I read an article called “Because I was a Girl”. It has short messages from women of all backgrounds and walks of life telling of times that they were told they were not allowed to something because they were a girl. For some it was that they were not allowed to get a certain job, for others it was that they were not allowed to play certain games or dress up as certain things, for others it was that they were told they should not or could not go into certain professions. In the comments section (you should read that too) there are even more stories.
There are stories both in the article and the comments on how women were/are not treated as adults. One that stands out in my mind of a woman who was financially independent, but her university grades were sent to her father and then to her husband. There were stories of women not being listened to; being spoken over; being told what to say or how to think or how to vote.
This article made me think about my life. Now the main place that I was told I couldn’t do things was with regards to religion. Some things were clear, that the law just doesn’t allow this to happen, and so women can’t do it (and I think that is a different area to think about, as one who thinks that the law comes from God- but I do think that there is and CAN be change).
Some things it was obvious that I would only be able to go so far. I loved learning Talmud, but that was only something that I was meant to do through high school, maybe during my gap year, but not after. If I look to the places of advanced women’s Jewish studies the only options are either for women who know nothing or for women who want to get ordination (ie. commit to 3-5 years of study). And all of these programs are post university. There are almost no options to study and do university at the same time, and there is really no option to study and then do university- as women’s programs are only built for you to be there for two years (and then come back if that is an option).
Other things are not so obvious, but if I sit and think about it there are other times as well. I think to things that happen in the camp that I work in, which is Conservative, a place that is supposed to be egalitarian. The song leaders on Friday night are ALL boys, it is always a person elected, but it is always a boy (although I heard this year they picked a girl for one). There is a planned prank that happens every year during a camp meeting, and it is ONLY the oldest boys bunk that does this. Over this Shabbat there was a youth movement at shul, and I realized that the girls will only start/stop singing and dancing if the boys do. When the girls got up to speak, they always got up in pairs, and held hands. There was no expectation that they would show up to services, even though they were sleeping in the shul. If we look at an older generation, at the shul I am working in (and I know for sure in many shuls around the world) it is always the women who have the task of preparing the kiddush, there are no men on the roster.
As a child I don’t remember any of these things. I am not sure if it is because I ignored them, didn’t notice, or just accepted them as what is supposed to happen. I know that I was always a bit different, as my mother always says “I march to the beat of my own drummer”.
I do know that now many of these things are a reality in my life, unfortunately. I have been spoken down to, and I know it is just because I am female. I have witnessed very brilliant women be shut up, told that their ideas and feelings aren’t valid, been interrupted in the middle of a lecture. I know that people hold me (and my female colleagues) to a higher level. I need to know more than my male counterparts just to prove that I actually know something. I once had a conversation with a guy friend about something I was learning, and his comment was “wow, you really know the material”, all I wanted to say back to him was “ye, what the heck do you think I’m doing 8 hours a day 4 days a week?!”
In shul over Shabbat I was talking to a male congregant about how the women coming out of my rabbinical school all have differing of opinions and beliefs (all falling into “orthodoxy” just some are more liberal than others). His comment back to me was that this would be unfair because then he would hire someone and feel tricked. I tried explaining to him two things. One, why would he hire someone without an interview. It would be during the interview that they would find out these details, and if he didn’t think it was proper then he wouldn’t hire her. And two, that why is it with women rabbis we have to all be the same, but there is not the same expectation with men.
It shouldn’t be that I get a weird pleasure of teaching halcha and talmud to classes of all men. I know that I know things, and it shouldn’t matter if I am teaching men or women. Something that frustrates me quite a bit with where I am learning is the emphasis on being female. I don’t know how many times I can say, that I wan to be looked at as a person. It should not matter what my gender is. I talk to men and women equally. I answer all of their questions, no matter what they might be (ok, some I don’t know the answer and then I ask someone else, but that is to all genders).
I think about what are we telling women and girls without actually using words. All of the stories in the article where things that they were told out right, what about all of the things that they are told but the way society works.
I wonder about what I can do to help women in the orthodox Jewish world. Where are places that we can give women a real place- and not a pretend one (feel free to find other posts that I write about that). Where are places that women can be in charge and not ask for permission before they so. Where are places and ways that we can encourage the girls in our community that they can and should be in shul, and learn Torah, and teach Torah, and really there is nothing stopping them from becoming real talmidot chachamim.
And so because I am a girl I can do things that surprise people. Because I am a girl I was able to study the arts and no one questioned it, and now I am able to use those skills in the rabbinate as well. Because I am a girl I am able to be part of creating change, one that even I did not think would be possible. Because I am a girl, I will try my hardest to make sure that all girls (and boys) feel that they REALLY can do everything they want to and be whoever they want to be.