Supporting and Celebrating the Women in Our Lives
Rachel then said; “A mighty rivalry have I waged with my sister; moreover, I have prevailed.”
-- Genesis 30:8
In this little-known narrative from this week’s Torah portion, Vayeitzi, as often happens in stories featuring women, Rachel and Leah are pitted against one another.
Also in the parashah (Torah portion), Jacob travels to visit Laban, meets Rachel, and falls in love with her. Her father Laban insists that in order to marry her, Jacob must work for him for seven years. Jacob agrees, completes the task and marries Rachel, only later realizing that Laban tricked him into marrying his oldest daughter, Leah. Upset, Jacob also marries Rachel with a promise to work seven more years. As the dust settles, the two sisters compete for Jacob’s love and attention, including trying to win favor through childbirth, and even using their maids to conceive children for them.
Rachel and Leah have a difficult relationship, largely due to outside forces – Laban and God – who constantly pit them against each other. Their relationship exemplifies the competitive nature among women I see in today’s society.
In popular culture, women are consistently set in opposition to one another. We are taught that to be successful, we have to be more successful than other women. This drive results from our need to prove ourselves not only to ourselves, but also to each other and to the men in our lives – all the time and in every aspect of our lives from our social life to our professional life, and beyond.
Although I believe this phenomenon has improved significantly in recent years, it certainly still exists. I attend a college that is fairly competitive in many realms – from academics to who is taking the most classes, has a job, an internship, is the president of six organizations, and so on. Although such competition can be motivating, it also perpetuates woman-vs.-woman competition.
Frequently, I have conversations with other women that evolve into debates about who is more overwhelmed and/or more successful debate. They often go something like this:
“Ugh, I’m so stressed. I have midterm tomorrow that’s worth 40 percent of my grade and I haven’t studied at all because I was interning all day yesterday.”
“I totally get that. I have three papers due tomorrow, and I don’t have any time to go work on them because I have to go to work tonight and I have meetings for five organizations tomorrow.”
After a bit more back-and-forth, both of us feel as if we are lesser than the other, and I start to think maybe I need to take on something else to prove myself further. She likely feels the same way.
This kind of competition creates an atmosphere in which women internalize the idea that they must compete with each other for success. In fact, more than ever, women need to be supporting each other as much as possible in our endeavors. With the support of other women, all of us can rise above the internalized competitive nature that exists and focus instead on our own efforts and on supporting each other.
We see this support demonstrated later in the parashah when Leah gives Rachel mandrakes, an aphrodisiac that will aid in her attempts to conceive a child. Likewise, Rachel supports Leah by allowing her to spend more time alone with Jacob. Once Rachel and Leah come to an agreement, they stop competing with each other, and instead focus on supporting one another. Through this mutual support, their relationship improves significantly.
Indeed, positive, supportive relationships with the women in our lives are critically important to our success – and to theirs. I am lucky to have many women in my life who support me personally, academically, and professionally. Instead of tearing down each other for personal and professional gain, we should focus on celebrating each other’s successes and passions.