I had a disturbing realization yesterday. I needed an image, not for myself mind you, but a visual image for a work project. I was searching for an iconic representation of women mentoring women. I scoured my memory, and search engine, for films, plays, novels, or real life examples which represented women helping women. I asked colleagues and friends for help. The best we could deliver were “mentoring moments” within film (ex., Truvy and Annelle in Steel Magnolias, Shug and Celie in The Color Purple.) I could easily rattle off male mentoring as movie/play themes, as could you. But any examples of women paired with women on screen uncovers the most cringe inducing phenomenon. American women in cinema seem to despise one another. They are in direct competition for the limited resources and options available to them. When not coveting their professional position, they compete over men and children (The Women, To Each His Own, Gone with the Wind) or shoes (The Wizard of Oz.) Now I’m not foolish enough to think Hollywood is based on reality (although to be perfectly frank I feel a little disingenuous even typing that sentence, in my heart of hearts I believe the world really wants to be a place where traveling suits, tuxedos and gowns are de rigueur.) Surely art (created by human beings) stems somewhat from the human experience?! There is some truth in fiction, is there not?
This is what is so perplexing, and flat out depressing. I have never (to my knowledge) engaged in any Margo or Eve behavior. I have worked in less than stable environments and have had my share of erratic and even “diagnosable” bosses. I actually once worked for the woman known to many in this country as “The Queen of Mean.” I have also supervised an entirely female staff. If anything, all the women I’ve worked with (collectively) were more secure and mature than the men.
As far as women mentors, I have had the very good fortune of having two (concurrently) in my life. I was in my very early twenties and was in a (slightly above) entry level position in a design house. Maggie was Flemish and beautiful. She was twenty years older than me and was by far the most stylish woman I had ever met. Why she took me and my Sears wardrobe under her wing is beyond me. Our relationship went beyond the sorry state of my attire. She taught me about men, marriage, life and strength. Her life had not been an easy one, and by example I learned what true grace is. My boss at the time, Rosemary, set the bar far too high for supervisors. She taught me everything about my job and hers and showed me a larger more exciting world. She was my first and last supervisor who truly understood what it means to lead. She believed, rightfully, that she was a professional success if she helped me to succeed. She was not threatened by me despite that fact that the economy and hostile takeover led to my replacing her (I was much cheaper to keep on.)
Now that women in the workplace is a fully normalized occurrence, shouldn’t popular culture keep up? Of course watching “Real” housewives claw each other is entertaining (?) but the relationships of women are far more varied and interesting than the one dimension of pettiness. I’m hoping that I am wrong, that I have overlooked an entire collection of film and theatre that celebrates the women supporting women dynamic (remember I still think Judy is going to cajole me to put on a show in the barn.)