Women throughout the ages have always been particularly good at disseminating information (both helpful and gossip-y) in their neighborhoods – across the white picket fence or hedges that separated our homes, at the beauty parlor, or over a cup of coffee. Back when most women were full-time housewives, they shared tips on how to get their laundry whiter and which butcher had the leanest lamp chops. Women met-up in the beauty parlor and chatted about their questions and problems of the day and offered advice to those in need. Some whined and moaned continuously, spreading trash talk about neighbors and even strangers.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, a group of close to 1,500 mothers (and others) in my community used a Facebook-based group to share information about storm clean-up schedules, ideas for keeping kids and grandkids entertained, and where to find gas, flashlights, sleeping bags and other essentials. Some women even put up posts inviting other families into their homes for warmth and power and others shared information about which non-profits needed assistance. The “over the fence” conversation has simply been moved to the Internet.
We did what we’ve been doing for years; shared information, insights, and encouragement to other women who needed advice. I stood eagerly at the fence, picking up whatever tidbits I could, chuckling at some of the quips, taking solace in the words of encouragement.
The whiners and moaners took their negative energy to the online picket fence too, blasting the storm crews for not cleaning-up quickly enough, the government for not giving our community high priority treatment, the other women without kids who didn’t have enough empathy for the plight of families who had been displaced. Whenever a community forms (in the physical or virtual world), some women will naturally use it as an outlet for their frustrations and stress, dragging the rest of the group into a depressing or negative conversation.However, the women with helpful suggestions far outweighed the Debbie Downers. They joked, encouraged, helped others in need, and shared. Our laundry may not be whiter and brighter next week, but we will have all weathered the storm because we chatted and shared. The iPad and keyboard have replaced our aprons and casserole recipes. But we still know how to traverse that picket fence!