Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Frum & Colonial Women

My feminist opinions have taken control of my education. This term, I'm taking a course called, "U.S. Women's History" because I figured, "If I want to change things, I'd better know how they were changed in the past."

I'm only at the very beginning of the history right now and I'm finding similarities between modern frum societies and early Colonial American societies. The patriarchal system that ruled families, called "Domestic Patriarchy", in particular, has a lot in common with expectations in the frum world.

Let's start with education. Like in the frum world, boys and girls growing up in Colonial times received differing educations based on the roles that were set up for them in society. They all received "moral education," like the Jewish studies classes both boys and girls get in the frum world, but when it came to practical studies boys were taught reading, writing, and math, and girls were taught "French, sewing and knitting". (Delegard & Hewitt, p.98)

Granted today in frum society girls are also taught those basic subjects, but we're taught them so that we can care for our husbands and children, which pretty much equates with why Colonial girls were only taught "French, sewing and knitting". It was, "Parents [instructing] their children to take their proper place in [...] society by training them to perform tasks appropriate to their sex." (Delegard & Hewitt, p.97)

As for the life of those girls when they grew up, they were "encouraged to practice submissiveness to authority. [...] Gentlemen insisted that wives be submissive to their husbands, and women tolerated, and even on occasion supported, a subordinate role within the family". (Delegard & Hewitt, p.86)

I read that sentence and said to myself, "That could have been written about frum society today!"

And how about this: "A woman could expect to give birth every two to three years from marriage to menopause". (Delegard & Hewitt, p.89)

Another similarity.

I'm not necessarily writing this as a criticism, although I do find patriarchy appalling; I'm just noticing the similarities and am looking forward to studying how these women progressed in society, because I think the frum world needs a model to work from.

List of Works Cited:

Delegard, Kirsten and Hewitt, Nancy. "Women, Families, and Communities: Readings in American History." 2nd ed. Pearson Longman: New York.


  1. Out of curiosity, when you state that you're a feminist, do you have 1 of the 3 waves in mind?
    And how much of feminist theory do you subscribe to? Since you're a NRA member it seems individualist feminism seems more up your alley. Although the 2amd sisters & other ladies firearms organisations don't categorise themselves as feminists.Don't intend to be invasive but trying to understand how you align your Emunat haBore with those very different operspectives.

  2. Eric - I'm my own kind of feminist. I don't align myself with any particular wave or movement and I haven't studied feminist theory in great depth. I just believe that women should be treated with respect and as equally valuable as men.

  3. As for how it works out with my emunah, it's what this blog is really all about.

  4. Bon voyage et bonne chance.

  5. But it Frum society..i have not seen it to be so that women are supposed to be submissive to their husbands. Yes, it has become accepted for the girls to support..but no one is forcing you to do that. If that is not what you are interested in..then there are other options...

    Women are not simply tolerated in frum society..and i think that is the most basic difference. The women is praised and glorified. She may have more chores..but that is not a subordination..its just different roles.

    Dont get me wrong..I am a frum feminist as well..but at the same time..i dont feel suppressed as a frum woman.

    1. It's so long afterwards, but I wanted to reply to your comment anyways.

      I don't believe that all frum women are necessarily suppressed but I do believe that they are given limited opportunities to explore what they could be aside from wives and mothers.

      I do recognize that there are plenty of women (and it sounds like you are one of them) who are perfectly satisfied with that. I do believe it's because they don't know any better, but if that works for them (for you,) then I'm happy to hear that you're happy. I just personally believe that a woman needs fulfillment outside of the home as well as inside of it.

  6. I am Frum and im a Chasid , but I struggle also. I am the product of flower children and was raised in a feminist lifestyle , and when I became Frum I could accept most things but struggled in this area, 16 yrs later I still do. I married a good man that knows I have a low tolerance for anti feminist behavior andi daven daily for Moshiach to come because then the roles will reverse.i saw this woman speak and I've read her books ,it helped a lot

  7. good work, frum feminist! You are asking the right questions. I look forward to seeing how you sort all this out and direct your intelligence and passion into social activism.

  8. John Adams is one of my favorite Founding Fathers and original patriots. His wife, Abigail, our Founding Mother, was brilliant...a (colonial) feminist!

    In some ways, I think that women from "back then" were better in some way. They worked hard - getting up before dawn, milking cows and weaving their own cloth and bringing pitchers of water to the men on the battlefield as they fought the Redcoats.

    ...On the other hand, the women who dressed as men and fought in their own right were impressive, too.

  9. I intend to answer all of your comments, people! I've just been crazy-busy lately and haven't had a chance yet. Look out for my response!