I recently had a speaker come to one of my classes to give a lecture on Social Capital. He was animated, engaging and excited for us to learn, though I think it is safe to assume that he didn’t expect one member of his audience to attempt to relate the concept of building social capital to feminism.
I did anyway.
What is Social Capital
As struggling young adults in an age where face to face communication is falling more and more out of practice, the need for young women to connect with each other is even more prevalent. This is where social capital comes in. Joining a sorority, chatting with people in class or at your local coffee shop, becoming a member of a club on campus, starting your first job at a new company. The ways to create a portfolio of social capital when you’re young are endless.
Simply put, the term social capital refers to relationships. We are social creatures, and as such, we have an inherent need to build relationships with each other, and even other creatures. Social capital refers to how we develop relationships in the context of communities, and how those relationships affect our lives overall.
Broadly speaking, social capital depends on interdependence. When you think about it, our lives are interconnected webs of people who depend on us, and whom we depend on. We each use our strengths to support others’ weaknesses and vice versa. Through the act of building connections and supporting each other, planting roots and fostering growth, we acquire more social capital and are healthier, happier, and more emotionally grounded - concepts which are incredibly relevant to the young people of the 21st century.
Social capital is tied to problem-solving, creative and critical thinking, and acts as a natural support system. Social capital promotes tolerance, forgiveness, integrity and a hundred more positive adjectives that everyone looks for in an accepting community. In terms of a community of feminists, it resonates in the same way, and follows the same basic principles. The feminist movements would have crumbled to dust without these things.
Social Capital and Feminism
Sociologists have determined that social capital exists in three basic spheres:
Acquaintanceships refer to people you know on the most elementary level. Your relationship with them isn’t very substantial. In fact, acquaintances are people you may only exchange the simplest greetings within your day-to-day life.
Friendships, refer to people who share your interests, and who you frequently have deeper exchanges with. Simply put, these are the people you hang out with.
Finally, the covenant refers to people you love, people you have a special place for in your life. You spend most of your time with them, and share with them the highest level of mutuality.
Feminist Social Capital
What is a feminist acquaintanceship? A feminist friendship? A feminist covenant? Do they even exist?
Obviously, yes, or you wouldn’t be reading this if they didn’t.
Building your feminism, essentially, is building social capital.
Let’s say your journey begins in a Gender Studies course at your university. You walk in to “Introduction to Feminist Theory,” find a seat next to other like-minded folks, and start exchanging pleasantries:
“What’s your major?”
“Ah yes, I too enjoy staying up late to read A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft, published in 1792!”
Congratulations! You have just taken the first step towards an acquaintanceship. You have leveled up and acquired not only the most basic level of social capital, but you have also gained feminist insight. But, it doesn’t always have to start this way.
Maybe you strike up a conversation with another feminist on the bus, or at a party.
The point is to have conversations, make connections and start collecting social capital over time and through various interactions.
Speaking with people who share your beliefs, or better yet, speaking with those who don’t has a greater impact on who you grow to be and impacts your social capital. Again, it’s all about forging relationships, especially as a feminist. An acquaintance doesn’t have to be your best friend, but they might be the perfect person to introduce you to a person or a group of women who can ignite a feminist spark within you.
The Female Friendship
Many of us have acquaintances. I consider many people I have a class with or work with to be acquaintances. A lot of them have acted as stepping stones or connections to others who helped me or even became my friends. Friendships are so much stronger than acquaintanceships. There is a deeper level of intimacy with friends; an intimacy that exists especially in female friendships.
As Queen Beyonce says, “I love my husband, but it is nothing like a conversation with a woman that understands you. I grow so much from those conversations.”
Identifying as a feminist can be rocky at the best of times. Finding your stride in a society that always seems to want to hold you back seems nearly impossible. But, with the right people on your team, suddenly you feel like you can conquer the world, and that’s what feminism offers every woman. Friends. A community. A network of sisters who want to push and support you at the same time.
Female friendships are strong. I agree with Beyonce: In my own experience, there is nothing like confiding in a close girlfriend. For me, attending an all-girls high school helped me to come to this realization. I was able to network with the brightest, most inspiring young women. These friendships were built out of immense trust and compassion, and the level of understanding, support, and unsexualized affection that I discovered in them were unrivaled compared to any other relationship. In terms of social capital, a female friendship is priceless.
The Covenant - Not the Jesus Kind
Sociologically speaking, a covenant refers to the people we love, and the people we are closest to. Our covenants represent the most profound connections in our lives. For many, this refers to our families, however you define them.
For me, my covenant is representative, first and foremost, of my mom, aunt, grandmother, and a few best friends. They are my role models, my biggest cheerleaders, my deepest supporters. I confide in them. They know my grandest dreams, my darkest anxieties, and richest hopes. In short, they know me.
That is what a covenant is: a bond.
Bonds are made between feminists all the time, and it’s a beautiful thing to reach such a level of understanding and reciprocity. To me, the word “support” keeps coming to mind. I have been witness to feminists going out of their way to support the strides of other girls not only because they want them to succeed, but also because they know such care will be reciprocated.
Female covenants are formed as the product of widespread connection and common affinities. They exist as systems to boost confidence, to cherish beliefs, and extend arms of tolerance and acceptance to anyone within their reach. They’re important, and we need them to grow, to discover new hopes, passions and skills.
Why Is Social Capital Important Though?
It means that we cannot hope to have a full life without collecting some sort of social capital.. Research has proven that positive relationships are integral to our happiness and better our lives. But, what about the value of those relationships? Simply knowing a bunch of people doesn’t necessarily mean that your social capital is worth anything. We need to give something and get something out of relationships.
According to sociologists, our social networks depend on three types of support:
Instrumental support revolves around more tangible benefits: perhaps dropping your friend off at an interview.
Informational support is more or less utilizing resources that come out of your relationships like giving advice to your little sister about going to college.
In my opinion, emotional support is where it’s at. Emotional support isn’t anything you can hold in your hand, rather it is something you hold in your heart.
Social Support and Your Feminist Journey
For girls, emotional support is vital to everything we’ve been talking about: social capital, relationships, even health. The good thing is that girls are exceptional in offering emotional support. We help each other cope with stress. We act as sounding boards to talk about our troubles and worries. We instill resilience, strength, comfort, and confidence in each other.
Research shows that women tend to be more social than men. And as a result, our survival and reliance can be exclusively tied to our social capital. This is true within our feminist journey as well. Our survival as women, as feminists, can be contingent on the social capital that we build up.
Social Capital Case Studies
In order to help readers better understand how social capital is influential for women everywhere, I wanted to provide some real-life case studies showcasing different communities, organizations, and means of communication that any girl could benefit from on a day to day basis.
The following examples do just that..
Case Study 1: Sororities
Greek life has its issues. There’s hazing, cliques, bullying, and worse. But, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the positives, for which there are many. Especially for girls joining sororities.
These girls are risk-takers and adventure seekers setting themselves up for success for the rest of their lives. Sororities can be invaluable for the future of young women by boosting confidence in members, and fostering skills. Many have chapter-wide requirements designed to teach time management and responsibility while reinforcing the bond of sisterhood and the importance of acknowledging female power both personally and in the eventual workforce.
Sororities can give young women an edge during the job search after graduation in so many ways. Maybe an interviewer sees on your resume that the two of you were in the same sorority in college, thus striking up a conversation about the glory days. Through this exchange you build a rapport and put yourself not only one step closer to getting a job, but also to gaining a prominent influencer in your life who can introduce you to even more people suited to help you achieve your goals. Sororities also often have widespread alumni networks that members can seek out for guidance, advice and more.
In short, if used to their full potentials, sororities can be an ideal asset for building up social capital and acquiring success down the line. A sorority can be a truly worthwhile tool that any young women attending a university can benefit from in the long run.
Case Study 2: Political Campaigns/Groups
In spite of ever-growing divisions in our political system, shockingly young women may find a community in political groups that support them. Engaging in political campaigns or advocacy groups promote connections with like-minded people and enable the gathering of knowledge, which in itself is a form of capital that can be used in endless different settings.
Volunteering for a political campaign, for example, going door-to-door to spread the word about a candidate, at any official level, can potentially lead to internship opportunities for younger generations, students, and girls looking for a first job.
Getting involved in politics can be the perfect way to network with important movers and shakers who can provide an “in” to the political sphere. These networking opportunities help with communication skills, offer the chance to advocate for policy changes you believe in, and encourage young women to take an active role in politics and activism at their cores.
Political engagement, in every aspect, is tied to social exchanges: talking with people, explaining your position to get them on your side, advocating publicly for change, making a name for yourself. The list is endless, but it’s all about communication and give and take. The connections a person can make in the political world, are examples of social capital in its most transparent form.
Case Study 3: Social Networks
In 2019, social networks are as prevalent as they’ve ever been, and they’re only growing more accessible. They represent an increasingly wide knowledge resource offering literally thousands of connection opportunities all from the comfort of a smart-phone. Sites like LinkedIn network with companies, and employers from all over the world in every conceivable field.
Women-centered social networks and female-centric blogs are still on the rise, giving girls the perfect opportunity to reach as many mentors and influencers as possible. Today, technology allows us to connect with each other instantly online. Maybe you network with a female-owned business, or bond another girl in love with your favorite show. Either way social capital is earned.
Who knows? Maybe the next time you slide into someone’s DMs will be the first step in forging a connection that will eventually propel you into becoming a mentor and influencer yourself. Thus starting the cycle over again.
With social networks, the possibilities are boundless.
Case Study 4: American Association of University Women (AAUW)
“Empowering women since 1881”
If you’re reading this, by now you know that social capital is about the connections a person makes with influential people. Joining an organization or utilizing one can be the difference between scoring an interview at your dream job, or sticking to the status quo.
The American Association of University Women has countless opportunities for students to garner social capital and excel both in college and in the scary “real world.” AAUW is a grassroots organization that focuses on “providing women with leadership skills and networking opportunities to increase their skills and ignite personal and professional growth.” Sounds like a good social capital promoter to me.
AAUW is all about empowering women. They do this through programs implemented across the nation ranging from leadership strategizing, salary negotiation workshops, and STEM Education Initiatives. They boast global connectivity as well as individual campus visits.
This organization is ideal for any woman, college student or otherwise, to join, donate to, or take action with.
Case Study 5: Girls Inc.
“Inspiring all girls to be strong, smart and bold”
It’s never too early to start building up social capital, especially as a young girl. Similar to Make Muse, Girls Inc. is about breaking down societal barriers for girls growing up.
With local partners across the country (and a little funding from Reese Witherspoon!) Girls Inc. promotes three distinct types of programming focusing on “Healthy Living, Academics Enrichment and Support, and Life Skills Instruction.”
Girls Inc. has employment opportunities for adults, volunteering opportunities for all ages, numerous partners, and investors inspired by their mission to support young girls in every aspect of life.
There are so many ways to get involved and create a connection with mentors and impressive leaders dedicated to encouraging and championing young female rising stars.
This is the kind of social capital you want in the bank.
Case Study 6: American Medical Women’s Association (AMWA)
“The vision and voice of women in medicine since 1915”
The American Medical Women’s Association is a perfect example of a specialized organization designed to embrace women pursuing a specific career, in this case: medicine. AMWA provides valuable resources, outstanding leadership opportunities, extensive committee work, and more.
AMWA shines a special spotlight on advocacy and activism through the promotion of initiatives that support gender equity, public health, advancement of women in medicine, and improvements to women’s health.
If this sounds at all vaguely familiar to you, it’s probably because I have drilled the term “networking” into your brains. After all, I don’t want you to forget about the building blocks of social capital.
Just as the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell, so is networking the mighty powerhouse of social capital.
Alright Wrap it Up
There are so many other diverse groups and organizations geared toward specific under-represented or marginalized communities of women including:
Asian Women in Business
National Council of Jewish Women
National Council of Negro Women
National Latina Business Women Association
I would encourage readers of all backgrounds to check out these organizations and more, and gather the knowledge that can help in the creation of social capital. It’s never too late to step back and evaluate not only who you know and how they can help you, but also how you might be an influencer yourself and have the potential to help other young women attempting to build a vast network of sisters.