Sunday, October 21, 2007

The F-word, revisited

Here's the original.

And here's a quote therefrom:

" . . . someone always says, “Hey, wait a minute! You’re not a feminist!” and I ask them why not and they say “You don’t hate men” or “You haven’t burned your bra” or “you’re not pro-abortion”. No, I do not hate men because I married a very nice one who loves me for who I am and who does not look at me as an extension of who he is. No, I do not burn bras because I hate the smell of burning nylon and because, frankly, I need the support. No, I am not pro-abortion because I don’t believe in throwing away life wantonly. It’s not something that G-d would do and women are made in the image of G-d.

So how am I a feminist? Because I believe in the power of women to do almost anything. I believe that women have the ability to be great, with or without the aid of a man. I believe that women are the closest thing that the human race has to an embodiment of the qualities of G-d and that women are a living, breathing proof that the Almighty loves us fiercely and without reservation.

So I call myself a feminist, but what I really mean is that I’m a Jewish woman and I can’t call myself that because it’s not what I was taught a Jewish woman is supposed to be."

Here are my comments to this post by Chana on not being a feminist:

Shira Salamone said...

Chana, for better or for worse, my brain simply doesn't work the same way yours does. You're a student by nature, a lover of the intellectual give-and-take of Talmud in an era in [which] Talmud study is open to women. Perhaps, if that were my own personal approach to Judaism, the traditional role for women would be as fulfilling to me as it obviously is to you. It so happens, though, that I'm an “experiential Jew" by nature. Study is just not what draws me to Judaism--ritual is. And ritual opportunities for women are somewhat more limited in traditional circles. That's okay for many women, but not for all. So I hope that we can simply agree respectfully to disagree: I won't insist that every women become a feminist, and I hope that you won't insist that every woman become a traditionalist.
September 24, 2007 11:33 PM

Shira Salamone said...

On the other hand, you said, "I am very glad that women have the right to vote, are theoretically paid equal salaries to those of men and enjoy the advantages that America has to offer us." So perhaps the title of this post is not entirely accurate: You're not a feminist in terms of religious practice, but you're a feminist with regard to secular law. Methinks there are many others in the Jewish community who share that perspective.
September 25, 2007 10:52 AM

But the best response I can think of to this F-word--feminist--is this one (also a response to Chana's post):

Anonymous said...
"but you're a feminist with regard to secular law."Shira, if this is how you define feminism, id say 99% of this country is feminist.
September 26, 2007 1:34 AM

For me, the most striking thing about the use and/or abuse of the word "feminist" is that both sides get very defensive about it. Feminists get up in arms because we think that traditionalists are benefiting from the advances in women's legal rights that resulted, in large measure, from the battles fought and won by feminists, while, at the same time, refusing to give credit where it's due ("if this is how you define feminism, id say 99% of this country is feminist") by treating the term "feminist" almost as if it were a curse word. Traditionalists feel under siege, apparently thinking that they might have to denounce marriage (“You don’t hate men”), renounce their femininity (“You haven’t burned your bra”), or give up their right to be stay-at-home mothers (“you’re not pro-abortion”) if they called themselves feminists.

So feminists and traditionalists end up, instead of working together, trading potshots.

Here's a copy of a comment from someone else's blog (originally quoted in this post):
"I heard of such a women's minyan in _____ when my sister was living there. My question is [1] why would you want to? and [b] don't you have anything better to do? There are plenty of things that are broken and need fixing. If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

And here's a quote from Chana's "I'm not a feminist" post:

"A Rabbi of mine (whom I respect) once referred to women's minyanim as reminding him of little children playing house. It's not real, but they are children playing pretend and it makes them happy! So we will humor them. You are going to tell me that that was condescending. Yes, I suppose it was. It doesn't make it less true..."

No doubt there are some not-so-wonderful examples of anti-traditionalist sniping by feminists, as well. This certainly goes both ways. I'm sorry to say that I've engaged in some of this disrespectful talk myself.

I’ve just finished reading Deborah Siegel’s book “Sisterhood, Interrupted: From Radical Women to Grrls Gone Wild," reviewed by Rebecca Honig Friedman here on the Jewess blog. Siegel speaks of some of the conflicts between “second-generation” feminists (of which I’m one) and “third-generation” feminists, not to mention those who prefer the description, “I’m not a feminist, but . . .” One of the issues seems to be the delicate balancing act that feminists must perform between trying to change those aspects of social traditions and/or laws that victimize women, on the one hand, and celebrating the strength and (in many cases, still potential) power of women, on the other. Feminists try to walk a fine line between celebrating female sexuality and our freedom to work in the home or be employed, on the one hand, and being victimized by discrimination in hiring and pay scales (however illegal), the scandalous dearth of subsidized child-care in the United States, and some employers’ reluctance to provide such benefits as birth control prescription coverage, etc., on the other hand.

I am reminded of an American Association of Retired Persons bulletin article claiming that women are vastly more likely to end our lives in poverty than men are:

"Q: What about returning to work after raising children? How did that turn out for the women you interviewed for your book [The Feminine Mistake: Are We Giving Up Too Much?, by Leslie Bennetts]?

A: Women were catastrophically unprepared for the difficulty of reentering the labor force. They were blindsided by the barriers—ageism, sexism and overt discrimination against mothers and also a strong prejudice against returning workers. Those four factors add up to a very high barrier. Many never find full-time jobs with benefits—which means health insurance—at a level commensurate with their abilities, let alone their expectations."

Been there, done that. When I earned a certificate in word processing in 1997, at the apparently ancient age of 48—evidently, I was quite over the hill, in job-hunting terms—it never occurred to me that I would still be temping four years later. In 2001, I went nine months without a single day’s employment—and that was before the terrorist attacks of September 11! Had an old friend of mine not recommended me for a temp job with my current employer, it’s quite possible that I would have remained unemployed for the rest of my life. Sure, I could have tried earning another degree or getting trained in yet another field, but I doubt that any amount of additional education and/or training would have made any difference. Who wants to hire a fifty-something female?

So, as far as I’m concerned, we women are all in this together, whether or not we choose to call ourselves feminists. Indeed, "There are plenty of things that are broken and need fixing. " I don't think that we are well served by fighting with one another, be it over our legal rights or over differing religious perspectives. I've made serious efforts, over the past few years, to understand the perspective of religious traditionalists concerning the different roles of women and men. (Here's an example.) I would hope that the same can be said of religious traditionalists.

Can we work out a truce?

Friday, November 2, 2007 update: West Bank Mama's has responded with a post of her own.

Thursday, November 8, 2008 update: Rebecca Honig Friedman, via this post on the Jewess blog, directs us to her response on the Lilith blog.


Blogger Tzipporah said...

Have you been following the discussion over at DB's? Chaim G is sorely in need of some learning from you folks.

Mon Oct 22, 04:37:00 PM 2007  
Blogger RaggedyMom said...

I'm not much of a fighter, but I like the idea of us females sticking together rather than sticking it to each other. And your thoughts in this post are very well-stated.

Mon Oct 22, 09:17:00 PM 2007  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Sigh. Yes. It's rather discouraging.

Mon Oct 22, 09:17:00 PM 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post, Shira. Lots of food for feminist thought. And I like how you bring all these sources together--I have my reading cut out for me.

Mon Oct 22, 09:21:00 PM 2007  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Sorry for the confusion--apparently, Raggedmom and I were writing our comments at the same time. :) Tzipporah was referring to this guest post by Chaim G on
DovBear’s blog.

Thanks, Raggedymom. Considering the likelihood that I was finally hired as a full-time permanent employee (after several years as a temp) because of my editing skills, it's too bad I can't show your compliment to my boss--a raise would be nice. :)

Rebecca, I'm always happy to provide food that I don't have to cook. :) You might want to check out this post and the comments thereto for more reading recommendations.

Mon Oct 22, 09:49:00 PM 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shira - this is a good post. Maybe I will dip my toes into this issue and write a post, although Curious Jew has written very well and expressed my opinion already.

One reason why a lot of women hate the term feminist is because of some of the feminists that we have met - many have absolutely no sense of humor, and have taken their idealogy to such an extreme that they have lost all common sense.

Take Meryl Yourish. I enjoy her politics, in general, but when she gets into feminism she gets nuts. This post - is one example. In short, she thinks that the health guidelines recommending women of childbearing age take folate supplements to prevent possible birth defects is anti-woman.

Tue Oct 23, 04:37:00 AM 2007  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

I don't get it: How could preventing birth defects be anti-woman?

WBM, I think that political movements, like religious movements, sometimes go too far, especially in the beginning. The Reform Movement almost completely tossed out Hebrew in the nineteeth century--and brought it roaring back with their own Gates of Prayer prayer book in the late twentieth. Those of a more moderate temperament might be better advised to judge a movement by its reformers, rather than by its radicals. Siegel counts Betty Friedan among the "cultural/liberal" feminists, as opposed to the "political/radical" feminists. You may remember the old theatrical saying, "Will it play in Peoria?" Well, Peoria was Friedan's home town, and she was very interested in ensuring that feminism appealed to *all* women, not just an elite. So if you don't much care for the radical version of feminism, go for the liberal version, instead.

Tue Oct 23, 11:16:00 AM 2007  
Blogger rivkayael said...

This was one really great post. I personally had a very Chana-esque epiphany recently, but it is good to have the reminder and remember that we're all in this together.

Tue Oct 23, 01:45:00 PM 2007  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

RivkaYael, thanks. I need to be reminded too, sometimes. Reading other people's posts is good for that. Participating in the Jewish blogosphere has really encouraged me to temper my views with tolerance.

Tue Oct 23, 10:17:00 PM 2007  
Blogger Chana said...

Interesting post. I find it particularly curious that you saw my post as an attack on feminists. It wasn't meant to be that so much as an example of the ludicrous assumption that because one is well-read or because one is a curious woman, one must of necessity be a religious feminist. I think the term feminist means many different things to many different people and that before we do anything else, we must define terms. As I defined the term feminist in my post, I was referring to people who want to go beyond the halakhic norm and experiment (rightly or wrongly.) These are women who want to wear talleisim, go to women's-only megillah readings and the like. In such a case, the answer depends on motives. If a women wishes to do this in order to truly become closer to God, well and good. If she only wishes to do this in order to "be like a man" or so that men don't get the "superior role" in Judaism, then I find that sad and ridiculous because we must acknowledge that men and women ARE different.

I don't think a truce is necessary because this was never an attack against feminists so much as a statement that I resent the assumption that because someone is intelligent and a woman they must by necessity be a religiously-motivated feminist. That's all!

Sun Oct 28, 09:21:00 PM 2007  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Chana, you spoke of "the ludicrous assumption that because one is well-read or because one is a curious woman, one must of necessity be a religious feminist." I think one of the important things that I've learned through my participation in the Jewish blogosphere is to respect differing opinions on religiously-motivated feminism just as I respect differing opinions on other aspects of observance and belief. A belief in religious feminism is not an IQ test. It's just an opinion.

"If a women wishes to do this in order to truly become closer to God, well and good. If she only wishes to do this in order to "be like a man" or so that men don't get the "superior role" in Judaism, then I find that sad and ridiculous because we must acknowledge that men and women ARE different." My own reason for wearing a tallit (and, later, for laying tefillin) has changed over time. When I first started wearing a tallit, I was a member of an egalitarian synagogue, and it simply made sense that, since I had the same rights, I should have the same responsibilities. When we moved and joined a non-egalitarian synagogue, it just didn't feel right for me to stop wearing a tallit when I'd already been wearing one for over a decade. Nowadays, especially since I began several months ago making a serious attempt to davven three times a day, if anyone asks me why I wear a tallit and lay tefillin, I just point to the words of the Sh'ma and say, "because the Torah says so." (For the record, I interpret the word "b'nei" the same way it's interpreted in the verse "V'shamru v'nei Yisrael et haShabbat--the *children* of Israel will observe the Sabbath.") But again, that's my own way of looking at the question.

I haven't quite worked out the details of acknowledging the differences between men and women when it concerns religious observance. For me, it's not a question of superior or inferior roles, but, rather, one of inclusion or exclusion. I understand that many women find fulfillment in playing a "backstage" role. I happen not to be one of them. I consider it a great honor to lead a service, have an aliyah, lein Torah (chant the Torah portion from the scroll). There's also the fact that, the older I get, the more difficult I find it to watch someone *else* do something that *I* enjoy doing--I rarely attend dance performances anymore because I get far more enjoyment from going Israeli folk dancing and doing the dancing myself. The same is true for me when it comes to chanting a haftarah--I prefer to have the opportunity to chant one myself, occasionally.

Is egalitarian Judaism a perfect system? No. I wrote here about the challenge of trying to meet both my own spiritual needs and our son’s. There’s something to be said for having clearly-defined roles—I can’t deny that it simplifies matters, knowing whose job it is to make a minyan and whose job it is to see that the little ones have an enjoyable Shabbat at home. But that’s not an approach that I can live with.

That said, the traditional roles are sanctified by time and by minhag (custom). I have come to understand that some folks feel that I’m denigrating their way of life and/or their ancestors by insisting that egalitarianism is the “right” approach, and I’m slowly but surely learning to temper my enthusiasm with respect for the more traditional way.

"I don't think a truce is necessary because this was never an attack against feminists so much as a statement that I resent the assumption that because someone is intelligent and a woman they must by necessity be a religiously-motivated feminist. That's all!" Well, I'm certainly glad that that's been cleared up. Sorry I misinterpreted. Thank you for commenting. I appreciate your thoughtful response.

Mon Oct 29, 04:46:00 PM 2007  
Blogger Barefoot Jewess said...

Right on, sister!

I haven't had time to read comments, but I so agree with you on the experiential part of Judaism. I am intrigued by Talmud, by such seemingly idiosyncratic reasoning, and all that intellectual stuff, and can't wait to get into it when I am able. But, bottomline, whether it is Talmud, being a 24/7 Torah scholar, a contemplative, a ritual freak, a sampler of one or all, or just a simple mensch, or all intensely combined, fact is, that I think there is an experiential component that makes it all worthwhile- the sensuous apprehension G-d. I believe in the pure of heart and know the real experience of a living G-d. In that, there is no division between the sexes. After all, Oneness is the ultimate face of G-d as we know it, no?

Fri Nov 02, 11:49:00 PM 2007  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Barefoot Jewess, whether we're comfortable praying behind the mechitza or prefer an egalitarian prayer service, there is, indeed, "an experiential component that makes it all worthwhile."

Sat Nov 03, 08:12:00 PM 2007  

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