samedi, mai 13, 2006

Are women mean to one another?

I have a friend who writes for a local newspaper. He is on the fitness beat, which includes physical, mental, spiritual and emotional health. While he would not describe himself as a feminist in the traditional meaning of the term-in fact, he would probably evade labels of any kind-he is a man who self-avowedly loves and is fascinated by women. Now and then he'll write a column about a thin woman. Nothing wrong with that-the problem is that some of the women he writes about stay thin by working out six days a week, or eating sparely, or are often hungry. When he does so, he gets a flood of mail from women who are upset, or even angry, that he would hold up such a woman as a role model, when she may or may not have an eating disorder, an unhealthy fixation on body image, or might be a bad model for other women. Since this isn't his blog, I'm not going to quote his response, except to say that it is nuanced and complex. But my own reactions to his pieces have impelled me to ponder whether American women as a species are indeed prone to be catty, critical, or envious, of other women. When I consider this idea, please understand that I am not giving men a free pass. All of us are sinners, capable of really bad behavior. Men have some different ways of inflicting damage. But as a woman, particularly as a mother of a girl, I have been both a participant and observer of the ways in which women can hurt one another. Several years ago a young woman wrote a book called "Odd Girl Out." She studied teenage girls and the ways that they can include, exclude and back stab. My daughter attends a parochial school with strict standards of behavior. Yet Sian, who has a distinctive personality and style, has been excluded from parties and overnights. Most of my good friends are direct, open and honest. But even I have been the victim of gossip and character assasination by other women. Granted, they are a small fraction of all the women I have known. It is also true that generalizations are very dangerous. But if there is a small grain of truth in the idea that women can be mean to other women, it only helps to teach us that we need to raise our daughters to be proud of who they are in all of their individual beauty. Contrasting themselves with models and actresses, or with some cultural image of femininity impossible to attain, is going to leave them feeling inadequate and shallow. We also need to help them be direct. It is scary, sometimes, to speak the truth. But more frightening, and worse for your soul, when you can't be direct. If you can't say it to someone's face, don't say it. I have no idea whether the women in those essays have eating disorders or other problems. But if they do act in unhealthy ways, I hope that they have good sisterly friends who speak the truth in that they don't have to read it in the paper.

1 commentaire:

Catherine + a dit…

A meaningful read, Elizabeth. When we are "mean" in any particular way, it is hurtful to the recipient. What irks me is when you have a misunderstanding with a woman friend and then they refuse to talk to you about it. Now that is mean. How in the blessed world are you supposed to figure out how to right the wrong if you don't KNOW what is going on. I find that either we can be notorious gossips or make the Siciian code of silence look like the historic Chinese water torture that can be wielded in truly destructive ways. Sometimes silence is a good thing, but when it is used as a weapon to make someone else crazy, definitely not a good thing at all. Obviously I could stand on my soapboz about this all day, but it is your blog and I SHOULD let someone else have their turn...on the soapbox that is. Thanks E.