Frum, Feminine, Feminist

While some of you may have already sipped the same Bartenura Moscato-spiked Kool-Aid as me, to others the notion that I can be fully frum, feminine and a feminist may seem contradictory or come as a surprise. 

There's a lot of fear of feminism in the frum community and I think this fear comes, in part, from a lack of understanding about what feminism even is. This lack of understanding is understandable. I think it stems, in part, from the fact that "feminism" is a big, complex word that encompasses numerous views on many issues. Even in my google searching to locate some links, I couldn't quickly find good educational sources online and the sites I found sometimes contradicted each other.

What is Feminism?

The first thing to know is that there are three or four waves of feminism, depending on who you ask. Each of these waves is a distinct women's movements that corresponds to a specific time period. 

There are also different branches of feminism or feminist ideologies. These are different viewpoints about what feminism believes in, what's working, what isn't working and needs change and how we can and should work towards that change. There are several different branches, but some of the main ones are Cultural Feminism, Radical Feminism, Liberal Feminism, Intersectional Feminism, Social Feminism and Socialist Feminism

Fancy words aside, the one thing that unites pretty much all feminists is that we share the radical belief that women are people, deserving of the same basic human rights to safety, financial independence, fair pay, the vote, bodily autonomy, human dignity, and everything else that men automatically receive in Western society. It is only in recent history that women in developed nations have been granted many of these rights and some of them are still in question. 

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Beyond that, everything is just commentary. One of the defining features of third/fourth wave contemporary feminism, as outlined in the first article hyperlinked above, is that each woman can define her feminism based on her own research, experiences and personal beliefs. Most women do not fit neatly into one specific branch of feminist ideology, but each one may sparse out her beliefs from the different branches to come up with her own unique feminist outlook. 

I have many opinions about different feminist issues and causes, but beyond the belief that women are people and should be treated as such, my feminism boils down to this: 

All women need society to value, respect and support us in whatever choices we make. Women need to have options and opportunities available to us, so that we can make our decisions with true freedom, not based on a lack of possibilities.

This philosophy applies broadly to all of women's choices, but here is one example where it applies. Currently, a woman might choose to stay home with her children because she can't see a good way to manage both the demands of raising a family as the female parent (who often carries more of the parental responsibilities) and pursuing a successful, traditional career at the same time. Or she may choose to avoid having children in order to pursue her dream career, for fear that a family might interfere with her professional ambition. The way the traditional family and workforce are structured, a woman's choice to focus solely on either raising a family or having a career may be based more on the limitations that she sees in doing both than on what would ultimately make her happy. 

In my ideal world, family life and the labour force would be restructured in order to allow more women to both successfully raise a family (perhaps with more help than many women have access to now) and pursue an exhilarating career. In the world as I would like it to be, a woman could still choose one or the other, but she would be making that choice out of her own desire, not because she thinks that it would be too difficult or prove unsuccessful if she attempted both. Of course, in this ideal world, women could make these decisions without facing judgement and without a sense of trying to live up to anyone else's unreasonable expectations about what women should or shouldn't do. 

Perhaps this sounds really reasonable to you and you think that's where society is already heading. Perhaps this sounds like an idealistic and impossible feat, at least until Moshiach comes. I noodle between these two thought processes whenever I think about my hopes and dreams for society. Then I remember that everything seems impossible until it happens. Anyways, I never give up the hope that Moshiach will hurry up and be here tomorrow. 

What About Being Frum?

I believe that Torah is emes, truth. I believe that Hashem created the world and wrote the Torah, and the Torah (with its accompanying commentary) is a guide for how I live my life. I believe that Hashem created women as equal to men; not as the same, but of the same worth and deserving of the same respect. There are fundamental differences between men and women outlined in the Torah, in terms of characteristics, roles and mitzvos. But just because men and women are portrayed as different and Hashem requires different things of us, does not mean that we have unequal value or receive different treatment in an ultimately negative way. Since I hold these values, any time I see inconsistencies between my feminist values and Torah values, I assume the inconsistency stems from my misunderstanding the Torah, rather than the Torah being flawed. Instead of deciding that the Torah needs revision, I decide that I need to become better educated.

After coming to a better understanding of the Torah (with the help of an expert, rather than my own attempt at clarity, as I don't have enough training to figure everything out on my own) I sometimes have to reexamine and possibly adapt my views to align with my new understanding of the Torah. Other times, I find the seemingly Torah-rooted issue is actual a problem of societal views, which seem to be rooted in Torah but are not, and we must reexamine those societal views. This was the logic behind my recently published piece, The Modest Problem.

As I continue to learn and grow, I continue to find inconsistencies and I continue to learn even more and often adapt my views, either on Torah, on feminism, or on both. My feminism and my Judaism are constant works in progress and I still have not found all my answers.

Aren't you too Feminine to be a Feminist?

I dress fashionably, I wear makeup, I'm married and run a household, I adhere to many contemporary feminine ideals. I am also a feminist. My feminism is not about simply shirking off traditional female roles and femininity. It is about looking critically at the culture and society that shaped me and the model of femininity that it instilled in me. It's about making educated decisions, rather than just following the herd.

A fundamental part of my Judaism is that what I do matters, whether or not I fully understand why I'm doing it; it's a religion of action. Conversely, my feminism focuses less on what I do, and more on about why I do it. It's about thinking about the forces that influence my actions, beliefs and behaviours and then choosing how to act, even if it this deeper thought means sometimes making decisions that I don't completely stand behind. Example: I wear makeup because it makes me feel pretty, even though part of me resents some of the ideology behind makeup and in the makeup industry and despite my complex feelings about female adornment and the things society urges us to do to/with our bodies. 

I love feminism, I think it's incredibly important and it is a driving force in my life. I hope you'll join me on this journey towards learning, growing and integrating all aspects of myself into one fabulous life. In the meantime, whet your appetite for feminism on these rad sites: Bustle, Stuff Mom Never Told You and Everyday Feminism. Bonus: Check out all the #frumgirlpower at The Jewish Woman