Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Feminist Mistake


Kate Sample decided to become an Orthodox Jew in early 2010 and prepared for her first Pesach by watching a Passover-themed episode of Gossip Girl. She has been trying to successfully balance modern life with observance ever since, and considers it her mission to dispel the idea that belief in G-d is unfashionable. You can check out her blog at http://challahbackgirl.com

"I simply cannot allow a group of women to tell me who to be in the name of 
empowerment, because I know exactly who I am, and I won’t apologize for it." 

The Feminist Mistake

Hi, my name is Kate, and I’m a recovering feminist.

For years, I believed I was empowered. The feminist movement won me over with its impressive achievements—I could vote, have control over my own body, and even grow up to be president thanks to women who fought for those things—and then it slowly tightened its grip with a lengthy list of expectations. For if patriarchal society demanded that a woman act, talk, and dress in a certain way, feminism did not free her from such restrictions but simply imposed new ones. 

In my younger years, feminist-identifying friends beseeched me not to buy into male-instituted beauty standards—as though lip gloss were something that my boyfriend insisted upon, rather than beg me not to wear it and thereby transfer it onto him. As the years have crept by and I begin to contemplate motherhood, I am discouraged from giving in to my maternal nurturing instincts to an extent that they supplant my career aspirations. Welcome to modern-day empowerment, where a woman’s place is in the office, whether she likes it or not.

While she is there, she is not to show her emotions. There is no crying in baseball, after all. Once the boys club has finally allowed her entry, a woman cannot risk making her difference in gender too obvious, lest they regret letting her in. In order to be taken seriously, she should downplay her femininity as much as possible; magazines are full of advice on how to dress to get that promotion. Marriage and building a family are definitely not priorities, especially because the modern feminist approaches sex like a man, constantly fighting against her own physiological makeup that bonds her to an intimate partner. Therein lies the rub: We have been conditioned to believe that to be an empowered woman is to act like a man.

Contrast that with the world of traditional Judaism, in which I am so often viewed as oppressed but in all actuality am given full permission to be a woman. In this realm, I’m not called crazy or psychotic—the two default options in secular society—when I get emotional or irrational. Oh, and I do. Not necessarily in a Scarlett O’Hara-throw-china-at-the-wall way, but most definitely in a “I don’t seem to feel like making any logical sense today” way. On a regular basis. The Talmud advises a man to speak gently to his wife for this very reason. While I am not yet married, my dating experience and interactions with Rabbis have proven to be extremely liberating with their patient understanding. I’m allowed to get upset. I am listened to. And I am not expected to think or act like a man in order to be accepted.

I’m already anticipating those who will decry this, pointing out the restrictions placed on women by Judaism. It’s true, though I see a vast difference between those who differentiate between the sexes and empower each in their own right, rather than telling one to emulate the other and subsequently claim equality. I don’t want to be a man. Every day I thank G-d for having made me according to His will, and I mean it. For me, it’s a not a begrudging acknowledgement of a consolation prize, but real gratitude for coming the closest to what He expects from a human being. My sensitivity, which I no longer feel the need to suppress, may cause my feelings to be easily hurt, yes, but it also allows me to tune in to other people’s needs nearly immediately. I follow in the footsteps of Sarah, Rebecca, Leah, and Rachel, who all had greater binah than their respective husbands and steered the Jewish people in the right direction because of it. Someday, I will help to guide my husband and my sons in this way. 

So while I am forever indebted to the women who fought for my rights in this country, Judaism was never the predecessor of a society that kept those things from me, and it is not trailing behind now. I simply cannot allow a group of women to tell me who to be in the name of empowerment, because I know exactly who I am, and I won’t apologize for it. I wear makeup. I have long hair. I shave my legs. I don dresses. I love the color pink. I cry at commercials. I can’t wait to be a mommy. I write to empower myself and others. I am woman, and I don’t need to roar to be heard.

8 LadyMama voices:

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

This article is based on the false premise that all women are emotional, while all men are not.

While this approach works for women who fit into this box, for the many women that don't find themselves to be emotional, to love the color pink, to want to be a mother, it is detrimental.

The same goes for men who find themselves to be emotional; they have to go to great lengths to hide their emotions and appear to be "manly".

So, you connect with the Jewish approach because you happen to be emotional, but what of a women who does not feel this way?

Rikki L said... [Reply to comment]

This is such a breath of fresh air. I love hearing women's differences supported in this way. Thank you for posting. I have visited Kate's blog as well and am very moved by her profound approach to observant living. Just what I needed right about now.

Fashion-isha said... [Reply to comment]

Oh I love this!! First of all welcome back Mimi I missed reading your blog! And second of all, Kate, you write so well and I love your message. More people need to hear this! If you ever want to guest post by me I'd be glad to have you.

Lots of love to you all

Jessica said... [Reply to comment]

My fave line from your piece: "I don’t want to be a man. Every day I thank G-d for having made me according to His will, and I mean it."

This very line is why feminism is still catching up to Torah Judaism, and not the other way around. "Mitzvot" literally means "commandments." Since when is it considered freer and more liberated to be restricted by extra commandments? As a woman, I am freer to do what I want, when I want, not restricted by the boundaries of time or physical space. I can daven if I want to, when I want to, and, most importantly, wherever I want to. I am a spiritual being by nature. Do not take away my spirituality by grounding me with wooden boxes of leather tefillin, parchment scrolls of the written word, a yarmulke to remind me of God. Do not make me wait until I am 13 to be an adult. I am grown enough at 12 to be close to God. I could go on...

Kate said... [Reply to comment]

@Rikki L Thank you, Rikki! Wishing you a wonderful Pesach!

Kate said... [Reply to comment]

@Fashion-ishaThank you, Sharon! I would be HONORED to guest post for you!! Email me anytime. :)

Kate said... [Reply to comment]

@Jessica Word, sister. Well put. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

Kate said... [Reply to comment]

@Anonymous First of all, thank you for challenging me and sharing your thoughts. You are absolutely right that each individual is unique, and I can in no way speak for every woman. But I think--based on what you wrote--that you would agree that being emotional and sensitive are generally regarded as feminine traits. More women than not tend to fall under this category, and most men tend to be more logical and rational. Neither one is better or worse, and each gender can balance out the other beautifully. However, as you point out, feminine traits are not only discouraged in women in secular society, they are downright deplorable in men. This is not the case in the Jewish world, and I find Jewish men to be more sensitive (and sweet!) because of it. I'm certainly a girly girl, but Judaism doesn't require you to love pink or cry at happy endings. If you are naturally less emotional than me, you have my admiration. And you may be interested to know that while men are required to procreate, women are not! My overall point is that Jewish law does not expect you to fit into a box or stereotype--one need only glance over the very versatile females in Jewish history to be assured of that. BUT we have the freedom to fully be women in Judaism, something that I find extremely lacking in the secular, feminist world. I hope that helps to address your very valid points!