Susan Shapiro Barash is a professor of gender studies at Marymount Manhattan College and became fascinated by women's relationship with each other. Can sisters, mothers and best friends be jealous and supportive at the same time? In fact she found that rivalry and envy often pervades female relationships. The women's liberation movement created more options for women, but it also seems to have created more competition, Barash said.
Facing the Dark Mirror All my life, I've relied upon the kindness of women.
I had a terrific relationship with my mother, who supported my earliest efforts to explore the world and discover a sense of myself. I had wonderful girlfriends, pals who were good for everything from a carefree shopping trip downtown to long, serious discussions about the meaning of life. When I got to college, I was fortunate to find female professors and mentors who nurtured and challenged me while offering a wide variety of role models for how to make my own way in the academic world. When I began teaching gender studies at Marymount Manhattan College, I found smart, interesting, and supportive colleagues with whom I could discuss the latest developments in our respective fields while sharing my feelings about the complicated business of balancing marriage, motherhood, and a career. And as I watched my own daughters become lovely young women with a world of promise before them, I cherished the thought that they were so much more self-confident than I had ever been, and would have so many more opportunities than I'd ever had.
I knew that partial credit for my good fortune went to the women's movement, which had proclaimed in the early 1970s the value of sisterhood. Women, oppressed by men for generations, had finally realized that we needed to look out for each other. Luckily, solidarity came without effort to our kind and generous natures, once we had seen through the dangerous illusions of patriarchy.
OK, what's wrong with this picture?
In fact, it's all true. I have been blessed with wonderful friends, colleagues, and family. And the women's movement has contributed enormously to our understanding of the kinds of bonds that women can build with one another.
But, like virtually every other woman I have ever met, I've also known the dark side of female bonding. I've had conflicts with my mother, my daughters, my girlfriends, my colleagues, with women whom I thought were my friends, with women whom I learned not to trust. I've been the subject of gossip, betrayals, backstabbing, catfighting. I've found myself enmeshed in relationships marked by unexpected competition, envy, and jealousy. And in both my own life and the lives of other women, I have seen how female friendship can be both empowering and disabling, a source of rock-solid strength as well as a mire of treachery, deceit, and misunderstanding.