Monday, July 27, 2015

Dear LadyLike: Name That Sin!

This question came in after the topic of resentment squared by spite came up in an Issues, Etc. segment. I think it was the second episode in the series.

Dear LadyLike,

Could you, would you please elaborate on that "unname-able" sin which we women often find ourselves committing? Is this a variation of envy chilled with cruelty? What examples from the Scriptures, if any, can you think of to support what you mean concerning this unname-able sin? . . . . I think you're right that this is a form of coveting. And while I agree that it's not unique to women (Dudes be like, "I wish that I had Jesse's girl. ") I really liked how you two honed in on how (can I say with a little tongue in cheek) "uniquely feminine" this sin is displayed. . .Also I'm just curious what examples (perhaps even apart from Scripture but predating feminism ) that can illustrate this woman to woman sin.

Another not- wanting-to-admit- being a chilly, sinful chick (Comfortable in my sin...) smile emoticon

Dear Chilly Chick,

I'm good at a lot of sins, but I am really good at this one! :P

What we're talking about here is that thing where something good happens to someone else, and since I can't have it, I medicate my injured pride by marinating in rank thoughts about her having it. I think your envy+cruelty formulation is good. You got something I want, and I feel really wronged by that, and I wish our situation were reversed and I was the one feeling awesome and you were the one feeling like barf on the asphalt in August. It's worse than sour grapes, because sour grapes is characterized by saying the grapes look pretty gnarly anyway. In our sin the grapes look awesome and we hate that harpy chowing them down, plus she looks super fat when she eats grapes and actually always. Or like some really smart lady said, "If we're sitting around in yoga pants and a T-shirt and last night's wilted ponytail, everyone should!" We could call it resentment with benefits, or envy for mean girls, or the contrapositive-schadenfreude ideal, if we wanted a term that neither captures the idea well nor sticks in one's head.

Whatever we call it, when it happens among women, I think it is augmented by a sense of entitlement. If she got that, I should be able to because if she can any woman could, and I'm WAY better than she is. The fact that we're both girls is the proof that I had as valid a claim on it as she did. The classic Scriptural example is the prostitutes in Solomon's court, one of whom would prefer the baby to die over seeing the other woman get what she lost. 

I think this is different when it occurs between women than when it happens between a woman and a man, because I think mixed-pair envy occurs far more frequently in women than men. You almost never hear men saying how much better women have it, or expressing envy toward the overall female experience, while the whole point of feminism is trying obliterate every obstacle separating women from the male experience. It isn't because men actually have life better, but because there's a whole curse about it. Men, on balance, have a fundamental satisfaction with being men that women don't have with being women. Even men who want to wear corsets on the cover of Vanity Fair never ask for a uterus, the absolute somatic difference between the sexes, which clues us in to what the trans thing is often (usually?) about: the party, not the business. Pretty much the only other place you'll run into men envying women is the manosphere, the uglier galleries of which resemble contemporary feminism (and it's actually about the same thing as the trans thing; the envy is ultimately tied up in a fantasy about sexual gratification).

A clear historical example of women showing envy compounded by the desire to deprive one's rival is from early feminism (I know, I know . . . it's a really good example, though). Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton opposed the 15th amendment (granting black men the right to vote) because they thought the amendment should also include women's suffrage. It caused a huge rift in the women's suffrage movement because a bunch of other suffragettes thought it was at least better for black women to gain access to the franchise through their husbands (like white women had, and which people could get their minds around at that point in history) than to keep ANY black citizens from voting just because women weren't being granted the vote. Yeesh. (Incidentally, this is why identity coalitions never end up working. Eventually there is some reckoning in which participants have to choose one side, eg Oprah backs Obama over Hillary and breaks the hearts of a bunch of white ladies in their 50s and 60s.)

When it's a woman envying men, there is often a sense of "you can't fight city hall" about it, either due to reality or some caricatured explanation for it like systemic sexism. The effect is more like ressentiment (although some are mad enough to fight city hall anyway). When a woman is envying a women, she feels more wronged in a way, because her preferred outcome was totally possible, and it didn't happen! That's why the girl/girl version is more perversely arabesque. The offense feels more personal.

So there's some more jawing about it, although I don't know if I've shed much more light on the question. Basically, this is a really ugly sin. It is a way-too-perfect example of Luther's incurvatus in se (via Augustine): being curved in one oneself, like an ingrown toenail. Its trajectory is a spiral that pushes everything else out, neighbors and God. The sinner becomes a smaller person, more bound up with hateful envy, with every tortuous thought. She becomes too twisted in on the wrong she feels has been done her to see anything straight.

Be warm and well fed!