What’s up with women not helping each other?

November 8th, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 7 comments

Dear Rabbi & Susan, 

I enjoy your podcast discussions about relationships between men and women. I wonder if you have any thoughts you may like to share regarding women who discriminate against other women? Sadly, I don’t feel women are very supportive of other women and wonder why this is? 

Thanks and God bless you.

Elizabeth

Dear Elizabeth,

Your question has vast implications.  These include political, social, business, and family as well as others.  Though we are working on a book about the interface of money and male-female relationships, we’ll try and respond to your question a lot more briefly.

The Bible describes several examples of difficult relationships between women including: Sarah and Hagar (Genesis 16), Rachel and Leah (Genesis 29) and Penina and Hannah (I Samuel: 1).

Now here is an observation that is not only politically incorrect, but also very true:  In all these cases, the rivalry between the women is related to the man in their lives. It’s probably fair to say that men are still the direct or indirect cause of much tension between women today. That occurs even when it is a case of who the boss appreciates more—and that holds true even when there is a female boss, though we really don’t have room to explain that incendiary statement here.  (See our upcoming book!)

At the same time, Rachel and Leah also represent women who protected and supported each other (Ancient Jewish wisdom on Genesis 29). Another example of that can be found in Ruth and Naomi throughout the book of Ruth.

When men in Scripture quarrel, it tends to take a more physical expression: Cain and Abel (Genesis 4), Joseph and his brothers (Genesis 37), Saul and David (1 Samuel 19).

But, of course, we also see Judah protecting Benjamin (Genesis 44), Moses and Aaron working together (Exodus) and Jonathan and David’s friendship (1 Samuel 20).

Our human inclination, left alone, just as we are born, is towards selfishness, jealousy and self-protection. Moral training is necessary for most of us to access empathy and care for others. In general, women were created to seek affection and security within the smaller family unit, while men were created to need a larger playing field to fulfill their wants. When these desires and requirements are threatened, both men and women turn on each other if they have not trained themselves otherwise.

From personal experience we see many women supporting each other, whether by lending a listening ear or providing help during difficult times. Similarly, we know of men who risk their lives for each other in the military and who bolster their friends with financial and other types of help.

If you are in situations where the women around you are not supportive of each other, it’s worth analyzing what’s going on. Is this in your family, community or workplace? You can actively look for women who work on improving character traits. if you can’t attach yourself to a more pleasant group of women, possibly initiate a series of classes that present the concepts you desire to see.

This is a matter of education and moral improvement, not a fixed trait like height or eye color.

Finally, we want to address the last point you raise, namely that you don’t feel that, “women are very supportive of other women.”  Here, dear Elizabeth, you may be falling into what we like to call ‘The Hillary Trap’.  By this we mean a certain politician’s view that gender transcends everything.  This is not true.  Let’s imagine that your husband is being tormented by a terrible supervisor at work; one who happens to be female.  Surely you wouldn’t take her side just because she’s a woman?  Many of a certain politician’s supporters evidently believed that women should feel that nothing about a candidate is more important than her genitals. I (Susan) personally found that rather insulting.

There is no more reason to suppose that women should automatically support other women than there is to suppose that men should automatically support other men or that folks with red hair should automatically support others similarly endowed.

With this in mind, we might have been able to be a bit more helpful had we known what women weren’t being supportive towards you.  Your sisters?  Women at your workplace?  Female players on your women’s baseball league?  In all these examples and others, the answer to your question would probably have had more to do with those relationships than with your gender.

Wishing you good friends and supportive sisters,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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7 comments

Michael Overstreet says:

Increasingly in our media & technology driven society, the prevailing forces wish us to identify more with groups than express our own unique talents as individuals.

Susan Lapin says:

Michael, we seem to be getting to know each other less as individuals as well. Technology can be used to encourage surface relationships.

Leslie says:

I couldn’t agree more. I made some basic comments on social media concerning all the sexual harassment claims being made only against men and the hate spewing towards men. I know from my time in the acting world and theatre that this heinous behavior is done by both sexes and includes homosexuals. When I said I thought we should open the dialogue further into it being people in general who indulge and also that in all probability not all reports will turn out to be true I was severely attacked for being against women.

All I could say was that I am not against women, or anyone else. I am just opening the doors to discuss the behavior more fully. That I felt, as a woman who had been held at one time in her life, but who did not report it, that I might have something to share and discuss.

So I outed myself for no good reason except to get yelled at. I took the posting down.

And none of it had anything with not supporting woen. I just like to support ALL people, male and female.

Susan Lapin says:

Sorry you had such a harsh experience, Leslie. I’m afraid that shouting is what social media seems to do best. We can’t let that convince us that serious and polite conversation is at an end. We just have to know where to find it.

Chrissy says:

I thought this was a very interesting article and I’ve had this question multiple times. With my sisters they are very supportive. I know that there can be jealousy when guys come around in regards of peers who are not biologically related (so with acquaintances who turn sour suddenly that makes sense). But, I don’t understand when it comes to the working field or domesticity. I feel like most of the older women who are very career oriented who I’ve encountered have not liked me and that’s been the same case with a lot of older women who are domestically oriented. They seem to want to make me a modern-day feminist or a super woman soccer mom (yet there’s a vibe that they wouldn’t accept me even if I accomplished that or it still wouldn’t be good enough). I know that in the Ketubah the focus is on the man’s vow and that from the Judeo-Christian view there’s a large focus on how he should be, but in society they focus more on what the woman should be (or how the guy should get out of the way for the woman to do that). I’m not married yet, but I feel that if I were to be all of my human value would be based on my performance whether that be cooking, cleaning, or income/job prestige and that’s the vibe I get from mostly women (occasionally guys too). I do well in things, but it never seems to be enough and the older women in the community seem hostile. Is this hostility from older women rooted from their relationships with the men in their lives too?

Susan Lapin says:

That’s a great question, Chrissy. Off the cuff, I can think of two reasons for hostility from older women, both rooted in the encouragement given in our society to having a victim mentality. If you are doing well career-wise, there could be resentment that they fought battles you didn’t have to fight. Maybe some of the them even chose not to have children and they see you as someone who plans to have both career and children. If younger women choose to forego career advancement to focus on children, then they are seen as rejecting the banner under which some feminists marched. In general though, I think our society really pushes both men and women to be angry and resentful – something our evil inclination is happy to promote. As I say, I’m writing off the cuff so I could be entirely wrong, but those are my first thoughts.

Robert E. Oppie says:

I joined the retail work force ca. 1952, retired ca 1997. I married in1957, to a woman who worked in banking. Over the years, your topic was the source of many conversations between my wife and I. I found myself making the same observation as your original writer. Woman’s roles in the workplace changed dramatically over the years. Based on my own observations and my wifes comments re her work experience your writers observations seem to become the norm. It seemed to me, womens role in society mirrored their roles as society evolved. Early on in our married life,I worked, I learned to not be too complimentery of women with whom I worked. This dynamic did not change over the years. My wife, self admittedly, preferred spending time with men rather than female. Her explanation was that women would rather spend their time tearing down their counterparts than discussing work related subjects. Women with whom I worked, did not understand the term “in confidence” either as it pertained to something they’d heard or something I’d said to them. they simply are a different breed unto them selfs.

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