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Jewish World Review April 28, 2000 /23 Nissan, 5760

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Women can overcome envy's dark impulses -- MY HUSBAND came home last week from a visit to the grocery for some last-minute necessities with an interesting question. He noted that at the cashier counter he was literally surrounded by two things: candy and tabloids. He further noted that the tabloids were predominantly pointing out the physical, personal and professional woes and horrors of -- women. He wondered aloud to me why the purchasers of these tabloids were predominantly women. (Twice as many women buy the National Enquirer as men.) His question was this: "Why do women enjoy the pain and suffering of other women so much that the tabloids earn millions of dollars off it?"

Good question. I posed this question to my radio audience, and the responses were overwhelming in number, interesting in insight, and devastating in their characterization of women -- mostly from women themselves.

David, a man from Corpus Christi, Texas, attempted to distinguish this morbid curiosity that women have from that of men with the following: "Not that men don't envy successful men, but most have a different approach to the problem this causes them. A man is less likely to want to find moral and other lapses in successful men, or to hope that they suffer family problems and die lingering, painful deaths, than he is to try to find out exactly what the other guy did to become successful and to try to do the same thing."

If David is right, and I think he is, perhaps a significant part of that male/female difference is biological -- namely, testosterone. In his brilliantly illuminating article in The New York Times Magazine (April 2, 2000), Andrew Sullivan points out that "Testosterone's antidepressant power is only marginally understood. It doesn't act in the precise way other antidepressants do, and it probably helps alleviate gloominess primarily by propelling people into greater activity and restlessness, giving them less time to think and reflect. This may be one reason women tend to suffer more from depression than men."

For the most part, the audience responses suggested that envy is women's greatest problem, leading to the "enjoyment" of the pain of other women. "Even the woman who seems to have a high self-esteem may see parts of herself as inadequate compared to others; this can also lead to fantasy butchering of another's ego to support one's own," writes Mary from Louisiana. More simply put by Becky from Arizona: "I believe that women like to know about those things because it makes them feel better about their own lives." Or, "It's easier to envy someone successful than to work at being successful yourself," wrote Laurie from New Hampshire.

In my 1994 best seller, "The Ten Stupid Things Women Do to Mess Up Their Lives," I pointed out that from my experience talking to thousands of women (and men) on the air, it seemed clear that women ruminate and stew over perceived or imagined slights, disappointments and frustrations. Whereas men react more to change, correct or eliminate the problem. Activity counters depression; rumination breeds resentment.

However, just because biology presents some built-in parameters, they aren't necessarily bad or good. One need only acknowledge the obvious and work within those parameters. For example, in therapeutic situations, many passive, resentful women can learn to channel projections of self-hate into respect and/or action. In other words, all of us can fight what appears to be instinctive or reflexive and rise above our "nature." We can learn to "not say anything at all, if you can't say something nice."

Lois, from North Dakota, suggests a "cure" for this "competitive/envy" ailment -- good families. "I was born in 1938 ... into a family full of very handsome, much older brothers. Girls continually chased them all over the place and it always amazed me. When I was about 12 years old, one of my brothers told me that the biggest problem some women have is the idea that they cannot feel secure unless they are measuring themselves against someone else. Men settle that on the football field. Girls never give up.

'You'll be happier,' he added, 'if you rise above that attitude.' I took his advice."

We all get the same advice from the Tenth Commandment, which warns against "coveting," reminding us all that we are to appreciate our blessings and not want to steal from others what is theirs. Our peace and satisfaction ultimately come from utilizing our G-d-given gifts in creative and generous ways. None of us becomes one smidge taller if we begrudge someone else her height.

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