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Little White Lies, Deep Dark Secrets: The Truth About Why Women Lie

Little White Lies, Deep Dark Secrets: The Truth About Why Women Lie

by Susan Shapiro Barash
Little White Lies, Deep Dark Secrets: The Truth About Why Women Lie

Little White Lies, Deep Dark Secrets: The Truth About Why Women Lie

by Susan Shapiro Barash

Paperback(First Edition)

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From the bestselling author of Tripping the Prom Queen comes a fascinating and provocative look at the reasons behind female deception. Little White Lies, Deep Dark Secrets reveals how society doles out mixed messages to women, fostering the lies they tell. Among the liars are:

•A woman who shoplifts, and has it "down to a science"

•A woman who tells her husband she is working late in order to be with her lover

•A woman who lies about her children's achievements to her friends

•A woman who pretends her husband is doing well when they are going broke

•A woman who has covered up her husband's emotional abuse for years

•A woman whose secret is her misery in being a stay-at-home mom in suburbia

•A woman who lies about loving her partner, deciding it's better to stay than be alone

•And many other secrets and deceptions

Honest and even outrageous, Susan Shapiro Barash is fast becoming the author who explores issues that are important to women—issues that they are loath to talk about . . . until now.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312364465
Publisher: St. Martin's Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/06/2009
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 348,724
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

SUSAN SHAPIRO BARASH is the author of nine previous books, and teaches gender studies at Marymount Manhattan College. As a well-recognized gender expert, she is frequently sought out by newspapers, television shows, and radio programs to comment on women's issues. She lives in New York City.

Read an Excerpt

Little White Lies, Deep Dark Secrets

The Truth About Why Women Lie

By Susan Shapiro Barash

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2008 Susan Shapiro Barash
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-8418-8


Spinning Yarns: Our Mothers' Lessons


Our mothers are our role models, our springboard to the world, and their influence upon us, in all areas of our lives, is heartfelt. In certain instances our mothers have shown us what to do, as we'll see in this book, but also what not to do. Whether our mothers kept secrets and lied for the cause or disdained such a path, or openly criticized lies on moral grounds all the while lying themselves, it has impacted us as daughters. Whatever decision our mothers made concerning female deception, the explicit message that came both from our parents and from society at large is that a lie is bad and the truth is good. Yet according to my interviewees, their mothers' lies, or lack thereof, became evident over time. As the daughters themselves approached womanhood, the ramifications of their mothers' actions had an effect.

It may seem a contradiction that a mother, sexless creature that she is supposed to be, a martyr to her children, would have a need for secrets, would yearn for an inner life, for dreams beyond her prescribed reality. It's a hefty load to carry, no wonder so many women confided in me that the genesis of their lies comes from their mothers. These women lie as mothers, about their mothers, to their mothers, and beyond — spilling into the other parts of their lives. Some women describe the advantage they have in lying because their mothers did it, big and small lies that make it familiar, easier to do. What an admission this is — that our own mothers have shown us how to lie.

The Lies Our Mothers Tell Us

As Jollie, twenty-two, a substitute teacher from Washington state, recalls her childhood, it was continually about her mother's problems. Jollie has taken her mother's example as a deterrent.

The biggest secret I've had in my life is my mother's drug addiction. She told everyone she had a serious illness and we believed her. Really she was addicted to painkillers. I had to watch my younger brother and sisters since she couldn't. I don't want to end up like my mother ... . I'm still ashamed and upset by her. I pity her. My father was in on her secret and fibbed to us, which made it even harder for me. I was older and I ended up being the one who took care of her. We thought she was dying, and we were so afraid. It was sad for her children ... and I don't understand why she didn't think of that, why she didn't care. Finally, when I was around twelve, I figured it out. Still, my mom lied — she was lying all the time. Now I have my own children and I keep my distance from my mom. My friends have mothers who come to babysit, to help out, but I can't have my mother come. So I say she's far away ... she works ... I won't do to my own children what she's done to us.

In Jollie's case, the shame of her mother's lie — part survival lie, part designated lie — haunts her. Having a family of her own is a chance to right the wrongs that she suffered at the hands of her mother. Jollie's determination is to mother her children in the way she wanted to be mothered. Yet she hasn't disclosed her entire past to her husband or friends.

I got married young and had babies young, and it makes me feel like I have a shot at a healthy life. I don't say much to my husband about my mother, maybe because I'm so trained to tell her lie, about some grave illness. I still hide her secret, it's what I know how to do. I used to think I did it for her, but I do it for her and for me. We both needed to lie about her life.

The Lifetime television movie Homeless to Harvard, the story of Liz Murray, played by Thora Birch, is about a family torn apart by the mother's drug addiction. Murray's mother, an AIDS-infected drug addict, needed not only to be mothered by her young daughters, but for the daughters' attempts at normalcy — going to school, having friends — to be cushioned in a lie. Sadly, Murray's mother dies. Afterward, Murray ends up graduating from high school and winning a scholarship to Harvard, but she's been robbed of a healthy childhood and is spooked by her mother's trajectory.

For daughters so burdened by their mothers, there is both the attachment to the mother and the pulling away, as we have seen in Jollie's case. These survival lies, for the sake of the mother and the sake of the daughters, are shrouded in fear. When Liz Murray roams the streets and subways, homeless at fifteen, there is a terrifying melancholy surrounding her that she is desperate to rise above.

There are our mothers' lies that aren't as dark and ominous, but have tremendous influence over how we live our lives as adult women. As Tyne, forty-six, living in Georgia, recalls her divorce, she couldn't have managed it without her mother's choice set before her. Like Jollie, Tyne's decision is in reaction to her mother; she has purposely chosen another kind of life for herself.

If my mother hadn't stayed married to my father all these years, still today, I wouldn't have had the guts to leave my own lousy marriage five years ago. I saw her tough it out, her cross to bear, with six children to raise. Her secret was her hope that he'd die or he'd be the one to leave her or her life would miraculously change. I knew her secret because we were so close. She said nothing, but I saw it and felt it, and one day I picked up and left my marriage, blowing wide open my mother's pretense. I was brave enough to say to the world, my marriage isn't okay, that's the truth. Her lie wasn't my lie, but it sure was my example. She was floored when I did it — not that she said, oh you bad person. I felt absolved, for both of us.

Tyne's action is proof that her mother's example, of living a betterment lie, wasn't enough for her. So what we start as small girls lasts a lifetime; we are entwined in our mothers' opinions, decisions, and secrets; it becomes a jumping-off point. Although the trajectory of a mother/daughter relationship can have peaks and valleys, 80 to 90 percent of women in midlife, according to Dr. Karen S. Fingerman in her book Aging Mothers and Their Adult Daughters: A Study in Mixed Emotions, claim to have a good relationship with their mothers. According to Dr. Fingerman, adult daughters still seek their mothers' approval and dislike their disapproval.

In the 1998 film Dangerous Beauty, starring Jacqueline Bisset and Catherine McCormack as mother and daughter in sixteenth-century Venice, Bisset's character convinces her daughter that she'll have independence only if she becomes a courtesan. She herself was a famous courtesan, and to this end, Bisset's character teaches McCormack's character her secrets. In return, her daughter exceeds her mother's dreams, becoming a kind of feminist as well as the best of the courtesans. This example shows a mother's secrets and wiles as a positive force in her daughter's life.


Modern-day women describe how much their mothers' secrets and trumped-up tales become theirs. Lisa, thirty-nine, lives in the Midwest and works part-time for a large retailer. She believes that she's taken on her mother's habits when it comes to being deceptive.

My mother is a shopper, and from the time I was in kindergarten I've watched her hide her purchases from my father, the cleaning lady, everyone. I do the same thing. And I bet my girls will do it, too, since they watch me unload the trunk of the car, and sneak in through the back door, scurrying with my bags into the bedroom. I quickly hang all the new stuff up, just like my mom did. My mom also encouraged me to make my own money and stash it away, do conservative investments, make sure my money isn't available to anyone but me. I do it and I tell my girls they'll have to have their own money, any way they can get it, in this world. My mom was always secretive about who she'd meet for lunch in town, and it somehow gives me license to do the same. Who knows who she was with — and who knows who I see at lunch? I know she'd approve.

Who understands our secrets better than our mothers?

As adult women and, for many of us, as mothers ourselves, we continue to look to our mothers for their input. Oftentimes our mothers become our trusted confidantes when we engage in a secret and lie. More than 80 percent of the women in my interviewee pool felt that their mothers were their greatest advocates when it came to their ability to lie. Angela, thirty-four, mother of two, remarks:

My mother supports me no matter what. I've been having an affair and trying to figure out if I should leave my husband. My mother even covers for me, babysits the kids, so I can see this guy. She just wants me to make a clean break, or stay in my marriage. Whatever I decide, my secret is safe with her.

Perhaps mothers and daughters are in cahoots not only because mothers and daughters align historically and culturally, but for daughters with their own children, motherhood itself can trigger a few lies. An underlying problem seems to be our society, which doesn't really support mothers, yet has many preconceived notions of how they are supposed to be. Ann Crittenden, author of The Price of Motherhood, observed that women are diminished as mothers with a "mommy tax," meaning women lose economic security to some extent once they have children. The children suffer as well from this lack of respect for women. And when a third of divorced women, according to her study, go on welfare as primary caregivers for their children, it's no wonder women will lie and cheat to get what they need, what they deserve.

Daniella, twenty-five, grew up in a family of six; her mother held down two jobs to support the children, and her father saw them several times a year.

My mother was respected in our neighborhood because she could make ends meet. The people who lived around us had more problems than we did, but that's only because our mother worked hard to avoid them. No one helped her and no one cared; she did it herself. But she used to tell me to get a college degree even if I had to beg and steal for it. And get a job with some respect. I did that, I worked as an intern in a media center and I went to school at night at the local college. No one did this, and my mom didn't boast about it, she kept it a secret. Today, she still doesn't say much, she's afraid people will be jealous. She taught me to lie on my résumé, and she taught me to do it so I wouldn't clean toilets like she does. I think it was right what she told me to do. I have a job with health insurance now, and I am a manager.

Daniella's story raises the question if it's okay to lie because our mothers instructed us this way, to ameliorate the situation, as a betterment lie. It's as if Daniella's mother's voice is ringing in her ears as she forges ahead. According to Wray Herbert, in his article in Newsweek on August 21, 2006, a new study by Anita Kelly, a psychologist at the University of Notre Dame, found that people with secrets (about families, sex, romance, health) have fewer psychosomatic symptoms than do people with clear consciences. Based on my research for Little White Lies, Deep Dark Secrets, I recognize the agility with which women lie; if men feel okay about their secrets, women feel convinced of theirs. Our mothers' secrets have seeped into our subconscious, providing unspoken consent for our own deceit.

There are our mothers' lies and our own lies.

Whatever style of truth or lie our mothers have, we have our own individual genetic makeup and tendencies. For mothers with more than one daughter, the example they set can be influenced by birth order, the mother's frame of mind combined with the psyche of each daughter. Was the mother rigid with her firstborn daughter and progressively less so with the daughters who followed — offering more leniency? And how did this affect each daughter's style of secret telling? Christine, sixty, from a southern city, believes that her two grown daughters were influenced by her moods and the environment of their childhoods.

I didn't have to teach my daughters not to lie or to lie, it's in them. My first daughter would lie when the truth would serve her better and my second daughter never lies. I was such a different mother with my first child — I was so concerned about doing the right thing. With my second daughter, I was single and poorer, and I allowed more mistakes, and so she doesn't tell lies. I cut her a break. Later I had sons and they aren't the same when it comes to lies. I didn't care so much about not being wrong with the boys but I had to be right with my girls

I told the girls that lies have short legs but to keep a secret. I taught them that women should always keep something to themselves, don't tell all. Something has to be sacred. You aren't obligated to answer questions, you have to learn to be a best friend to yourself. I don't like the word "lie" and I hope my girls know this, it's what I've said, many times.

For Jasmine, thirty, who lives in New Jersey and is a part-time nurse's aide with three children, her mother's lie was similar in nature to her own.

I lie to protect my children when it comes to the real story about their father. He abandoned them and I got a court order. He can see them, but it's court-mandated. The same thing happened to my mom with my father, and she kept what he'd done a secret from us, and told me when I was twenty. It's my own life but I see her influence. I do some things like she did and some things I do my way because I prefer it. But I'm thinking of her, of what she's been through and what I have ahead, with my children.

Unlike Jasmine, Tiana says her mother's secret has become hers and her sisters' secret, too. A forty-year-old photographer living in southern California, Tiana can't recall a time when the family wasn't enmeshed in her mother's lie.

Our family is probably too close, it's just my sisters, our mother, and me. Our mother knows everything about us and we know so much about her. It's agreed by all of us that we don't tell anyone the truth about our father, who has nine children and has had several wives. Instead we act mysterious, our mother tells us to, like he's missing or dead, when people ask. We never mention him or what he's done to us. Our mother wants it this way. I respect her, but her life has made me not want to be a wife and mother.

Glory, twenty-eight, lives in the Northeast. She views her mother's secret and accompanying lie as a necessity, yet was encouraged not to lie by her mother.

My mother lied about our religion because we lived in an intolerant area. She wanted us to fit in and thought this was the best way. Then she used to tell me that if you lie about who you are, you're nothing. She was this really honest woman who never told lies, except this one big lie. It was confusing, but I understood her decision. She was right, there was such bigotry. I moved away after high school — she encouraged us to leave as soon as we could — and have been truthful about myself, who I am, what religion and background I'm from, ever since. I think my mother decided this path and stuck with it, but she wasn't very happy about it.

The lies told by our mothers and the lies we, ourselves, tell, are a way to get through the labyrinth of life as adult women.

While Christine in highly invested in veracity and has gone to great lengths to teach her daughters this, Tiana and Jasmine use deliberate, beneficial lies, and if victory or opportunity is the result, it's a relief. This applies to Glory's mother's lie, too, although the desperate edge to her mother's choice categorizes the secret as a survival lie, and her mother's overall honesty is noteworthy.


Our Mothers Set the Stage

It can be reassuring that our mothers have shown us the ways in which women lie and what they lie about. What could be more comforting than to know, when one is lying, that it's ritualistic, an acquired talent, endorsed by our mothers, and media-driven? After all, our mothers have lied in countless ways — to their coworkers, friends, sisters, husbands, and children — for the options the lies provide, the "seeing is believing" quality it adds to their lives, the wishful thinking it presents, the choices it creates.

There is a close identity with other women's lies and secrets, whether a woman tells the tale or is affected by another woman's story. In this way, women's secrets have passed from generation to generation. Consider Jesse, thirty-four, the mother of three young children, who has been married for nine years.


Excerpted from Little White Lies, Deep Dark Secrets by Susan Shapiro Barash. Copyright © 2008 Susan Shapiro Barash. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Title Page,
INTRODUCTION - Enduring Tales: Enabling Choices,
ONE - Spinning Yarns: Our Mothers' Lessons,
TWO - Sex, Love, and Buried Secrets,
THREE - Cashing In: Money and Lies,
FOUR - Mothering as Myth: Ambivalence and Lies,
FIVE - Family Matters: Shattering Secrets,
SIX - Facing Our Lies: Addictions,
SEVEN - Lying to Win: Competitive Lies,
EIGHT - Born Again: Lying to Ourselves,
NINE - Bold Secrets: Lies That Make or Break Us,
Copyright Page,

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