A Case for Loving Your Fellow Woman

A few months ago I came into contact with a lovely woman from Colombia who, at 50 and with grown children, was a picture of youthful beauty with a fit and shapely body to boot. Also, she was friendly and engaging and mellow. I liked her instantly.

How heartbroken I was on her behalf when she left the room and I heard two of the other women who'd met her at the same time begin to shower hate--as only women threatened by one of their own--can:

"Well I'd have a body like that too if my kids were gone and I could just spend two hours at the gym every day." (for example--and from a woman whose kids ARE grown and certainly self-sufficient enough that she could go to the gym, if that were how she wanted to spend her time...not that that's even the point.)

The display of jealousy was so unattractive, so thoroughly off-putting. And it made me really, really sad.

It made me feel like no matter what we women have to overcome in order to get to where we want to be, nothing will be more difficult than dealing with the enmity of other women who are unhappy with their own stations in life and seeking comfort through tearing down what others have built up.

I've made pit stops at a few difficult life stations myself. Hell I've stayed a night or two in some. And during those times I've certainly looked around at women who seemed to be having a better time at it than me, wanting too to be where they were. I know exactly where it comes from: this urge to question whether or not a woman deserves her good fortune, to cast doubt upon whether she's earned her place, to think of reasons why you could have/could have done the same, if only blah blah blah blah blah...

But these were child-like reflexes I was responding to, lacking not only in empathy and kindness, but in basic logic. I needed to ask myself this question: Will the negative thought or thing I have to say about that woman over there have even the slightest longshot chance of getting me any closer to where I want to be?

Of course the answer was no.

A couple of weeks ago I was seated comfortably in a warm dining room with my girlfriends Anne and Atiya, both dynamic and hard-working Mamas who are intelligent and funny and comfortable in their own skin--always uplifting people to spend time with. Atiya was talking about a former boss whom she'd always admired. She said, "when I see women with qualities like that, I feel like I wanna be like that. I ask 'how does she do that?' because I want to emulate it!" She mentioned this in mindful contrast to the common alternative, which would be to talk behind that woman's back, to make fun of her, to spread unseemly gossip, to betray.

That, I think, is one wonderful way to go about fostering happiness. You recognize that there is room for improvement in your own life, and you learn from the people you admire.

Simple, right?

If only.

In one interview I heard in advance of her book Lean In's publication, Sheryl Sandberg mentioned a widely read study that is now the inspiration for a hair commercial of much discussion. The study showed that men and women, after reading descriptions that were equal but for the gender of the name in question, labeled the men in favorable terms and the women in unfavorable terms, though they were doing the exact same things. (see commercial below)

Here's what I find most striking about that study: men AND women were guilty of judging the fictional woman of the study more harshly. (And I wouldn't be surprised if women did it even more often.)

The conclusion I'm left with is many women haven't yet discovered that there is not a limited amount of happiness and success and self-actualization out there that we must compete over; we don't have to go about life all Hunger Games-like.

My Mom gave me a book years ago that influenced my thinking on this subject quite a bit.

From Marianne Williamson's A Woman's Worth:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn't serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us, it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
I was probably 19 when I first read this, and despite my qualms or questions about Williamson's use of "God," I understood the message clearly. I've so appreciated this idea that this very quote has been posted on the bottom of this blog since I first birthed it.

I love the idea that our decision to shine brightly gives others permission to do the same. The assumed second part to this deal is that those others are indeed recognizing their own potential and deciding to go out and start building upon their own dreams. That second part often gets lost in the shuffle.

In the interest of driving the point home, I'd like to do a little exercise. I'm imagining myself in the happiest state I can possibly fathom.  In this daydream, I am writing regularly and with purpose. I have the job of my dreams and enjoy going to work most days. I am happy in my relationship and on the homefront. I am financially comfortable. I have a decent amount of free time to do the things I enjoy. My children are happy and my house is clean.

Now I am imagining that all these things are true of me and I am constantly coming into contact with women who wish me ill, are envious of my good fortune or are otherwise unsupportive of my happiness. These women are waiting for joy to find them, and in the meantime they have decided to poo on mine. I find myself feeling guilty about my achievements  and constantly downplay my part in them.

Then I imagine this same scenario except that I'm surrounded by women who are equally committed to taking responsibility for their own lives and are doing what they can and must in order to find fulfillment. In this second scenario, we women are mutually supportive of each other and eager to help when we can. We cheer unreservedly for each others' successes and we KNOW those others will do the same for us when we ourselves have cause to celebrate. We look upon each others' mad skill, beauty, charm, magnetism, work ethic and success with deep and sincere reverence and esteem. We allow ourselves to be drawn to and enraptured by each others' bright flames. We bask in the glow.

Just as a woman can't honestly take credit for any natural physical beauty, she should not be expected to apologize for it. And as a woman has worked diligently to cultivate her admirable qualities, she should be able to show her pride in them and confidence in herself as a result.

And she shouldn't have to be extra nice in order to ward of the evil eye of other women.

I've known some extra nice women in my day (women seemingly in possession of every enviable (read: threatening) quality out there), and while I did find this eager outpouring disarming, I recognize and lament that they probably felt forced into offering it, just to avoid starting off on an otherwise inevitable wrong foot with so many fellow females.

I'm not claiming to never experience moments of jealousy. I do. And during those moments my fiercest judgment is directed at myself, as I find jealously to be a strikingly loathsome quality.  I read a meme just now that referred to jealousy as "the only vice that gives no pleasure." And how!

These days, when I feel threatened in the presence of another woman, I know the first thing I have to do is check myself. In what way do I feel inadequate at the moment? What is my fear? Do I have a legitimate reason not to like this woman, or am I being catty? Most check-worthy: How would I want other women to respond to me, if I were in this woman's situation? That last one tends to straighten me out quickly, makes me suck it up, reboot, come again.

Check thyselves, sisters! It's humbling and eye-opening.

The first time I reported for work at my current location, I was nervous upon entering. I didn't know what kind of staff worked there or if/how I would be welcomed. The first person I came into contact with was a woman named Yaz (now one of my favorite people of all). I told her I'd just transferred and that it was my first day.

To my relief--in lieu of looking me up and down or brushing me off only to huddle with another coworker and dissect the new girl--she greeted me warmly and sincerely. She gave me a tour and introduced me to every last person there. I thought, 'this feels good.' And I've thought of that moment every time a new woman was hired or came to help out from another location. I've thought that I wanted to make them feel like Yaz made me feel that day: like I was a welcomed and valued contributor, like I was with her, not against her (and I was!), like I was now an acquaintance who could one day be a friend.

What a lovely, powerful sisterhood we could create together if we all began viewing each other in this way.

Kevin's Sketch

In his words...

Kepler’s  Trio.
A portion of a piece in progress inspired by my fascination with the eye candy of the Archimedean Solids, 13 of which were described by Johannes Kepler in 1619.  Their names are a mouthful—pictured at bottom is the Great Rhombicosidodecahedron and above it, a Truncated Icosahedron.

The Door.  Inspired by a hand-carved wooden door from Sumba in Indonesia that lives in our home.  These doors are made in pairs, however, this one is mysteriously missing its chiral alter-ego.  I hope to find her other half one day.

Scenes from Manzanita Project Work Time, Week 5

I used to find it difficult-to-impossible to get any kind of work done when my son was awake. He wants my near-undivided attention (even when he's doing something else, like watching T.V.) and his questions seem to come at the average rate of 4 per minute. As he grows, however, I'm experimenting with insisting on some work time when he's around: it's not easy, but in small increments it can be very enjoyable. Here he's taking in a Christmas cartoon while I work on my draft.

1 comment:

  1. I am blessed to work with a woman who has---as far as I can see---no hidden agenda, and no bile. She is open, honest, direct, compassionate, and free with praise of others. I adore her. And I *was* really jealous of her extraordinarily petite frame until I read your blog and realized that it's not her fault or to her credit. It's just HER. What a waste of time I have spent judging, and yet, it's embarrassingly second-nature. At my age, it's definitely time to get conscious!