Friday, March 22, 2013

Jew in the City - I Beg to Differ (Part 2)

To be fair, most Orthodox Jewish women are not aware of their subjugation. They simply live their lives the way that they saw their mothers live theirs and are fairly happy in their ignorance. 

I don't think anyone intelligent in the frum community would deny the fact that we brainwash our children. Like all cultures, we have values, norms, beliefs, and traditions that we cherish and want our children to cherish, so we indoctrinate them with our chosen values from the moment they're born. It is this brainwashing that allows women to live under subjugation without realizing it. 

Just to be clear, I don't have a problem with teaching children values; that's a healthy part of socialization. It's the values that are unfair and closed-minded that I take issue with. 

Such as the way that girls are trained to think and behave in the frum community. We are instilled with a message of, "Being seen and not heard." Except we're not supposed to be seen either.

They stick us women behind partitions in shul (synagogue) and tell us to keep quiet. The men will sing and dance on their side of the partition, praying to G-d with joy and happiness while the women just sit, watch, (through the curtains,) and listen. 

They teach us to be modest in clothing and behavior and use the laws of modesty to keep us from expressing ourselves through the way we dress by saying that we shouldn't wear loud colors or (what they consider) outlandish (i.e. different from what everyone else is wearing) garments. One of my high school principals favorite sayings was, "Ask yourself: Would my Chumash (Bible-studies) teacher wear that? If not, you shouldn't wear it either!"  If you enter an ultra-Orthodox community, one of the things that you'll notice is that most of the women are wearing very similar clothing in very limited colors. 

As for modest behavior, we're expected to be always calm and collected. To not draw attention to ourselves in any way... Which rids us of the ability to be unique. 

They inundate us with the message that we girls\women can fulfill our purpose in the world just by getting married, keeping a Kosher home, and having children, removing the possibility for other ambitions. 

Female socialization in the ultra-Orthodox community thus ends up being the creation of cookie-cutter women who, as long as they remain "brainwashed", and happy in their subjugated situations.

I was. In fact, when I was about 21, I wrote an article that was published in an Orthodox Jewish women's magazine in which I spoke with pride about returning a skirt that I bought from GAP because even though it was long and modest, it's style and color was too outlandish. 

I wrote another article, which was published on a Jewish website, that claimed that women should be happy and fulfilled in their roles as wives and mothers because it's what G-d created us for. 

I shudder, now, thinking of those articles, but also realize that I was just spouting back the things that I'd been taught. 

It was only when I dared to step out of the frum woman's box that I started to see things from an objective perspective. Unlike nearly all of my contemporaries, I wasn't given the chance of getting married and having children young, which is the only really approved path for frum women. And so I found myself "off the path" - taking a job outside of the frum community, working with non-religious and non-Jewish people, and going to college because I had to do SOMETHING with my time. 

It was "off this path" that I started to gain perspective and began to see the patriarchy inherent in the frum world. (Not really) coincidentally, that's when I started this blog, and if you go back to the beginning and read my earliest posts, you'll find how I struggled with this new perspective. If you continue reading, you'll see how my views evolved.

Outside of the "approved path", I began to ask questions. And did not like the answers.

STAY TUNED: I'm going to write more detailed posts about more specific subjugations of frum women, such as Kol Isha (the "Voice of a Woman" being forbidden from being heard), Gets (the Jewish divorce process), and the faults in a "Separate but Equal" ideology


  1. Your argument prevents anyone from disagreeing with you because you posit: "If anyone disagrees with me that frum women are subjugated, then they are simply a victim of brainwashing."

    From your status as a feminist, is it your belief that 50% of the population can be so easily misled? That is kind of insulting to the general intelligence of female-kind.

    Read any book or magazine article by a woman of a certain age, gentile or Jew, and note her main desire: To be married and have a child. But if a frum woman wants to be a wife and mother, she is "obviously" brainwashed?

    Men are Biblically required to be a husband and a father. Women are not. Yet men aren't subjugated, but women are?

    Look, I went to BY, and yes, they said a lot of stupid stuff. I went home and told my parents, and they said, "Wow, BY says a lot of stupid stuff." So I wasn't brainwashed.

    My wardrobe is "outlandish." It contains every color of the rainbow (my favorite is red) and my father hates it if I wear black. I have gotten many compliments for my attire of choice, and I have seen plenty of other Jewish women indulging in fashionable flair, so I guess you must have really conservative neighbors who choose to dress more . . . matronly.

    I went to college, and I loved it. But it's not like it "opened my eyes to a world outside BY", goodness, I've never given BY any credence. I didn't go to seminary because I had it up till here being told the only way to get to heaven is through a learning boy.

    As for shul? I'm usually the first one there; the rest of the women attendees prefer to sleep late and leisurely arrive during leigning and musaf. I don't know about your shul, but if a ladies-only minyan was organized where they could dance and sing to their hearts' content, I don't think they would show up any earlier. Men have this requirement because they need this spiritual boost; women can get it elsewhere.

    I would counter your "modest behavior" with dignity. A person can be dignified and be in a public arena, in the center of attention, and be unique. Dignity brings about good attention, and we just don't advocate negative attention.

    It would seem that by my saying in my previous comment in my previous post that because I desire to be a mommy that means that nebach, she's been brainwashed. Cookie, I graduated from college with honors. I read thought-provoking literature. (Have you ever read "Cloud Atlas" by David Mitchell? It is absolutely amazing. I highly recommend it). I am not drooling into a cup piping BY catechisms.

    I would suggest you read Challah Back Girl's guestpost on Lady Mama:

    That frum women have no other option but to marry and have children? I don't know, they all seem to be going to college nowadays and learning a living. Do you want to eschew a husband and children? Biblically, it's cool. To say that peer pressure-wise, it isn't allowed? No one is goose-stepping you to a chuppah, baby.

    There are all sorts of mishagaasim that arise that a few loudmouthed people insist should be a given. But thanks be to God, we all have that charming gift, free will. So I do what works for me, and if someone squeals otherwise, then I attempt to patiently educate them, if possible.

    As for unique? Not everyone is meant to be intellectual and college-educated. There are many "followers," who only want to go with the flow. That isn't a crime. Because we are all different.

    1. No, I do not believe that all women who want to be wives and mothers are subjugated. I do believe that there exists "freedom of choice" and that not everyone can be easily misled.

      But I also believe that there is, in the frum community, a patriarchal agenda and a systemic educational process that encourages a culture of Domestic Patriarchy (which I wrote about in this post:

      I applaud you for your strength in seeing through all the B.Y. bullshit, but it also sounds like you had strong family support that enabled you to think critically, whereas many - and I would argue most! - girls who attend B.Y. schools do not have that ability.

      Obviously, I don't have any statistics to back up my arguments and, like you, am basing my views on what I see around me, but in my opinion, even if the numbers aren't a majority, even one subjugated woman who became that way because of community standards is one too many.

    2. As for my free-thinking home life, yes, I was/am blessed, but keep in mind there are still enough frum role models for frum young girls out there that they can learn to think for themselves as well. You did, after all. Even in BY, I had two morahs and an amazing English principle (who's husband wore a streimel) who urged us to think and taught us amazing things.

      But let us clarify, if "subjugated" doesn't necessarily mean "wife and mother," what does it mean?

      There are many types of family dynamics. There is the household where the wife wears the pants (very common in chassidish homes) and the husband is meekly compliant. Then there are is the woman who defers to her loud husband in everything. Then there are the more equal partnerships.

      However noisy and demanding a community may be, within the confines and privacy of the home a couple is free to make their own choices in terms of their relationship.

      I read your post, but I frankly cannot see any connection to the frum community today. I know plenty of chassidish wives; they don't take no flack from their men, no sir! When history speaks of submission, it was really bad back then; a woman could never express any opinion in her husband's presence that he didn't approve of. That certainly doesn't exist anymore, unless the husband is a classified jerk (as opposed to being merely frum).

      I even know of chassidish families who practice birth control (not that they advertise it, just that all their children were born exactly the same number of years apart).

      So I ask: What does "subjugated" mean to you?

    3. In general, subjugated", to me, means that women aren't given equal status and opportunity. In this particular post, I'm referring to the educational system in the frum world, which teaches passivity and a culture similar to the "Cult of Domesticity".

      In future posts I will be discussing more specific subjugations, such as in Jewish divorce, community politics, kol isha etc.

    4. I dunno, I was in BY, and there was no cult of domesticity. We took computer classes, nothing about cooking.

      It was understood that most would be attending college, and AP courses were offered.

      Another problem is that our Jewish law, which is thousands of years old, has not changed quickly to literally current times. As of fifty years ago, Jewish law would have been considered to be oddly protective of women's rights.

      Jewish divorce? You are looking at marriage with a contemporary outlook; marriage used to be less about happily ever after and more pragmatic. A home could not function once without a woman to care for it, and a woman wanted to marry to be mistress of her own establishment; marriage fulfilled a mutual need.

      In the case of a divorce denied to a woman, no problem, the beis din would beat the man until he complied. A man was able to easily divorce his wife so that there should be no stigma attached to her name, making remarriage for her possible. If a woman was not married, she would starve. I mean have nothing to eat, no way to live.

      I still find your claims of subjugation to be tenuous, at best, for Judaism recognizes that men and women are not the same, but deserve equal (if not higher, on the women's side) consideration.

      A woman is required to treat her husband "adequately." A man is required to treat his wife "better than himself."

      The problem is, thanks to the questioning and back-and-forthing of Jewish law, your position and my position can both be argued to death.

    5. Apparently you went to a liberal Bais Yaakov. My school did, in fact, teach us "Home Economics" - or how to cook.

      You're right about how Judaism sees men and women as being equal. You're wrong, however, that FRUM Judaism treats men and women as equals.

    6. Men and women are not the same.

  2. While I agree that in some, perhaps many, Orthodox societies women are subjugated in the ways you've written, there are a few points I'd like to raise.

    "They stick us women behind partitions in shul" Is this an issue you have with the halacha of a mechitza or the way that most shuls apply the halacha (i.e. upstairs or behind tall walls)?

    "saying that we shouldn't wear loud colors" I could be wrong- very possible that I misheard or misunderstood- but isn't something written about wearing the color red from a kabbalistic and/or halachic standpoint? I think R' Moshe Feinstein has a t'shuva on the topic about it and in general about women's clothing and what constitutes appropriate and inappropriate. There's another halachic issue of chukas hagoyim. I don't know how it applies, but it appears to apply in some sense.

    "To not draw attention to ourselves in any way... Which rids us of the ability to be unique." This complaint can be equally stated by every guy in most yeshivas. Their freedom of expression in with ties. Being unique doesn't require clothing. People call me unforgettable, but my attire is anything but.

    'Outside of the "approved path", I began to ask questions. And did not like the answers.' On this, we can agree. I've done the same and have not liked the answers at all.

  3. Some of the things you seem to take issue with, like the get process, for instance, is a halachic issue, and a biblical one at that. You may not like it (I certainly don't) but if you're frum you believe that it comes from G-d, which makes it difficult to argue against.

  4. AmI~

    We have not heard from you in a loooong time! Are you running a different blog?

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. Do you still write a blog - I just found this now and really like the things you say!

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