forth, one of the reasons my sister has never really gotten into these markets. I try to keep her supported, reminding her of how much people like it when she sells something, but her habits are introverted and cerebral, not centered around small talk and emotional connection.
There is a portion of sweetness and trust that neither of us were left with, a gap in our belief around our own attractiveness. That makes the interplay of the market, the trading upwards, very difficult.
The selling and buying that women do has been the backbone of human communities, probably for all of human history. Men toil, create big enterprises, sure, but the everyday trading of women keeps families cared for, keeps communities flowing. The market is where women, social women, find and expand their own power.
I just wish I knew how to be more effective in that powerful space, without having to lose my own sharp thoughts in the process.