September 4, 1997
The subject of men, women, money and our stereotypes about them consistently seems to whip up agitation. This new bundle of letters -- some in response to J, the blue-collar man whose wife left him because he didn't earn enough ("When Dollars = Esteem," Aug. 8), and some still responding to "Stranded in the Middle Class," the fellow with a similar situation, whose letter appeared months ago -- is proof of this powerful struggle in our community.
Typically, I find your column insightful, enlightening and entertaining. I am gratified that you take writers to task for thoughtless stereotypes about men and women. So it was with great disappointment that I read your response to J.
Although his letter laid a great deal of emphasis on the odious stereotype that Jewish women seek nothing but a "cash cow" in a husband, you didn't even comment on this, let alone disabuse him of it. As you have noted many times in the past, the world (and this city) is full of Jewish women for whom human qualities are far more important than wealth. In addition, while I am certain that there are Jewish women who seek wealthy husbands, we certainly have no monopoly on such shallow qualities. Indeed, given the statistics regarding the likelihood of a Jewish woman to achieve success in the professions, it would seem that we are less likely to need to rely on men for financial comfort than are many other women.
Abby J. Leibman,
California Women's Law Center
Dear Ms. Leibman,
Whoops. Caught looking on a fastball. Thank you for catching it; I was too busy focusing on J's self-esteem to see the senseless stereotype fly past the plate.
Read on for a less forgiving reader's response.
I am offended by your response to this angry, divorced man. This is only his experience. How can you agree that all (Jewish) women want to be supported?
I was the sole supporter in a marriage -- and not by choice. I have since divorced this man and lifestyle. My personal ad would definitely say "stable, secure man" because I will not be the sole supporter in a marriage again. Your answer should have been that these expectations should have been discussed before the marriage. You owe your fellow women an apology.
Miffed In Midwest
Of course, I don't think that all Jewish women expect to be supported. Only some. And although I have no idea of the data regarding percentages, I feel a survey coming on. I imagine few men or women want to carry the financial burden alone. So I'd like men and women readers to number the following statements from 1, what is most true, through 5, what is least true: I expect to be supported by my spouse. I expect to support my spouse. I expect us to both contribute financially to the best of our abilities. I would like to be supported by my spouse. I would like to be able to support my spouse.
Be sure to state whether you are male or female, and please submit the survey by the end of September.
By the way, Ms. Miffed, did your ex and you discuss your expectations before marrying, and if so, did it make a difference?
Read on for the (abridged) story of a woman reporting from the front lines of the conflict.
I have felt sad and guilty about my feelings for a long time, and I thank you for giving me the opportunity to write to you about them. I, too, feel stranded in the middle class. I, however, am female, 45, and don't plan to leave my husband because he doesn't make enough money.
He is a wonderful man, and we have a good marriage in many ways. I have always worked -- even when the kids were babies -- so it's not that I want to put all the pressure and responsibility on him. We live in a three-bedroom home. We are able to pay our bills with little to spare. I drive a small Honda that has 95,000 miles on it. We always have food and clothing, although my kids let me know that they feel "poor" because they don't have the latest fashions and shoes that all the other kids have. It's difficult to be around people from our temple, with their fancy clothes, cars, huge homes and fabulous vacations.
Why can't I be grateful for what I have? My mother never worked and always had a cleaning lady, nice jewelry, et al. She instilled in me that I'd get married and have a life like hers. I feel cheated because I don't have the life I expected. I feel judged and pitied by my parents for not being able to live the "good life."
I would love to hear comments and/or advice about how to cope with my feelings.
Cheated in Chicago
Clearly, you live in an upper-middle- to upper-class community, and the reasons for your frustration when you compare yourself to others, to your parents, seem obvious. Yet perhaps we ought take a look at the facts. In the 1950s, when you were raised, a booming postwar economy allowed many families to get by and sometimes even thrive on one income. Today, most families require two, so tell your parents the news. Even half of all mothers of nursery-school-aged children work.
As to how to cope with your feelings, the complaints of your children, and so forth, why not load your children into the Honda and volunteer a couple of hours a week in a homeless shelter for families? Complaints about the lack of fancy vacations and designer duds will soon be drowned out by blessing counting.
One last point: In case you've been too taken up by your own sense of deprivation to notice, there are more than a few of your wealthier co-congregants who are no happier than you. Were you to take a peek into their sack of tsuris, you might just choose your own.
Deborah Berger-Reiss is a West Los Angeles psychotherapist.
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