BY KATE SAMPLE
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.