My Feminism

Wikipedia describes Feminism as

“a political discourse aimed at equal rights and legal protection for women. It involves various movements, political and sociological theories, and philosophies, all concerned with issues of gender difference; that advocate equality for women; and that campaign for women’s rights and interests.”

I am a proud feminist. But I have learned that to say this makes some people think that I grow my armpit hair and hate men. That’s a big fat NO on both counts. I believe that women are capable of anything they put their minds too – in my mind being a feminist is about being pro-woman, not anti-man.

It doesn’t mean that I am out on the stump advocating for equal rights for women. I am not an activist by any stretch of the imagination. Maybe that makes me a quiet feminist, but I am one all the same. If throughout history men had been subjugated, I would be a staunch masculinist too. Seriously folks, we are all people, we all deserve the same rights and freedoms as each other. Why does the word feminist have such a negative connotation to some people??

Gloria Steinem once said “a woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle”. I don’t happen to follow her philosophy.  I need a man, not to make me whole, but to add fullness to my life that would not otherwise be there. I was happy before I met the KoD – I didn’t need him to make me happy. My happiness comes from within me. If I cannot find happiness within myself, how can I expect someone else to provide it?? He enhances my happiness – but it is not dependent on him. He adds so much more meaning to my life, his partnership is something I will cherish forever. In my opinion to say we don’t need men is to deny our own humanity.

You can be a feminist and still wear a bra, you can be male and be a feminist even, you don’t have to wear birkenstocks – the definition evolves along with the world. Our foremothers fought for equal rights, voting rights etc – we don’t have to fight for that anymore. Indeed, we almost take it for granted that we can do all those things that were fought for years ago. Feminism today is about encouraging women to be all they can be, to not give up, that the world is our oyster. As far as I am concerned man-bashing has no part in today’s feminism.

I posed this question on Twitter and Facebook  “in two sentences – what does being a feminist mean to you” and got back some awesome and interesting responses.

“My worth does not lie in my reproductive organs”

“I choose”

“Femme, female. Ism a belief. Feminism is a belief in women”

“In society women need to be treated equally and with respect. Judaism has to figure out how to do that without violating God’s laws. (Third sentence? Neither is easy.)”

“Men are. Still in charge.”

“Feminism means freedom to be whatever sort of women you wish with no expectations and no strings attached”

“Woman says wants to make kiddush fri night, hamotzei lechem, and feels need to carry sefer torah simchas torah. Plus the other usual nonsense.’

What does feminism mean to you? and for my Jewish commenters, what does it mean to you to be a feminist in a Jewish world?

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33 Comments

  1. to me feminism means that I (and everyone else) should have the ability to choose to do what I/they want to do and my gender should not be a factor in those decisions. So, for instance, if my husband wants to be a stay at home dad he has just as much of a right as any woman who wants to be a stay at home mom.

  2. shorty says:

    Feminism should be about women being treated with respect. That despite differences in roles, they are not somehow less human or less worthy. A home maker is just as important as a CEO. If a woman wants to be a CEO, she should get paid just as much. A woman who “isn’t allowed” to have an aliyah or become a Rabbi isn’t somehow less important in Judaism. It just means her role is different.

    Now while this is all true, on the relgious men and women side of things, they have to realize that secular roles are changing, and “women are held to a higher standard” women are more spiritually elevated than men, isn’t washing with some women. This is a huge challenge, and some adaptations will need to made. I can’t claim to know what those are. I am happy not being a Rabbi and preparing my house for the Shabbos queen. I think its a real honour.

  3. Gave A Get says:

    HSM, feminism is about being treated with respect.

  4. KoD says:

    GAG/QoH: If feminism is about treating women with respect, then I support it wholeheartedly.

  5. hadassahsabo says:

    KoD, feminism isn’t JUST about treating women with respect. there is so much more to it than that. it is indeed awesome that you are respectful to women. (I can vouch for that ;) )But all individuals need to be respected. Feminism is about respecting women’s abilities and talents, not limiting them as to where they can go, how high they can soar.

  6. hadassahsabo says:

    ok then, KoD, love of my life, what does feminism mean to YOU??

  7. KoD says:

    I liked GAGs and your definitions: treating women with respect and respecting their abilities.

  8. hadassahsabo says:

    Come on KoD, stop hiding behind other people’s definitions. As the husband to a very liberated feminist who knows who she is (me!) – what does feminism mean to YOU, what did it mean to you yesterday before i brought up the subject? How has your opinion changed, or has it not changed?

  9. Gave A Get says:

    HSM, if you are a feminist and love KoD then he obviously knows how to treat a feminist and has a good definition that is part of his basic DNA. If it wasn’t you would not be with him.

    As for my definition, respect encompasses all of what you wrote. If you respect someone, you respect their abilities and their G-d given right to succeed in what path they choose for themselves. If they are your partner, respecting the person demands you support their dreams and desires (a long as they are legitimate :-) ).

  10. Gave A Get says:

    KoD said:

    “Yes Dear”

    Ah, KoD you have learned the secret to a successful marriage :-).

  11. hadassahsabo says:

    GAG – how much did KoD pay you?? :D just kidding.

    as for the secret to a successful marriage, maybe if the KoD is so inclined, he might share what my reaction to the “Yes Dear” was… ;)

  12. KoD says:

    GAG- Thanks for the support.

    QoH- First, you told me that I am “toast”. Then, you told me to “piss off”. Did I leave anything out? :-)

  13. hadassahsabo says:

    yes, you left out how much you love it when i tell you to piss off….darling :D, that i use that phrase as an endearment.

    we shall continue this discussion in private, KoD, when we next see each other. Better brush up on your debating skills, coz i am gonna win this one.

  14. shorty says:

    ok so here’s a question (ok more like many questions)…if feminism is in part anyway about respecting a woman’s right to choose her own path…are there any rules? What of the rules of Judaism? are those out the window? Can anyone say, “i have the right to do what i want” ? When does “what i want” offend “what do you want”? Am i stepping on someone else’s ‘ism’ in that case?

  15. @n_q_mainstream says:

    Re your tweet, of course there’s feminism in Judaism. That’s a non-question. The question is: Is feminism possible in Orthodox Judaism?

  16. E. Fink says:

    Feminism means whatever the person using the word wants it to mean.

    The man-haters will call themselves feminists.

    The career and family women will call themselves feminists.

    Advocates for equal opportunities for women will call themselves feminists.

    There is no “definition”. It is a nebulous word.

    That being said, I do stand for many of the principals that are often attributed to feminism.

  17. shorty says:

    I think feminism is possible…its that we have to separate the secular from the spiritual the basic human rights from basic human “i want it because he has it and i don’t”. Husbands beating their wives or forcing themselves on them…definite no. voting rights, equal pay…all a definite yes.

    So what about “i want it because they get to and i don’t” kind of rights…like…being a Rabbi, aliyah or brit milah. oooh…wait a minute. Women don’t want a brit milah. Right. But they want all the other stuff. It isn’t a menu. Women have their mitzvot, men have theirs. They are different. doesn’t make one “more” than the other. Some feminists need to stop thinking secular equality in their spirituality.

    What about men’s rights to keep their hoohoo’s intact? Do they get to choose to do that then? Because women don’t have to and they do, so maybe turn around’s fair play.

  18. @n_q_mainstream says:

    A shorty, the classic Orthodox denial of feminism. Why shouldn’t women be equal in their spirituality. Why do they have to rely on a miserable git of a husband to “grant” them a get? Why shouldn’t they enjoy the right of “drash-ing” their opinion to the community on Shabbat. I take joy in the fact that valid Orthodox institutions like Rabbi Weiss’ HIR in the Bronx and Hartman in Yerushalayim are on the verge of ordaining women Rabbis and remaining within Halakhah. Let’s end this charade and start treating our wives as the 100% equals they are in EVERY aspect of life.

  19. hadassahsabo says:

    NQ – “Let’s end this charade and start treating our wives as the 100% equals they are in EVERY aspect of life.”

    hear hear, great to hear a bloke say it.

  20. hadassahsabo says:

    just to clarify – personally, i don’t want to become a female rabbi, i don’t really want to get up and give a drasha in front of the community. there are women that do. there are women that are learned enough that they are excellently competent to give a shiur. should these women be ordained? its not up to me. Should they have the possibility or choice of ordination in an orthodox framework? i don’t know.

    does much of halacha seem as if it is paternalistic? absolutely. does it mean that it is anti-women? not necessarily.

    i dont think black and white can be applied in this subject. women and men are equals but as shorty said above, we have different roles in Judaism.

    am i making any sense here?

  21. shorty says:

    Women do get to discuss things. I have several inspiring orthodox women who teach me. knowledgeable and brilliant.

    When men take advantage of the Halachah. that is a definite no. THe fact is, secular life is now colliding with spiritual making everyone essentially confused as to what’s right what’s wrong, what we want and what we need.

    and like i said in my earlier comment – the spiritual world needs to realize the changing roles of women in the secular world. I’m not sure what those solutions are. Maybe it is the “ordination” of female kind of Rabbi’s. I don’t know.

    and while you criticize my opinion, you have neatly forgotten my final point. What of the rights of men? Do they get to choose whether they gave a brit milah then? Do they get to sleep in, and forget it with minyan. Does it just become a huge free for all then?

    Who’s putting down who in the name of feminism? Is the fact women not being allowed to become Rabbis a reflection of a put down on women or is the fact that women want to become rabbis a put down of men…no only can men not have babies, but apparently they can’t do the Rabbi thing right either. No? Well is it not possible that it would be perceived that way?

    I question the strong need to “have what they have”. Why is it so hard to accept the concept that women are indeed more spiritual? Here’s a better question, what is it about the different roles that has women shaking with low self esteem? Where does that come from? Can’t a woman be a mother, the center of the home and hold her head up high? Is keeping a Jewish home not something to be completely proud of? Why do we need titles? Why can’t we be happy with I am. Not I am a this a that a whatever. Why do we compare ourselves to others. What they have and what we don’t?

    Why do we need some title to make us more whole? Perhaps that is the problem with society right now. We think we need some title to make us whole, when partners, family and community is what should be making us whole.

  22. Kati says:

    Couldn’t resist jumping in…

    Feminism in Judaism has nothing to do with simply “wanting what men have.” And wanting to participate fully has nothing to do with not finding meaning in being a mother and wife. Further, full participation by women does not have to be as a rabbi with a title. Not all men are rabbis either. Perhaps it’s about finding meaning in full equality, being counted FULLY as part of the community. And if women were counted in the minyan, those duties could be shared by both men and women equally (and wouldn’t be such a burden for men and it has been implied). As I said, it’s not about not finding meaning in motherhood, etc. but rather about ALSO finding meaning in FULL particapation in prayer, etc. Similarly, many men find substantial meaning in fatherhood and desire to be stay-at-home dads in addition to finding meaning in other parts of their lives. Not all women want this type of participation in Judaism and that’s ok. Just because not all women want to work outside the home doesn’t mean that fighting for that right is not valid.

    And the whole argument about brit milah and child birth is not an argument – biology is biology. But it doesn’t HAVE to define one’s role in society, either secular or religious.

  23. shorty says:

    I do fully participate in prayer. every time i open my siddur. and i find it quite meaningful.

    I don’t know a single jewish woman around here who is not considered an integral part of the Jewish community.

    and how can you not say that feminism in Judaism isn’t about wanting what men have. It has everything to do with what men have: you even mention minyan.

    If someone is not finding meaning in what they have. then they have some serious thinking to do. What makes them think that having SOMETHING ELSE will bring more meaning

    that’s like saying “when i lose the five pounds, i’ll definitely be happier”. “when i am part of a minyan, my prayer time will be more meaningful” ?

    If someone somehow feels not meaningful in their community, there are certainly other ways, other than being in a minyan that would fix that – doing charitable work, helping others…what is it about the specific tasks for men, that somehow people feel will bring them the satisfaction/meaning they so desire?

  24. shorty says:

    I also want to add, that the halacha in theory is not necessarily what occurs in practice. I do agree that in many circles, the halacha is clearly taken to a crazy extreme and usually ends in abuse. I don’t think this is because of the halacha itself but of other psychological/environmental factors.

  25. @n_q_mainstream says:

    There you go again Shorty, sticking with the fallacious and male-penned Orthodox criticism of feminism. You don’t even have the independence to question WHY the minyan should be a male only privilege, why “helping others” should be the duty of women, if being “considered an integral part” of the community is the be all and end all for women.

    Listen, you do what you want to. I believe everyone has the right to be a second class citizen and I respect your choice to be subservient to men. I just don’t understand it. My suggestion is you read something by Blu Greenberg (a broadly accepted Orthodox feminist) or check out the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (http://www.jofa.org/) and start educating yourself as to what Orthodox feminists REALLY think. Perhaps then you’ll understand the misinformational misogynistic “mieses” about their intentions are nothing but lies.

    As for me, I’m out of the conversation. My darling wife wants me to do the housework while she sits and studies some texts.

  26. shorty says:

    “fighting for the right” is totally valid – as long as you are fighting for the right reasons. I say work from the inside out. Is it possible to have the self esteem/respect to be who you are with out what it is you are fighting for? What is it about being limitted by the “lack of the right to do something” that is so limiting? If you continued to not have it, are you less of a person?

  27. shorty says:

    My point is, too many women i know lack self esteem even with all the right, equal pay and family rearing that they do. Don’t tell me that being part of any minyan is going to help cure that.

    Done.

  28. Mark says:

    Feminism is *NOT* respect for women. Respect for *everyone* is part of basic human decency.

    Feminism is perhaps a struggle (or maybe today “a practice of”) towards women being able to choose their own path as they themselves see fit. It wasn’t always so, just a short time ago, maybe 2 or 3 generations, women did not have that freedom of choice, and it was a rare woman that escaped the constrictions of the time.

    And even that is a mostly meaningless definition because nobody, man or woman, can “choose their own path as they see fit” because the world/nature/people/etc constantly places things in the way of that path preventing progress up that path and causing meandering along other paths. Sometimes you even end up on a completely different path than you originally intended!

  29. Gave A Get says:

    @KoD, I believe Toast is a wonderful English delicacy, served mainly with Jam.

    HSM, Piss Off a term of endearment? OMG.

  30. batya from NJ says:

    i consider myself to be a traditional feminist & by that i mean that i consider myself to be traditional in my practice of judaism. for example, i personally feel no desire to participate in women’s minyanim, dancing with sifrei torah, studying gemara etc…however, i feel that if it makes a woman feel more connected spiritually to do the above, then kol hakavod to them even though it’s not my “cup of tea”! i also consider myself to be a feminist b/c i believe that women should have to right to choose whatever they wish for themselves. i don’t feel that others should determine for them what they must do, be it to stay at home with the kids or go out to work. it is a personal decision that every woman needs to make for herself & she deserves to be respected for the decision that she makes.

  31. Z! says:

    In Judaism, although there is a “role difference”, there isn’t a concept of “lesser than”. We can see this althroughout the Torah with the strong female voices that are portrayed. From Chava to the 4 imaot, to Miriam, to Devorah, to later works and stories of Rashi’s daughters and famous Rebbitzens. Judaims has always lauded our strong women. It is because of this that I am so comfortable with my role as a woman and a Jewish one at that!

  32. l.c. says:

    Do feminists treat men with respect? How do we advocate a movement to respect women while at the same time tolerating male bashing and negative depictions of men promoted by feminists?

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