Author: Susan Shapiro Barash
The following review was contributed by: Amy Huffman Cloer: To read more of Amy's reviews CLICK HERE
Irony can be defined in many ways. One of them must be opening a book which exposes the jealousies and rivalries among women to see a picture of a woman who is beautiful and clearly intelligent and successful. After all, the author of a book which discusses a litany of jealousies, including those over looks, money, social status, men, friends, and education, who seems to embody all of the very things that create such rivalries, would either have to pen a terrific book or a complete flop. Susan Shapiro Barash’s Tripping the Prom Queen is not a flop; it is an insightful, revealing and even disturbing look at the problems women heap upon themselves as they become embroiled in the competitive female world.
My immediate reaction to the book, as I mentioned above, was to notice Barash’s picture and make assumptions about the tone of the book. I anticipated a denigration of the emotion of jealousy and the cruelties that jealousy creates. I flashed back to my own junior high, high school and college days to recount the times that I felt jealous and that others felt jealous of me to make mental tabulation of where I might fall on Barash’s scale. The fact that I did this all without even reading the first page justifies the entire book. Jealousy and rivalry is engrained in women to the point that it becomes less of a conscious action and more of a subconscious defense mechanism. At any rate, my initial assumptions about Barash’s treatment of the topic were far off base.
The book opens with an explanation from Barash about her own upbringing. She acknowledges that she had what many would consider a mainstream childhood, a rigorous education which culminated in a collegiate teaching position that offered her many avenues to reach intelligent and interesting women. Yet, despite these advantages, Barash is first to admit the sting of jealousy and rivalry among her own circle of friends affects all women, not just those on the proverbial short end.
Most readers will agree that the media and film industry perpetuate this rivalry. After all, rivalry sells cosmetics, electronics, dating services, apparel, children’s items and a host of self-improvement services. What many readers may not be aware of is how deeply these rivalries permeate women’s lives. Barash discusses cases of friendship rivalry, sisterly rivalry, mother-daughter rivalry and coworker rivalry. When she searched for examples, Barash tells us, story after story flooded in. She cites that 90% of women claim that “envy towards other women color their lives.” That statistic alone is astounding, but as Barash breaks it down into categories, we can see the reach of this envy.
Many people, including men, in our society tend to be laboring under the impression that the women’s liberation movement unified women behind a common cause. In a way, it did. Women can vote, own business, run for public office, and so on, but in another, perhaps more important way, it created more competition. Once the basics were established, the fight to be superwoman began. This fight was not between men and women, but between women and women. Barash notes that the majority of females employed in professional occupations state that their chief competition for advancement is women. Men don’t seem to be a threat because business has still established that the upper echelons are reserved for them. Any position just below the glass ceiling is open for women to duke it out. After all, Barash reports that women are still, as of the 21st century, only making seventy-six cents to every man’s dollar. She tells the story of a naïve young addition to a company who unwisely revealed her chances at a better job and her boyfriend to her female ‘friends’ and colleagues and found herself suddenly victimized by them. Countless anecdotes of female executives reveal the loneliness that comes with financial success.
The envy and rivalry is not confined to the workplace; it begins at home, worms its way through school, and lasts far into the golden years. One of the most disturbing sections of Barash’s book described the rivalries between mothers and daughters. It tore to the heart of pain and sadness that most women feel when they are rejected by a family member. Sarah’s story of her mother’s anger at the compliments Sarah received as a young child and her subsequent dread of these compliments is only the beginning. Some mothers unknowingly passed along the skills of rivalry as their young daughters grew up watching the envy wars. The envy doesn’t stop as the daughters age. Sadly, fifty and sixty year old mothers still harbor jealous feelings toward their daughters. Of course, sisters are also the sources of great rivalry. Similar stories of sisterly love/hate relationships permeate the book. Sadly, these rivalries continue well into adulthood with each relationship, husband, child, job, home, car and vacation scrutinized and tabulated by the sisters.
We are all aware that one of the most intense breeding grounds for rivalry and jealousy is not the home, but the school. Girls as young as elementary school vie for position as the prettiest, the most popular, and the teacher’s pet. In middle school, the stakes get higher. Getting the guy could mean premature sex. Getting the grades could mean cheating. Getting the popular status could mean cruelty to others. Barash cites movies such as Mean Girls and Heathers as examples of the competition in schools, but most of us don’t even need those examples. We have our own memories of school to replay in our heads.
Whether it is envy over reproduction, wealth, occupations or boyfriends, nobody appears to escape. The impacts of this culture are not reassuring. Each act of rivalry breeds another, so the circle continues. Barash sadly notes that competition among women in the workplace allows for the glass ceiling to remain unbroken. Competition for sexual intimacy, sexual power or intimate fulfillment prompts some women to break up marriages, either their own or others, in order to reach the same level of intimacy as other women ‘seem” to have.
Thankfully, Barash does not leave the problem untreated. She offers sports as an outlet for rivalry and encourages women to find other, healthy forms of competition. She offers advice for recognizing, understanding and controlling feelings of jealousy and envy. She encourages a mixture of diverse interests and unity among women. She gives women room to grow.
I learned from this book. As one of three daughters, mother of a teenage girl, career professional, and wife, I must recognize the ways I am fostering these problems. Barash, as a gender studies expert, offers advice from a wide array of professionals to support her conclusions. Every woman and the men in their lives will benefit from exploring this book. Barash has set herself apart as one who can bring a problem to light and offer means to correct it.