April 28, 2023

Was Beyonce Right?

For most of my life, I didn’t really like women and they didn’t really like me. Something about me intimidated, rubbed the wrong way; I was too loud, too much. And I, in turn, began to see female relationships as temporary and transactional. This arrangement suited me fine and though I moved through life with many women moving in and out of it like seasons in some invisible calendar, the fact remained… maybe I was just not meant to have a tight female circle. 

Beyonce usually hits and all, but I didn’t really agree that it was girls running the world. 

    As adolescence faded and I began a career in corporate America, female relationships seemed— at best— scary and futile. Like so many women in the early 2000’s of office culture and “leaning in,” I learned quickly that the most surefire way to secure my place atop the corporate ladder was to use the backs of my coworkers as rungs upon which to get there. The phrase “I’m not here to make friends, I have a job to do,” rang through my head on a constant loop. I kept one eye open. I operated robotically, a near perfect cog in the ever turning wheel, lest another female see my slack and use it as her own ammo. Being a woman working with other women was exhausting. 

I began to see women as competition both personally and professionally. I had to be prettier, funnier, faster at completing tasks, hustle harder, work longer, wake up earlier. Everyone was running a race… but to where? A rising tide did not lift all boats. A rising tide lifted others and sank my ship or the other way around. When friends or acquaintances achieved, I thought “Why her? Why not me?” And I’m sure some of them felt the same. 

    Four years ago my side hustle became my career. Mired down with the mindset I’d adopted from my previous professional life, I still saw women as competition; as acquaintances best kept close-ish, but never in my inner circle… until I didn’t. 

    Looking back over the last four years, I’m entirely unsure where I would be without the women small business owners and entrepreneurs in Knoxville. These women support me. They love me. They recommend me to potential clients and celebrate my wins. They introduce me to even more women who in time, love me just as well. They’ve laughed with me and cried with me. They’ve literally held me while I’ve sobbed and I’ve sat with them in their wins and losses as well. Knoxville might be the Maker City, but it’s the women in this city who have truly made Knoxville. 

None of us compete with each other and because of this, an undercurrent of sisterly positivity churns through this town; reverberating through networking events, through coffee shop meetings and email introductions. Where I once viewed women as proverbial stepping stones to my next, more important destination, I now view women as my lifeline. My friends are in constant motion, building an endless table that never runs out of seats and never runs out of opportunities to grow together. 

    I’m still loud, usually paint covered, always late; in my own head, shaking from caffeine, and never entirely sure what day it is or where I’m supposed to be. Dubbed the “mascot” and the “wild baby,” I’m likely to show up in pink faux fur, sequins, or glitter boots, and am still by all accounts… too much. But that’s the thing about finally finding your tight female circle— the one I thought I’d never actually have— they love me and value me authentically and I them. 

Maybe Bey was on to something after all… 

Ashley Garner is the owner and head paint slinger at Nest, making old things beautiful again.


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