Sisterhood and the Judgement of Paris


I watch, “The Bachelor in Paris.” There, I said it … disparage or pity me if you will.

It started innocently enough. Roommate A tivo’d it, and I watched because she was watching. And no, I wouldn’t jump off a bridge if she did, but it might be interesting to watch if she had a bungee cord on. Anyway, I got hooked, and I’m in until the final rose.

In the awful world that is reality tv, Travis is both judge and prize. He gets to re-enact the judgement of Paris … in Paris, ironically enough. He’s an ED doctor who looks like he should be ensconced in marble as opposed to flesh and blood. And he’s a genuinely nice guy. So nice that he almost fades into the background alongside the beautiful and strong-willed women who surround him.

The women are compelling. So beautiful that they could be models for Dr. 90210 (who’s a member of my stake!). Each competitive and determined to “win.” Each passionate, or at least that’s what they’re putting out for the camera. Each vain enough to be a contestant on this show. Hera, Athena and Aphrodite.

What amazes me is how concerned the women are about (not for) each other. Instead of focusing on their own strengths, they’re constantly gauging themselves against the other women. Jealousy, pettiness, backbiting and cleavage. It all makes for great trash-tv, but it’s awful when it happens in the real world.

A few years ago, in a special Relief Society meeting in the singles’ ward, the bishop met with us to discuss dating. I remember giggling at this naïve comment by one of the younger sisters in the ward: “When two girls are dating the same guy, we shouldn’t let our jealousy get in the way of our sisterhood. In fact, if the guy is trying to make us jealous, we should be mad at him!” And no, I’m not advocating guy-bashing, but there was a bit of truth in it.

In the LDS singles’ world, men actually have much better odds than Paris did. Even the Encyclopedia on Mormonism states that, “For all singles over 30 there are 19 active men [who attend church] weekly for every 100 active women.” And yes, I know the stats are old (pre-1992), but I doubt they’ve improved. I’ve seen a bit of competition for those 19 men. It’s not pretty. It always saddens me, because it contradicts the second great commandment (hopefully we’re already working on the first) to love our neighbor as ourself.

Let me tell you about a real and earthly goddess-in-training. My friend S is just delightful. Her quirky sense of humor never fails to make me laugh. She has a great career as a speech therapist. As a newbie to the family ward, she started hosting monthly singles’ dinners that have grown to include people from as far Orange County, LA, the valley, and the Inland Empire. Now, several years later, she continues to invite people over for dinner to share in the warmth of her newlywed home. Last week, she even brought me a get-well package on Sunday when she found out that I was sick. She makes me want to be a better person. I am inspired, not diminished, by her … and that is the true measure of a goddess. Paris can keep that golden apple … I’ve got more than enough to pass around.

Jana

Jana is university administrator and History professor. Her soloblog is http://janaremy.com/pilgrimsteps/

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  1. Stephen says:

    I am inspired, not diminished, by her … and that is the true measure of a goddess.

    Indeed. That was an excellent post.

  2. Deborah says:

    Dora: I read your post shortly after finishing the Sunstone article I linked to on Virtual Oasis: “Toward a More Authentic Sisterhood: Unmasking Hidden Envy and Competition among LDS Women.” I think you’d enjoy it.

    You write, “I’ve seen the competition for those 19 men. It isn’t pretty.” In one singles ward, I was close friends with a man who lived in a “bachelor pad” with five other active, eligible men. I was stunned by his description of the attention lavished on them — baked goods delivered on a regular basis, regular dinner offers for the whole apartment, even an occasional offer to come clean/decorate. While it never became common practice for women to ask out the men, there was plenty of Hera-like stealth assertion.

    At the time, my closest friend was an orthodox Jewish woman, and she described the competition for eligible orthodox men and the singles’ milieu in suprisingly recognizable terms. We seemed to understand each other’s culture much more clearly than either of us were understood by our protestant friends.

  3. Dora says:

    Thanks Steven. I’m all for excellence. I feel like I’m in good company for it.

    Deborah: yes, I did read that back in November, and found it to be a very compelling article. Hawker asserts that envy between women is more pernicious than between men becaus the male version is more socially acceptable. I guess envy doesn’t fit in with, “sugar and spice and everything nice.”

    Like Chesler, I believe that glossing over so-called unfit feelings does us a grave disservice. Painful as it may be, we each need to take an introspective approach and clean out our dirty corners, or beam-y eyes. It is only then that we can approach the task of building the kingdom.

    And yes, there is plenty of Hera-like stealth alive and well in the singles scene today. And while I don’t do extra-curricular apartment cleaning and decorating, we do have a fair stream of people coming over to our place for games, dinners, etc. Where I see women getting upset is when the men do not reciprocate by planning dinners or fun activities in return. And why should they, when there is so much largess for them to partake in? It’s the old “hanging out” dilemma … at what point do we go beyond just having fun, to shooting our own foot by making dating obselete? Maybe we’d be better off having more girls’ nights out.

    As for interreligious friendships … I once bonded with a swing acquaintance over online dating … jdate and ldsmingle. Oi vey, the things we do!

  4. stacer says:

    Dora, those stats are not only pre-1992, they’re from 1981. There hasn’t been an official study on singles’ church attendance since 1981. Every article/book I’ve seen on the subject of the ratio of girls to guys cites that study, if it cites one at all.

    However, I’m not seeing any difference today. In some wards I’ve attended, the odds have been far worse, and even my own bishop in one singles’ ward said that the odds were even more skewed because we had a lot of shy guys in the same ward as a lot of very outgoing, very powerful women. That can be pretty intimidating for those guys.

    I’m thinking of one guy in particular, who was a nice enough friend when you saw him, but hated being in large, dynamic groups so much that he got mad at his roommate for inviting me to a party at their house, because he’d intended on it being a very small group of people he was comfortable with. In that particular ward, he wasn’t an exception.

  5. Caroline says:

    Dora,
    This is an amazing post. I immediately connected with it because…um….I have watched many a season of The Bachelor as well. And I know how horrible it is to see these women scheming and getting their hearts broken, but it can indeed be fascinating. (That mixture of fascination and horror is what has also, unfortunately, driven me to watch a few Miss America pageants on TV).

    On a deeper level, I also really appreciate your ideas about sisterhood. I love your statement about being inspired, not diminished, by powerful, wonderful women.

  6. Holly says:

    “For all singles over 30 there are 19 active men [who attend church] weekly for every 100 active women.” And yes, I know the stats are old (pre-1992), but I doubt they’ve improved. I’ve seen a bit of competition for those 19 men. It’s not pretty. It always saddens me, because it contradicts the second great commandment (hopefully we’re already working on the first) to love our neighbor as ourself.

    and

    In one singles ward, I was close friends with a man who lived in a “bachelor pad” with five other active, eligible men. I was stunned by his description of the attention lavished on them — baked goods delivered on a regular basis, regular dinner offers for the whole apartment, even an occasional offer to come clean/decorate. While it never became common practice for women to ask out the men, there was plenty of Hera-like stealth assertion.

    I think these statements should serve as comments on the earlier thread about what it’s like for single people in the church, and whether or not single women have it worse than single men.

    In other words, of course it’s worse for single women.

    Statistics are against them, in that they’re outnumbered 4 to 1 by single men; women don’t have enough, uh, chutzpah or power or confidence or aggression or socially sanctioned opportunities or whatever you want to call it, to ask a guy out, so they’re reduced to being sneaky, expending huge amounts of time and money in attempting to snare a man; and then there’s the fact that marriage and motherhood are their primary callings, so if they don’t get married, they’ve failed supremely–plus they’ve got to do it by 40, because of the specter of menopause hangs over their head, while men remain fertile much later in life, especially with the help of Viagra.

    And, as someone mentioned in the comments on the other thread, there’s always the priesthood thing, which means that single men (whether they’re considered menaces to society or not) in the church still have more status and power even than married women–but single women, forget it.

    Probably any 22-year-old sister missionary who has been bossed around by a 19-year-old elder knows knows something about where women rank in the church, and what it means to be a single woman threatened with the prospect of spinsterhood. Though I will also add that one of the things I liked about my mission was that it provided an opportunity for very close friendships with women–and we didn’t have to worry about competing for men.

  7. stacer says:

    Holly, I think you mean that they outnumber single men 4 to 1.

    I really liked the stake conference talk posted in the Virtual Oases III post above. I think it addresses some of the issues here nicely, and gets right to the heart of Dora’s ideas about sisterhood, even expanding it.

  8. Dora says:

    Well, if we’re getting down to the nitty gritty (and incredibly outdated, as Stacer has pointed out) numbers, it’s 5:1.

    So, as a single, over-30 woman, I’ve chosen to focus on what I can do. Personally, I’ve found it extremely damaging to wail about my own lack of chutzpah, husband or children, spend more money than I ought to on things that don’t matter, and blaming others for my state of un/happiness. Not that I don’t, from time to time, but I’ve found it much more productive to be more proactive in dating, find joy in interacting with men and children, save my money for things that matter, and take responsibility for myself.

    I loved Colonna’s talk. I especially found intriguing her analysis of why we are named the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as opposed to many other possible titles.

  9. Holly says:

    OK, yeah, Mormon women over 30 outnumber Mormon men over 30 5 to 1. Sorry for my bad math.

    I’m not wailing about MY lack of chutzpah: I was always willing to ask out men I was interested in. Nor am I wailing about the fact that if I were competing for an available Mormon man, I’d have to spend lots of money to do it, because the fact of the matter is, I stopped competing for such men in 1989–and I wasn’t even past 30 then. I haven’t dated a practicing Mormon man for 17 years, though I have dated a few inactive ones.

    I’m, uh, “wailing” about the fact that Mormon women still do things like this, and then wail over it–at that same time they’re wailing about how to fit in with an oppressive patriarchal society that teaches them to behave this way.

  10. Dora says:

    One of the things i like best about S is that she leads by example. Maybe it’s a facet that she’s learned through her career, but she doesn’t point out flaws so much as build on strengths. Obviously, I’m still learning, as can be evidenced by my use of the loaded term “wail.” And I don’t think that turning a blind eye to faults is productive. But I do believe that the way to evince desire for change is to show the benefits of said change, as opposed to merely the pitfalls of the current system.