Whether right or wrong, women are always sorry

August 29, 1999|By Susan Reimer

RECENTLY, I wrote a column toying with the subject of female envy. Using hyperbole for the sake of humor, I had some fun with the idea that women often confuse "envy" with "hate" when reacting to women who are younger, prettier, thinner, smarter, richer or more successful than they are.

Now I have to do something else women do a lot of.

I have to apologize.

My attempt at humor either failed miserably or was so successful that it sailed right over the heads of hasty readers, because the roof fell in on me. I am speaking metaphorically here. Again.

I wrote the column in the spirit of Alice Roosevelt Longworth, TR's daughter, who was noted for her caustic wit: "If you can't say anything good about someone," she once said, "sit right here by me."

As she so often did, Alice said what everybody else was thinking. And she did what members of all sorts of racial, ethnic and gender groups do: turn an unpleasant stereotype into a joke on themselves that only they are allowed to make but at which everyone is invited to laugh.

Well, nobody is laughing. So I am doing what women so often do. I am apologizing because I sense that I have been misunderstood.

It strikes me that apologizing because you have been misunderstood is much like apologizing because the cake fell: At some point in the process, personal responsibility ends; and it strikes me that that point is sooner rather than later.

But in any case, I'm sorry.

I feel I must also say, because so many have reached this conclusion, that I am not a hate monger and I do not believe I am an unfit parent, although my children might like to join the discussion at this point.

And I agree that "they" never should have given me a newspaper column. If it makes you feel better, I suffer night sweats because I am convinced I will be found out as a fraud at any moment and sent packing.

That's something else women suffer from a lot. It is called "the impostor syndrome," and they've written whole books about it.

I should also say that I agree with several writers that my time would be better spent pondering a means to bring about world peace.

But I must admit that if I were not amusing myself (and apparently no one else) by making a mental hit list of women I love to hate, I would probably be putting in another load of wash -- not putting pen to paper and mailing my thoughts off to the United Nations.

I would also like to express my gratitude to the readers who wrote to say that they felt sorry for me because I obviously have no self-esteem and no self-worth and more than my share of self-hate.

I am grateful for their solicitude because I don't get much of that at home, especially if I am late with the ride home from soccer practice or dinner.

(Congratulations, too, to all the writers who reported having loving husbands and from two to five terrific kids.)

Careful readers will probably conclude by now that my apology is not sincere. That's another thing we women do a lot of: make insincere apologies.

We don't really mean it, but we detest conflict, so we quickly assume all responsibility in hopes that the awkward moment will pass quickly.

That and, we hope, our obsequiousness will dispel the unpleasant thoughts the other party is no doubt thinking about us. We don't want anyone to hate us.

Pub Date: 08/29/99

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