Yesterday at school we had a full day seminar on the changing American Jewish family. For the most part I think that it was done very well.
The first session was basically statistics. Statistics of intermarriage, marriage, and divorce. I don’t think I was very surprised with the statistics.
There is a statistic that the more women are invited into religious practice the more men leave. I was thinking about this fact, and I wonder if we are moving too much to the emotional side, and forgetting about the benefit of the logic side. There is a lot of talk about the great things of the different ways that women think or what women are “adding” to the conversation – but that way doesn’t work for everyone. But we see that the emotional side is missing, so our focus is only there- now even in men’s yeshivas. I think that part of the problem is actually the separation of sexes for studying and so many interactions. If we joined together more often, then I think we would be able to find a balance, or a way to go back and forth and allow for both models to be real.
There was a comment by the first speaker that Jewish men are not interested in Jewish women. That they don’t find Jewish women sexy. I think that something that she didn’t take into consideration, is that many Jewish men don’t know how to interact with women. They either will make rude comments, or speak without thinking, or just don’t realize that things they are saying are inappropriate, or are nervous or shy and just don’t know what to do. (Her thinking it is the woman’s fault is not so surprising based on her comments at the end of the day….will get there soon.)
Something very interesting that was said, was that men today, even orthodox men are more feminist in their thinking. I commented that I don’t feel that men are supportive of what I am doing, that they are some of the least supportive. The speaker commented though, and rightly so- that they are for women working, and being a CEO or a doctor or a lawyer, or that they are for women getting equal pay. And that is being feminist. She is very right. I never thought about that, but then it makes me so much angrier. Why is it that they are ok with that and not with what I want to do? Maybe it’s just that they grew up with that model already and so it is easier to accept.
She also spoke about how unmarried mothers by choice, are more greatly accepted in communities than just single people. I don’t think that is so surprising, considering the community is so family based. They are interested in the family programming, they have kids to go to programs with, they are able (and not annoyed) to talk about strollers, schools, pediatricians, etc, which are things that those who don’t have children are unable to do.
The second session was on being single. The first person on the panel spoke about single women in 19th Century America. It was during that time that women in general were part of the “cult of domesticity”- you were at home at helped with home stuff, and then you got married and you lead the home stuff. There were apparently always women who never got married, and they were considered “cult of single blessedness”- they would help with home stuff, but sometimes travel for it, or be the one to replace someone, because they didn’t have anyone else to take care of. They were mobile in a way that others were not. But they were also just expected to do what was missing, rather than being their own person.
She also spoke about Rebecca Gratz (who is a super cool woman and did a lot of amazing things). She was single, but started major organizations that helped not only her community but the greater city. She was unique in the matter that she was able to do all this and still be single. The NCJW would not regularly accept single women at the time, but they did accept her. I think that makes sense- she would not be accepted into a regular program, so she just started her own. She was strong and able to create, and so she did. She was not going to be put off by those who did not accept her.
The other women didn’t say anything else new about singleness in the Jewish community. One woman said that she thinks that getting married should not be seen as a goal- because it is not necessarily attainable. There are many people who do “everything” they can- sign up for websites, live in the “right cities”, speak to everyone- and still don’t find a mate. Another person spoke about a cycle of singleness- that we are all ways in times of being in relation to another person- so it is not a goal or something you get to do.
I do wish we spoke about the halachic issues of talking about sex and shomer negiah for “older” singles. Are we as an observant Jewish community really expecting single people in their 30’s and 40’s to never hold hands? What do we do with their desires? Or do we just not talk about it, and people do it in secret, and we just accept that people are sinning?
We had a panel on divorce. It was fascinating to hear from all four about how we we should interact with it in the same way we might with death and mourning. It was very moving to hear from two women about their divorce experience and creating blended families. It is not an easy process, and I really believe that we need to have more sensitivity. Not only during the time of divorce, but after too, especially if there are kids and there are life cycle events.
The day I think was really nice for the most part. I think that the conversation about singleness was true and sensitive. I think that the conversation about divorce was moving and eye opening. Even the conversation, where it seemed like we had “token” representatives of “different” families was done tastefully and the speakers were eloquent and informative.
But then at the very end, the key note speaker gave some key points from the day, and spoke about how she thinks that marriage is an attainable goal. It is all about being in the right places. And if we are not married it is because we are not trying hard enough- we aren’t talking to people, or signing up for things, or giving guys a chance. It was then that I (and most of the group, especially those of us who are not married) got really angry. It was very clearly not a key point for the day and I think it is a horrible idea. She basically called those of us not married failures.
I don’t want to be the one who speaks constantly for “single” rights- but lately, I feel like I need to. I want to show that yes I can do things. Yes people should take me seriously. Yes, I do want to get married, but at the same time I am not going to put my life on hold because I am not. So maybe for the time being I will join the cult of single blessedness (also because it sounds really cool) and do everything I can during this time.