For years the “inside” joke among many American Jews is a question that comes up whenever one of our own is in the public limelight, good or bad: But is it good for the Jews? Jon Stewart uses this phrase all the time and noted Jewish intellectual Stanley Fish has written about the issue twice, once four years ago and once several days ago. I admit I am appalled when people like Madoff steal huge amounts of money (and ruin some prominent Jews and Jewish organizations) and cringe when people like Anthony Weiner destroy a good career by acting like a schmuck. Dominique Strauss-Kahn is almost too embarrassing to talk about. Poised to be only the second Jewish president of France, his behavior is particularly horrifying: Jewish men don’t attack and try to rape women, do they?
Yeah. They do. Here and there. Although the numbers may not be the same in terms of percentages, there are lousy Jewish guys ruining it for the good ones. But, wait. Why do we even need to think in those terms? Do we wonder, when hundreds of white, non-Jewish men misbehave or worse, is it good for white guys (the latest example being the Southwest pilots who mouthed off in the ugliest of ways)? Of course not. Those are singular examples. The downfall of a member of a minority is always more interesting and more of a media spectacle than any number of downfalls by the majority.
Let’s look at women. A friend posted recently on her Facebook wall about a particular group of women she can’t stand: bossy, pushy, driven and intrusive. Women who are selfish and unkind. Entitled. Those women happen to share a yoga class. But her post led to a further discussion about women who whine about being “too busy” to A) keep up with the news B) watch television shows you like C) handle any number of things most of us handle pretty well or C, D, and F. In short: women who make us feel that no matter what we are doing it isn’t as much as they are doing; it isn’t enough. We all know women like that. Unfortunately.
I have written before about the kind of women who give women a bad name and they are multitude. Reality show housewives and bachelorettes; bad girls and mean girls. I now add to that women who push other women around, women who act superior because of their body or looks. Women who treat other women like second class citizens. I add bridezillas (especially those on television), teen moms who had no idea it would be hard to have a baby (oy), and women who feel entitled to be shitty to other women just because they can. Who feel the need to one-up their sisters rather than commiserate or befriend. I add to that women who feel smug because they stayed home with the kids and women who feel smug because they did not. Women bosses who treat the women under them with disdain or worse. Women who gossip about other women’s weight, hair, or clothes. And women who have no problem saying that they have spent their whole life thinking about their wedding day.
All of those women give women a bad name.
But so what? So what if some women misbehave and treat each other badly? So what if some cling to old stereotypes and buy into the notion that a woman needs a man (with money) to survive? Does that mean that feminism has failed and has no place in our modern world? Does that mean that we have achieved, gulp, equality?
Not on your life. We still aren’t paid equally; we are still subject to gross discrimination (and with the squelching of the law suit against Wal-Mart that may go on for a long time) here and abroad, we are still supposed to stay prettier and trimmer than our male counterparts, and we are still subject to horrific violence from men, just because we are women. And we are still supposed to be nicer, easier to get along with, and more compliant than men.
The media is ginning up the game, too. When was the last time you heard a discussion or media coverage of daddy wars like mommy wars? If we had decent maternity leave and the support of our employers that might become a non-issue: most men still don’t weigh having children against their work and yet we all must consider how becoming a mother or not can affect our careers. And it’s far more interesting to portray women as cat-fighting bitches than it is to portray them as friends. It makes for better entertainment value.
For every column inch about a march for women’s rights, you will still get a dozen dissenting opinions (some of them from women). I think it was Betty Friedan who said that we will have equal rights for women only when we are allowed to be as mediocre as men at what we do. More than forty years into the modern women’s movement, we aren’t nearly there yet. To get hired, women must still jump through hoops to get to the top echelon and the glass ceiling remains intact. We must file discrimination lawsuits just to get what should be expected. And all of that is compounded when we are our own worst enemy.
We may not be better than men, but we still have to behave better and perform better just to stay even, never mind get ahead. If we continue to sabotage ourselves by buying into the ugliest of stereotypes (women are betraying bitches who entrap men by marriage and really only want to stay home and be kept; women are bitchy and awful to each other; women compete with other women for men) our journey will be long and hard.
I love my women friends and I could not live my life without them: they love me and support me back. I have instilled in both my children feminism and respect for women and talked to both my son and my daughter about respect for themselves in dealing with the opposite sex. But unless we start to police our own behavior and attitudes, there is only so much that the society at large can do for us. Even though we may be a majority in numbers, we remain a minority in treatment and status. It is up to us to band together for the good of all of us rather than fighting each other. We will get farther faster. And who knows? Perhaps then we can relax in the mediocrity that white men enjoy.