Wednesday, January 16, 2008


While recently walking in Manhattan following a business meeting, I began reflecting upon previous waves of feminism. Yes, feminism. And it was interesting to me that most of feminism has been reactionary, despite attempts by third-wave feminists to construct a "true", global dialectic based on the real experiences of women. This failure to accurately reflect the day-to-day lives of women has resulted in a fracturing of the ideology, since that ideology is predicated on the notion that the role of the family is oppressive to women, that it robs women of respect and financial independence. Rooted as it is in a Western, socialist mindset, a mindset that separates identity and life in general from religion, feminism responds to the question of gender by answering that women's minds must be changed in order to understand that the world and their identity therein is political, that their sense of self is rooted in an economic model that is imbalanced and must be balanced- by feminism. This model, you'll note, makes no mention of Hashem.

Yet if feminism balances the enslavement caused by consumerist, capitalist economics, then why do so many people still chose to have a family? Why, moreover, do so many women now work to the point of exhaustion in order to have both a family and work outside of the home? If the feminist ideology states that gender is a construct, that children are a consumer item that feeds the capitalist economy, then what has that ideology been successful in changing?

One could find fodder for the opinion then, that feminism has not really addressed the universal desire amongst people to have, as my husband puts it, a legacy. Canadian economist Harold Innis coined the theory that cultures are either spatial or temporal; spatial cultures are ones that focus on geography (i.e. this land is my heritage and constructs my identity) versus temporal cultures, which focus on establishing continuity across time (i.e. my culture and identity is rooted in the morality of my predecessors). Under this concept of cultures then, children are rooted in economics for spatial cultures (my child supports the economy of the given country and, in turn world) and in continuity for temporal cultures (my child will carry on the name and morality of my fore bearers). While feminism has attempted to address the former reason for children, the ideology has not made room for the latter.

Women have, in frumkeit, always been defined as equal to men. Moreover, women have always been granted financial rights: they can possess property, are entitled to retaining their earnings, etc. It is the acknowledgment of women's traditional role in the home that is precisely the reason for women's exclusion from performing certain mitzvot; such an exclusion, in other words, is due to the equal respect and consideration given to the role of women, not because women are deemed incapable or unworthy. They are simply released from the obligation to perform those mitzvot. Feminism fails to take into account these disparities of economics and identity between feminism and frumkeit.

Why am I devoting so much verbiage to an ideology that is irrelevant to yiddishkeit, that cannot accurately represent the reality of frum women? First, I mention this gap because I believe that feminism has infiltrated the frum community. It could stem from the rise of Baalei Teshuvah in North America, or from the increasing number of frum people who are seeking a secular education in order to further their economic status, or from many other reasons. Regardless, it is this conflicting ideology that is helping convince singles to stay single, this ideology that is convincing both young men and young women to contemplate alternate versions of yiddishkeit.

The Harold Innis theory leaves out a third type of culture, which I am now charting, namely a hybrid culture that I will label spatial/temporal. In this third type, of which yiddishkeit is an example, the given culture gives equal emphasis to the temporal (i.e. Torah) and spatial (i.e. Eretz Yisrael). How does this labelling of yiddishkeit as a hybrid culture affect gender and economics? Under this label, gender is based on the examples of the matriarchs and patriarchs, on living your life as exemplified by those individuals. Identity and economics become rooted in turn in the concepts and laws documented in the Torah- the word of Hashem. That is why yiddishkeit is a "world religion"; yiddin can live their lives in Asia the same as they do in Florida, or anywhere else. Until gallus ends anyway.

For those who acknowledge Hashem, and the role of Torah, there should be no confusion then. Gender roles are acknowledged, respect is equally granted, and economics open to all. Now that's a culture I can be thrilled as a woman to belong to.

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