4 days ago
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.