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.
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