Thursday, July 27, 2006

Social Isolation? Enter: YWTF

With catchy alliteration and an emphasis on emergency, Ann Hulbert grabs her readers’ attention in the latest New York Times magazine. People of the United States, we have a “Confidant Crisis” on our hands.

The mere words “Confidant Crisis” make me think of a solitary person flipping through the TV channels in the dark while checking her email, facebook, and myspace accounts obsessively, with not a real friend in sight. Apparently, my first impressions are not far from the gist of the article, which highlights a study in the American Sociological Review, entitled “Social Isolation in America: Changes in Core Discussion Networks Over Two Decades." According to the study, Americans have very few friends with whom they can talk about significant issues. A survey about confidants found, in fact, that most participants only listed two “core” people in whom they could confide, and that less and less Americans are venturing outside the nuclear family to forge these close bonds.

Unfortunately, the most dramatic decrease in relationships has been in the neighborhood/community sector, which is the arena in which many women’s issues are discussed and acted upon. Says one study author, Dr. Lynn Smith-Lovin, "This change indicates something that's not good for our society. Ties with a close network of people create a safety net. These ties also lead to civic engagement and local political action." The impact on women’s groups is only too obvious: the loss of members and, possibly, momentum.

The most surprising thing about these findings is that we are in an age of hyper-communication. It therefore seems as if the sheer volume of communication is actually whittling down our close friends and confidants. This is exactly why YWTF seeks to use this hyper-communication to younger women’s advantage. Having just recently started our blog, we hope to connect younger women in even the most alienating and anonymous of atmospheres.

But reading our blog and checking our website is not enough. We as young women have the challenge of networking and advocating in a world which caters to white, middle-class men. Therefore we need to unite through groups such as YWTF in order to increase our visibility and let our voices be heard. And as women ensure a vital part of our nation’s health, it is critical that our leadership be recognized, supported, and nurtured.

As a chapter-based organization that encourages in-person meetings, networking, and community engagement, YWTF has the ability, in fact the power, to lead “civic engagement and local political action” in cities across the nation, the crucial element that Smith-Lovin suggested was missing from general society. Six members of Congress made a similar statement in a recent letter to YWTF: “It is very encouraging to us to know that such dynamic young women are working hard on the ground to promote issues of importance to women. Without your support and advocacy, we would be unable to do our work to ensure that women’s rights and opportunities are protected.”

Therefore, have no fear ladies (and allies). In the growing threat of social isolation, YWTF is that “close network,” that “safety net” for younger women everywhere.

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