My last two posts have discussed the complications and negative subversive behavior that often plague women’s friendships. My next few posts will address various ways in which we can transcend and thus transform our ways of relating to each other more ethically and honestly. I lean heavily on Phyllis Chesler’s unflinching, courageous observations in her book Woman’s Inhumanity to Woman. When I read this book 15 years ago, her soothing honesty reassured me that I was not alone in my pain…nor in my complicity. To help in our transformation, I’ll highlight two suggestions in this post:
- Learn to hear and to tell each other the truth.
Phyllis Chesler observes:
We have seen that women are aggressive, but in indirect ways and mainly toward other women. Since women depend upon each other for intimacy, they do not acknowledge that this is the case. Instead, girls and women often refrain from telling each other what they really think for fear of being offensive or “different.” Authentic or independent thought or emotion might lead to disconnection, ostracism, and loss of status. Rather than risk this, girls and women talk behind each other’s backs (p. 462).
Chesler makes a valid point when she says, “truth and peace do not often coexist. Telling the truth offends, startles, endangers, and upsets the status quo. Truth-tellers are considered dangerous. They do not play the game: they blow the whistle on it” (p. 462-63). Isn’t it ironic how people (especially women) who dare speak truths are often labeled “contentious,” “negative,” and “unloving?” I have adopted Holocaust survivor and Jewish psychiatrist Victor Frankl’s outlook: “I learned to love the truth more than I loved my own pride.” Truth-telling is a common theme in my posts; it’s the greatest form of empowerment in my own life. Here’s another irony: truth hurts, but as Christ teaches, truth sets us free—individually and collectively. In my prayers, I’ve learned to ask the Lord to reveal hard truths to me. Even better, truth no longer scares me–whether those truths come from the Lord, my husband, my kids, my relatives, or my friends. I’ve learned that truth is much easier to live by than varnished truth or lies. Phyllis Chesler pulls no punches when she says:
Lying, in order to manipulate others, is an art. A liar-artist often believes her own lies—What she’s saying must be true, no one has ever stopped her, she’s been able to get away with false, unethical reports, she’s even been rewarded for them. Emboldened by reward, she thinks that what she’s saying HAS to be the truth; otherwise, the Empress is buck-naked, and the castle is a mere pack of cards, a fantastic sleight-of-hand trick—except that all the slandered women remain slandered. In one’s own very small circle, the psychological executions are real (p. 464).
Whew! Harsh words! And she’s so right; each one of us has been involved in this type of complicity to some degree. I admire Chesler’s “take-no-prisoners” truth telling and “no excuses” bravery. We should all be so heroic. Surely, truth is rooted in examining our own motivations and behaviors toward other women. This seed germinates and flourishes as we admit to and tell each other our truths in addition to telling the truth. Otherwise, we stay mired in tainted, negative behaviors. My experience with women friends and acquaintances mirrors Chesler’s:
In order to survive as a woman, among women, one must speak carefully, cautiously, neutrally, indirectly; one must pay careful attention to what more socially powerful women have to say before one speaks; one must learn how to flatter, manipulate, agree with, and appease them. And, if one is hurt or offended by another woman, one does not say so outright; one expresses it indirectly, by turning others against her” (p. 461).
Aren’t we tired of all of this drama and game-playing? I know I am. Unfortunately, and fortunately, I can play by these rules with great skill. With considerable difficulty, I’m adopting more constructive ways of communicating and relating to women….and teaching my daughters these skill sets.
- Develop realistic attitudes and expectations in our relationships and friendships with other women.
Too often, I looked to my women friends as “substitute mothers.” Chesler refers to them as “fairy godmothers” who are expected to make all that is wrong in our lives right. I was naive to think that if I were “good enough,” I would never offend my women friends. I also convinced myself of their undying loyalty. Surely, they would never gossip about me—and I would never gossip about them. Wrong. If we rid ourselves of these unrealistic expectations, we will foster a deeper, more sincere way of relating to each other. Right or wrong, we need to guard ourselves against each other’s frailties and foibles by becoming our own best friend. As Chesler says:
I understand that I cannot expect automatic or unconditional love, approval, or support from other women, and that I must expect instead their disapproval, envy, unacknowledged competition, fair-weather friendship, opportunism, cowardice, or indifference. I am trying hard to balance my new expectations against my earlier ones. I am trying to become realistic. Women [are not] my fairy godmothers…nor are they my evil stepmothers. They are only human beings with profound limitations, who also have the capacity to comfort and protect those who do not threaten them” (p. 462).
I agree with Chesler when she says that gossip, slander, and ostracism are major weapons of indirect aggression women use against each other. I’m still on the learning curve in censoring myself and behaving differently toward women. More importantly, I’ve learned to overcome my fear of offending by disconnecting from women who consistently manipulate, bully, compete, envy, etc. The result: I’m a whole lot happier!
My next post will offer more suggestions. Here’s to a new “world peace!”