Culture

Women and the Scandal of Doing It All Alone

Editor’s Note: See Part 1 of Susan’s ongoing series analyzing the connections between ABC’s Scandal, current events, and Western values: “What’s Evil Got to Do with It?

Women are fixers. It should come as no surprise to anyone with an understanding of the sexes that the leading female figure on primetime television is none other than a fixer named Olivia Pope. Fifty years ago women primarily played the role of mother on screen and, in doing so, they fixed things and life was pretty darn perfect. But perfect doesn’t fly on network television any longer. Today it’s all about drama, and drama is conflict. So, we get Olivia Pope: beautiful, intelligent, who fantasizes about marrying an already married man, having his children and fixing a nice little life in the Vermont countryside for them, but is too embroiled in fixing her own life and the lives of those she loves to ever quite reach her American nirvana.

Like Israel’s matriarchs, Olivia Pope has a vision of justice, of order, of the way things should be. The wearer of the “white hat,” she wrestles between good and evil in her many attempts to manifest this divine sense that has been humanized as her “gut” instinct. Watch her and you’ll see the woman in white when she pursues truth, the woman in black when she has given over to evil, and the woman in gray when she questions everything she knows. Being a fixer is a woman’s inherent power and inevitable struggle. It isn’t that we want to “do it all” because doing it isn’t as hard as taking responsibility for it, for the lives under our care. Olivia Pope cares for everyone, wants to save everyone, wants to repair everyone and make everything all better. Her struggle, like that of the matriarchs, is in placing the sole burden of responsibility on her own shoulders. But, the greatest lesson of God-given responsibility is that you are not expected to carry it all alone.

Now Sarai Avram’s wife had not borne him a child. But she had an Egyptian slave-girl named Hagar; so Sarai said to Avram, “Here now, Adonai has kept me from having children; so go in and sleep with my slave-girl. Maybe I’ll be able to have children through her.” Avram listened to what Sarai said.

It was after Avram had lived ten years in the land of Kena‘an that Sarai Avram’s wife took Hagar the Egyptian, her slave-girl, and gave her to Avram her husband to be his wife. Avram had sexual relations with Hagar, and she conceived. But when she became aware that she was pregnant, she looked on her mistress with contempt. Sarai said to Avram, “This outrage being done to me is your fault! True, I gave my slave-girl to you to sleep with; but when she saw that she was pregnant, she began holding me in contempt. May Adonai decide who is right — I or you!” However, Avram answered Sarai, “Look, she’s your slave-girl. Deal with her as you think fit.” Then Sarai treated her so harshly that she ran away from her.

Genesis 16:1-6

Sarah knew Abraham was to be the father of a great nation. She took it upon herself to manifest that promise through her slave Hagar. In doing so, she took on the entire burden of responsibility while denying herself the very blessing God had in store for her. Sarah knew God had plans for Abraham, she just couldn’t believe that those plans included her, so she wrote herself in the only way she knew how – by writing herself out of the equation. In a very Mary Poppins moment, Sarah became the fixer of the family without becoming a part of the family. Just like Olivia Pope, she cut herself off from a loving relationship in order to manifest worldly gain. In the end, both women caused more problems than they solved.

Rivkah was listening when Yitz’chak spoke to his son ‘Esav. So when ‘Esav went out to the country to hunt for game and bring it back, she said to her son Ya‘akov, “Listen! I heard your father telling ‘Esav your brother, ‘Bring me game, and make it tasty, so I can eat it. Then I will give you my blessing in the presence of Adonai, before my death.’ Now pay attention to me, my son; and do what I tell you. Go to the flock, and bring me back two choice kids. I will make it tasty for your father, the way he likes it; and you will bring it to your father to eat; so that he will give his blessing to you before his death.” Ya‘akov answered Rivkah his mother, “Look, ‘Esav is hairy, but I have smooth skin. Suppose my father touches me — he’ll know I’m trying to trick him, and I’ll bring a curse on myself, not a blessing!” But his mother said, “Let your curse be on me. Just listen to me, and go get me the kids!”

…‘Esav hated his brother because of the blessing his father had given him. ‘Esav said to himself, “The time for mourning my father will soon come, and then I will kill my brother Ya‘akov.” But the words of ‘Esav her older son were told to Rivkah. She sent for Ya‘akov her younger son and said to him, “Here, your brother ‘Esav is comforting himself over you by planning to kill you. Therefore, my son, listen to me: get up and escape to Lavan my brother in Haran. Stay with him a little while, until your brother’s anger subsides. Your brother’s anger will turn away from you, and he will forget what you did to him. Then I’ll send and bring you back from there. Why should I lose both of you on the same day?”

Genesis 27:5-13, 41-45

Rachel played favorites with her sons, Jacob and Esau. She tricked her husband Isaac into giving to Jacob what should have been Esau’s blessing. Her husband never trusted her again and she spent years away from the son she loved. She willingly brought a curse on herself in order to make life perfect for her favorite son, unwittingly causing years of struggle and derision in her family. In her attempt to fix things for Jacob, she only made them ten times worse.

Proverbs 31 is held up as the description of the virtuous woman. In reality, it is a prophecy used by a mother to discipline her son. It ends with the admonishment:

Charm can lie, beauty can vanish, but a woman who fears Adonai should be praised.

“Fear” in this sense is a positive motivator, one that encourages the woman to pursue God’s presence in her life as she seeks to fulfill His purpose:

The ultimate reward is using your free will to do the will of God.

Imagine trying to save the life of your child. This value makes everything else pale in comparison. If someone asked, “How much will it cost to save my child?” you’d know there is something wrong with this person.

Similarly, being motivated to connect to God – based solely on reward and punishment – shows a lack of understanding. The value of doing God’s will is, ultimately, the only true value in existence. Because it is a total connection to God.

All of the reward of the World to Come, all that belongs to all the righteous people who ever lived, is nothing compared to doing the will of our Creator, of making a difficult choice solely because that’s what God wants you to do.

That is the ultimate meaning. That is living in reality.

Olivia Pope’s greatest fear is the possibility of losing her allies. Her greatest weakness, however, is in believing she must always ultimately remain above the fray. Olivia has taken on a divine purpose, but in her narrative the wearer of the white hat rides alone, like a goddess. In doing so she exemplifies the spiritual struggle encountered by anyone who thinks they can fix every problem set before them. The stories of Israel’s matriarchs illustrate the dangers of bearing a divine burden alone. There are far too many factors involved in a prophecy coming to pass for any human being to possibly anticipate or control. Therefore, the key to understanding the blessing of God’s calling in your life is to know that you are not meant to be alone in having to accomplish the task set before you. Instead, we are meant to work together with God to accomplish the purpose He has for our lives.

Women are the ones who are traditionally blamed for getting humanity kicked out of the Garden of Eden. Perhaps that cultural meme is one of the reasons why we work so hard to make life so good for those we love. Much like Olivia Pope, we want and need to believe that we aren’t always going to be alone, that once again we will indeed dwell with God. The key to having that faith isn’t in taking all of life’s challenges squarely on your own shoulders, but in believing that God, who is the same yesterday, today and forever, never once intended to leave Eve, Adam, or their progeny alone.