Friday, October 9, 2009

Frum N' Feminist?


"Yes, I know, I know, you've told me before, you're not a feminist."
I nod. He can't see, of course. He's on the other end of the line.
"But, if you were a Chiloniya [secular], you would be a feminist. Admit it."
"If I wasn't Frum I would be a lot of things." I feel like saying. But I don't. Instead I'm silent, waiting for the barrage.
"The way you told me you 'got your brother to admit sleeping in the Sukkah is a Mitzvah for women too'. It sounds like you argued until he caved in."
I gasp. A two minute light hearted conversation with my brother while tying down the Schach has been turned into a family dispute. We actually never argue in my family, for better or for worst. We just silently disagree, and keep it to ourselves.
"I never said women have to sleep in the Sukkah. I only said it's a Mitzvah if we do. I started doing it last year. I built it, it's there empty, it's seems a waste not to use it. Besides, it's fun to sleep outdoors, under the stars.
"Fine. That's what you say. But there were other sentences too. It all adds up."
I give up. We've covered this ground so many times before. I don't want to have to justify myself any longer.
Meanwhile I go off to work, where there's a goodbye party being thrown for me (long story). My boss gives a speech, and spends what seems like forever comparing me to the Daughters of Zlofchad, to the women who come to Moshe, and ask for their father's land. He says I have their initiative, their will. A debate sparks up, on whether they were feminist, whether I'm a frum feminist. I cringe. It's a sensitive topic, at the moment.
That evening we break up. Me and the guy I like. It's over.

I think of him at the Simchas Bais Shoevas in the Meah Shearim.
"Come to Geulah." My friends say. "it's so much fun."
"Why is it fun, to watch men dance?" I wonder.
I go. There's nothing better to do. I can take photos, I figure.
Reb Aharlechs. The "best Simchas Beis Shoeva" in Jerusalem. The one you "Simply have to go to." Outside there's a sidewalk for men, and a sidewalk for women. (with Mechitzas this year, to remove the possibility of illicit glimpses across the street. From year to year they find more ways to protect the sanctity of the city).
Then I step inside.
I'll never forget the sight. Pipes and wires hang from the grey un-plastered ceiling. "Faranches", the benches Chasidim usually stand on, are pushed against the windows, against the metal grilles. The lucky women, who by pushing and shoving and climbing over each other, sheitels and suits and all, secured a place on a step, stand hunched over, craning their necks, peering between shoulders through the glass and grates. If they are lucky they can glimpse the men, dancing below.
I think my skirt was so short that I looked like a tourist, like a soul to be saved. A Chasidic woman adopts me, and pushes me forward, against the other women, to the window. She tells them to move, in Yiddish, tells them I need to see. And see I do, by standing on my toes, and leaning sideways.
I see the men, swaying below, in a large bright halls. Moving estatically to the music. Yes, it does look like fun. For them.
I can't photograph the men's section, between the heads and the shoulders and the bars. Instead I take pictures of the women's section, of the crowding, and the darkness, and, in my eyes, the lack of respect for women.
Not all Simchas Bais Shoevas are like that. In other Chareidi yeshivas there are properly built women's sections. In the Dati synagogues the women dance too, on their sides of the Mechitzah. Next year I will go to a place like that. I will pass on the pleasure of R' Aharlechs.

So maybe he was right. I do want a home, a family. I want to bake cakes for Shabbos, and play with my kids. I decided long ago that raising a happy family is my highest priority, before studies, and before a career. Yet apparently, according to Chareidim, I'm a feminist. Don't say I didn't warn you.



video

31 comments:

  1. I'm female, and I've discovered that I'm sexist. Against women.
    Yet I have the same opinions as you. But I'm definitely not a feminist.
    I try to explain to people who want to set me up that I want a working guy so I don't have to leave my children with a toothless woman from the Baltic States, but that's oddly not PC anymore.
    My last date was miserable. Luckily my nieces, who were comforting me as I "sobbed on their shoulders," confirmed that they didn't want that guy for an uncle and that I don't have to see him again.
    We all hit our lows. But I tell myself that if the Eibishter will handle it, He'll handle it. From A to Z.

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  2. This is ridiculous. The guy should be ashamed of himself. Even if you were a feminist, there's nothing wrong with that. This post remimds me why so many people get tired of religion and go off the d.

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  3. Please don't let them get you down. (P.s. I'm surprised they let you use a camera at the simchas beis hashoeva)

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  4. Ooh, I've been to a simchas beis hashoevah like that, when I was outwardly charedi frum but questioning inside. The women were crammed into a tiny little section upstairs with barely any light, no air conditioning, no food, peering through the grate at the men down below who were sitting in a huge hall, well-lit, tons of food and drink on the table, singing and dancing and generally having a jolly time.
    It made me extremely angry.
    And I went to more of those, upon the pleading of my frum friends. After all, there was nothing else to do.

    Wanting women to enjoy the same conditions as men do is not extreme except to those who have the most to lose from that happening, and those who tell you that it is say so only to keep you down, to "defang" you, as it were. When men tell women that "You're such a feminist, don't be like that, women have different, equal roles," it's like the noble telling the peasant that "wanting what I have is ridiculous, and makes you extreme and silly", or the whites telling the blacks, "Oh please, it's perfectly equal, just separate, to have you sit on the back of the bus and have a separate entrance into the house". (The latter correlates especially well in terms of the segregated frum busses, or the separate entrances that I've seen on many shuls and wedding halls. It disgusts me, and I am so glad that I never have to go to another one of those horrible, sexist, events again, but I feel for all the women who do, and mostly those women who don't even realize how disrespected they actually are. At least you see the absurdity; many women don't.

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  5. I see the absurdity in it. What's more absurd is that most of these women do not...they just put up with it.

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  6. Believe it or not, out there are guys who agree with you, who don't think you're feminist for wanting the respect you deserve and that that Torah grants you. One day you will find him.

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  7. >Believe it or not, out there are guys who agree with you, who don't think you're feminist

    And if she was feminist, why is that a *bad* thing?

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  8. (It annoys me when people throw in comments that there's nothing wrong in identifying with a certain label. Of course it's fair to question whether a category is good or bad. Fascist communism - bad; free-market meritocracy - good. Whatever. But it is fair to question whether feminism has any value to it or not. Not that I want to give my opinions on that matter. This was just a side-point. What I really wanted to say is this...)

    Speaking as one of those well-lit, well-fed, dancing men on the good side of the dungeon cage, I don’t know if you girls realise it, but we anguish for you. It hurts us to know that you all are banished to the pokey, unseen netherworlds at the backs of halls. We certainly don’t enjoy the fact that you have to maybe compromise on your simchah stimuli. So then why does the frum (male) world insist on it? It’s because we are such lowly creatures, that need every help we can get.

    Realise that you girls and women complying and keeping yourselves tsnius-ly restrained as you do, is a chesed that you’re doing. An awesome chesed. And we (men) are immensely indebted to you for it.

    In all of our strivings on our paths to self-perfection and fulfilling the ratzon ’ה, we base men-folk are hounded by unintended thoughts and distractions. Women are beautiful. Amazing. And I really don’t just mean on the mere somatic level of things.

    I mean that seeing an innocent feminine smile, or the way you might look down lovingly at a child, or simply walk with a genuine air of goodness, or even that playful spark of female mischievousness – all of that, and so much more of all the little ways you look and conduct yourselves, is a near-impossible distraction of inspiration. Yeah, sure it might transition into more physical wistfulness. But for the most part it’s hard for a guy to concentrate on his kevanah when he’s being flooded with thoughts and dreams of his one-day life partner, and her being the loving mother, or the general constant flow of incitements. Obviously such things can be very positive motivations, but we don’t need to constantly be looking at its embodiment.

    Obviously we want for you to enjoy yourselves. Please, by all means find a grand hall, and fill it with the best delights, and dance for as long as you have energy to celebrate. I’m sure the men would even help to support such a function. Of course that is if you aren’t already engaged in any number of the other incredible chesed acts that you help with in raising families, and building the society etc, etc.

    On behalf of frumN’fatherly’s to frumN’females everywhere... Thank you!

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  9. >It’s because we are such lowly creatures, that need every help we can get.

    Speak for yourself.

    /Hurl./

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  10. Fine, I need every help I can get

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  11. Dude, I think you need a bit more exposure to women, not less.

    This is the BEST description of Simchas B"SH I have ever read. It correlates exactly with how I felt.

    BTW you're lucky... when I was your age women rarely danced in the Dati synagogues either. So don't be ashamed to call yourself a feminist as you enjoy the feminists' accomplishments!

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  12. Anonymous at 5:26:
    It is not a chessed when someone expects you to do it. Should your kavanah come at the expense of so many fellow Jews?

    "I’m sure the men would even help to support such a function"
    We'll be looking forward to what you have set up for us next year.

    Apparently chesed for men means feeling bad for the women while the men are dancing and eating.

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  13. "I’m sure the men would even help to support such a function." - No, they wouldn't.

    The type of people who would, are the people who have already made arrangements for women. Places that 'Chutznikit' is refering to, won't change anytime soon.

    "It is not a chessed when someone expects you to do it." - I don't know where you got that from. Of course it is still a chessed, if anything it is a bigger chessed!

    I think we all agree that overall, frum women are not given enough respect. But, the dinim of tznius are God's commandments, they are not man-made.

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  14. Well, it is a very strong expectation. Some would say coercion or use even stronger language. It's not the same as if my mother-in-law expects me to bring her a drink of water.

    Halachot of tzniut do not justify the conditions described.

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  15. In Chabad the women dance with Sifrei Torah.... so I hear.

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  16. What's a Feminist.

    No seriously ask yourself, precisely what it is that you are worried about because the term 'feminist' is incredibly broad.
    There's your bra burners, your Betty Frieden readers, the economic egalitarians to name but a few.
    As a new comer to the 'frum' world I feel people have very little idea what they mean when they say that they are 'not a feminist'. (similarly when they say that their not Reform or not socialist)

    Maybe Halacha can be extremely feministic, we instituted a law about compulsory divorce and rape within the family about 3 thousand years before the UK.

    I think that the anonymous guy's words were a little bit patronising. As a poorly fed guy from the other side of the mechitza, I can't give you much comfort. I think that we speak rather a lot about kavanna in obligatory davening (for men), and simcha for all our compulsory Torah learning (for men)and very little about anything else. Giving you the runner up prize of 'wistful smiles to children' is n't going to make up for it. If you were to rent out a hall for a women's Simchat Beit HaShoeva, how many women of your community (not radical dati women would come ?)

    There is some sentiment of comfort that I can offer. When I was learning about all the different types of feminism at University (admittedly one of the most boring courses on offer) we learnt about a variant of feminism associated with enthnic identity. This is part of a larger theory in sociology called 'nesting'. The idea is that a person is greater than a 2 dimensional concept. She is not just an African American but a Mother or sister or has physical special needs. The example given was a Afro - American civil rights activist of the 1850s called 'Sojourner Truth'. She was a delegate at an almost entirely white conference on equal rights for women. Through the course of the conference she became irritated by the white delegates lack of approach to her as a Afro - American, not just as an woman, she said;

    'I want to say a few words about this matter. I am a woman's rights. I have as much muscle as any man, and can do as much work as any man. I have plowed and reaped and husked and chopped and mowed, and can any man do more than that? I have heard much about the sexes being equal. I can carry as much as any man, and can eat as much too, if I can get it. I am as strong as any man that is now. As for intellect, all I can say is, if a woman have a pint, and a man a quart -- why can't she have her little pint full?'

    Truth was trying to say that she was not just a woman but an African American woman.

    The crux of the matter is that you are a complex individual with a multifaceted identity. You are not just a woman but a Jewish woman. You have a need to connect to Hashem as a Jewish woman and not as anything else. This means that you can't connect just as a 'being' who is equal to other beings devoid of identity. Or even just as a woman, or even just as a Jew. You must find a path as a Jewish woman of a specific community with specific beliefs, trials, goals and needs.
    This would be true of a man too, this is the task of every person. To find their own specific connection to Hashem not a 'cookie cutter connection', but their own genuine connection.
    (Sorry for being long winded, I've got Isru Chag Insomina)

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  17. Yosele, go get your own blog.

    Oh, you have one. So rather post that there - it's tougher to ignore your preppy, Common-Sense 101 tripe here.

    As for everyone else, this was not a blog about feminism. FrumN'Flipping gets that, why can't the rest of you?

    And lastly, Anonymous Guy is right. I dunno about patronising, maybe a little extreme in isolated context. But I'm sure we all agree that it sucks for the women.

    Not that the men invited the women to come and spy on their party. So you can't ask them to expect equal celebrations. If they want a party then, I agree, they are more than welcome to throw one themselves.

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  18. So I went and looked up a definition for preppy.
    er... I'm terrible at sport and I do n't know if my way of writing is 'Ivy League' (Im actually from Britain and have n't a clue what that means either).
    I'm sorry for mentioning that I learnt it at University, I could have equally read about feminism online or got a book out from the library, it would n't have made a difference.

    Common sense 101? if it was common sense why would this post exist, why would my comment be actually missing a good answer or a solution if it was common sense.

    Tripe, fine OK I write tripe, well spotted.

    My own blog is n't as well written as this one. I do n't think that I'm really taking it over from the comments section, I'd do n't think that many people apart from nerdy people like me are interested in the comments section.

    Erm, she did mention feminism, I know its not completely about feminism, its about being 'frum' or 'pious' (translation of frum, probably inaccurate). Creating a connection with yourself and Hashem. Surely we can discuss that.

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  19. > But, the dinim of tznius are God's commandments, they are not man-made.

    Wanna bet? Even lishitaso from a halachic perspective, there is no good reason to jam women into tiny back rooms. Tznius as practiced today in some communities is an insult to both men and women.

    Anonymous, you need to hang out more in the real world. If seeing a girl smile makes you want to jump on her, thats not normal. Not even a little.

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  20. I went to a few shuls. They took away the mechitza and just had a table between the men and women. We had a clear view of the men dancing. In one shul, there was a closed corner where the women can dance too, but they mainly just talked and watched. Usually, I go alone, but this time I went with a friend

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  21. When women want to dance, I guess they do. In our shul the rav tried to get women to dance on their own a few times, but everyone just wanted to sit in the balcony and talk. Personally, I go for the potato kugel and stuffed cabbage.

    I think some people are kind of missing the point here.

    It's not that women are left out or whatever, it's that the men know perfectly well that the women are coming to watch (because they have nothing else to do and it feels a drop sacrilegious to not participate in the holiday at all) and they don't try to improve conditions at all. That is uncaring and disrespectful.

    G3 - Anon didn't say he wanted to jump smiling girls. He just said it's distracting because it makes him think of so many possibilities.

    On simchas Torah it's really not considered a big deal since there's no prayer going on, and most mechitzos that I've seen come down. If they can come down.

    R' Areleh's probably don't have take-down-able mechitzos and they wouldn't take 'em down even if they could.

    What we're really talking about is the disrespect shown by one particular segment of orthodox Jewry who, for reasons nobody really understands, are held up as the pinnacle of holiness.


    ...and no, I haven't studied feminism academically, but I've read an awful lot of feminist literature, and most of it made me want to barf.

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  22. Speaking as one of those well-lit, well-fed, dancing men on the good side of the dungeon cage, I don’t know if you girls realise it, but we anguish for you. It hurts us to know that you all are banished to the pokey, unseen netherworlds at the backs of halls. We certainly don’t enjoy the fact that you have to maybe compromise on your simchah stimuli.

    Utter narrishkeit - and if you people weren't frum, I'd use stronger language.

    Realise that you girls and women complying and keeping yourselves tsnius-ly restrained as you do, is a chesed that you’re doing. An awesome chesed. And we (men) are immensely indebted to you for it.

    In all of our strivings on our paths to self-perfection and fulfilling the ratzon ’ה, we base men-folk are hounded by unintended thoughts and distractions.


    It has nothing to do with hesed, and everything to do with the fact that you were so poorly socialized from growing up in a gender-segregated subculture that you're obsessed with sex.

    Frum N' Flipping, leave. Get out now while you're young. Orthodoxy will never change, and hasn't much time left, in any case; the Haredim are driving it into the ground. If you remain, you'll most likely look back in twenty years with bitter regret.

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  23. Cipher, you should have placed your claim that orthodoxy doesn't have much time left right at the beginning. This way I'd know immediately that here's a guy whose naivete is astounding. But since you didn't and I *did* read your entire comment, I just want to point out that very few shuls (at least here in America) boast a veiber side that's dark and dingy. Orthodox Judaism is a sex-segregated religion. That doesn't mean women get the "bad side of the dungeon cage."

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  24. Cipher, you should have placed your claim that orthodoxy doesn't have much time left right at the beginning. This way I'd know immediately that here's a guy whose naivete is astounding.

    The Haredim have commandeered Orthodoxy. Since WW II, while the Modern Orthodox have been having smaller families and encouraging their children to pursue higher education, the Haredim have concentrated on having immense families. They outnumber the MO by a huge margin; by default, they now are Orthodoxy. Under their influence, all of Orthodoxy has moved sharply to the right; apart from matters of dress and sectarian allegiance, there's virtually no difference between the Haredim, the Yeshivish and the right wing MO.

    The Haredi world is collapsing - succumbing to pressure from without and deteriorating from within. Their large numbers have outstripped the abilities of their communities to provide for them, a problem exacerbated by the fact that education is discouraged. Congenital illnesses are becoming more of a factor as marriage between close relatives continues generation after generation. Children are gender-segregated from an early age, are never properly socialized and grow up with the most primitive ideas concerning sexuality. A dozen children to a family is common; children grow up experiencing little if any parent-child intimacy. They're then pressured into marrying while still adolescents (behaviorally-arrested adolescents at that) to repeat the cycle.

    Their entire subculture is a mess. They have another two generations at most (recent scandals lead me to think it may not even take that long). When they go, they'll be taking all but the most liberal, left-leaning factions of Modern Orthodoxy with them - and there are barely enough of them left to hold a Carlebach weekend in my kitchen.

    I'm not saying that Liberal Judaism represents the future - I don't think liberal religion as a whole has much of a future, either - but Orthodox Judaism is certainly on its way out.

    I know you think I have no idea as to what I'm talking about. Doesn't matter - you people are young enough to see it come to pass. When it does, you'll remember this exchange, or others like it.

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  25. Omg, you are even more naive than I thought. Another two generations at most? I really hope we're both alive then to witness the as-right-as-you-can-go flourishing OJ culture. No way are they on their way out. I have to grant you this, though: you *do* have an excellent idea of the problems within ultra-orthodoxy.

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  26. You live in a bubble. You have no idea how irrelevant the entire Orthodox subculture is to the culture at large. What you perceive as "flourishing" is barely a blip on the radar.

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  27. Wait, are we having a discussion about the relevancy of Orthodoxy to the world at large? I was under the impression we were discussing whether OJ will endure or not. And in this context, I stand by my use of *flourishing*.

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  28. ok, this has nothing to do with you're whole argument, just something about feminism in general. I'm a frum, greased out bais yaakov girl. I also happen to be a MASSIVE feminist, probebly because somewhere deep down I think men are better. Whatever. My brother should be in the Guiness book of World Records for being a sexist. He always comes home with all these gemaros about woman being garbage. Recently we had a shalom zachar in the house. All the men were downstairs having a great time, and I was upstairs alone, listening to the men have their great time. And i've never gotten a decent answer on Shelo Asani Isha.

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