While it’s been lovely listening to the patriarchs from the Pentateuch (all of whom will forever look and sound like Charlton Heston to Americans of a certain age) lay down the law for the last several thousand years, it’s time to imagine what the Old Testament matriarchs might have said.
Had oxen not been so much trouble to prepare, or if the burning bush could have been turned into a useful cooking appliance as the women requested (not that anybody was listening — too busy sacrificing lambs and the occasional son), the matriarchs might have had a little more time to write their own lists specifically for their female descendants.
I believe the matriarchs would have come up with something like The Four and One-Half Commandments for Women — the last one is just a suggestion, so it’s only half a commandment.
1. Do Unto Yourself As You Would Do Unto Others
Start treating yourself with as much generosity, charity, kindness and graciousness as you would treat the least favorite among your acquaintances. Be as kind and as forgiving toward yourself as you would be toward a pal. If a friend missed an appointment, burst into tears at dinner or made an unconsciously cringe-inducing remark, would you hate her forever? Of course not. You’d shrug it off, understand, and let it go; you might tease her a bit but then you’d forget about it.
Do the same for yourself. Stop torturing yourself about what you might have done (or not done) 10 days ago or 10 years ago. Let yourself off the hook and give yourself a break. Offer comfort to yourself that actually helps, such as taking care of old wounds and cleaning up old messes, and don’t rely on merely short-term diversions, such as drinking heavily before lunch or eating an entire Sara Lee cheesecake without letting it defrost. You wouldn’t suggest to a friend that she do such things; why would you let yourself do them? Imagine you’re put in charge of taking care of yourself the way you might be privileged to take care of someone you love. Then do it.
2. Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Friends’ Accessories
From bracelets to boyfriends, they’re all accessories. The whole coveting thing is nothing but trouble. In this one area, the boys got it right. But we should clarify the details. You see, women are too often encouraged by the culture to be envious. Even young girls think it’s acceptable to shriek to their friends “Oooh, I’m so jealous of your new haircut/weight-loss/red-tent-acceptance!” We need to stop comparing ourselves to other women in ways that diminish all of us. We can, however, choose women we admire and pattern ourselves after them. We can look to their successes, their perspectives, their abilities, and their grace and hope we too can achieve such goals.
3. Thou Shalt Not Say “Please” Without Having First Said “Thank You”
This is true not only in terms of addressing your chosen higher power or deity, where it could lead to a serious smiting, given that praying for stuff (safe travel, easy surgeries, good tickets to Fleetwood Mac) isn’t considered cool if you haven’t already offered thanks for all the stuff you already possess (the ability to get around, a place to live, the fact that your tinnitus doesn’t prevent you from enjoying “Landslide”), but also in ordinary life.
Don’t ask for favors if you haven’t offered anything in the way of encouragement or congratulations. Say “thank you for everything you’ve done” before asking for a job recommendation, advice, publicity for your kid’s latest project, or a lift to the airport.
4. Honor Thy Sense of Humor
A day during which you have laughed is a day you have not wasted. Even if it’s only taking a shower, walking the dog, and playing Words With Friends — if you’ve laughed a real laugh, and even more miraculously, if you’ve shared it with someone else, then you’ve made the day sacred.
The Last Suggestion: Embrace Every Chance to Get It Right
Reach out, let go, take risks, and offer hugs. Say “I love you” and “I’m sorry” but not necessarily in that order. Enjoy yourself. If you’re not, who else will?
Gina Barreca is an English professor at the University of Connecticut, a feminist scholar who has written eight books, and a columnist for the Hartford Courant.