Monday, August 1, 2011

What Do Women Want?


Disclaimer: I have to tell you, much as men seem to think that all women are monolithic in thought, I can't speak for all women; I can only speak for myself and I can only say that I've heard similar thoughts from some other Orthodox Jewish women. Many Orthodox Jewish women are perfectly happy and content to have men decide for them or live in the "the home is the woman's domain" and learning Tora in lecture classes designed for women only. Perhaps if I had gotten married at some point in my life and/or become a mother I might feel differently, but I doubt it since I've been feeling this way since I was about 5.

I'm often wonder why any Jewish woman wants to get married and give up just about everything of hers forever and ever and ever. All inheritance stuff (that women only inherit if there are no sons) and the "everything that's yours becomes your husband's" makes me wonder about the positive side of committing your life to a man's and makes me feel that women are not taken seriously.

I think it's rather pretentious for men to think that they can speak for women of all ages, eras, generations, etc. One of the problems is that men have a habit of objectifying women. Men, particularly those who haven't spent a lot of time with women, don't see women as serious discussion partners. They seem to believe that women are only experts (or even knowledgeable about) in the area of the home. But, particularly in the Modern Orthodox community, this just isn't true (and I'm not sure it ever was).

We don't live in ancient Israel, women often earn their own salaries and buy their own possessions. This is a new generation. Why should laws that were originally there to protect women in a time where they didn't usually earn their own way shackle women nowadays? And it's not just the property thing -- it's also stuff like Halitza and Get. Halitza is related to Yibum (Leverite marriage); when a man dies before he and his wife have had children, the man's brother is required to marry her. Required, that is, unless they perform Halitza . I don't know all the details of Halitza , but if a man's brother is either too young (under Bar Mitzva, aka age 13) or not interested, then the woman is stuck; she is not permitted to remarry.

The same issue applies to Get. Get is a Jewish divorce document. According to Jewish law (Halakha), a Get is given by the man and accepted by the woman. Men who are vindictive can keep their wives from getting remarried by not giving them a Get (the man would not have the same issues since strict Jewish law permits a man to have more than one wife while a woman is not permitted more than one husband). And, I must add, this is a huge problem in this day and age.

So, often when I ask men (usually my meaning is more rhetorical, but I often am given an answer, though I don't really want one, but I digress) why a Jewish woman would want to get married, they supply me with a rather flip answer that it is an accepted tenet in rabbinical circles that woman want to be married and this, I was just told, is still an accepted tenet. But this is not necessarily the case.

In the past few generations, there has been a growing number of women who have left their homes and families to find fulfillment elsewhere. There has been a growing number of women who have found marriage and motherhood unsatisfying. There is a growing number of women who just don't want to get married or be married in the first place. Seeing this, how can anyone say this "accepted tenet" is still true? It may have been true in an era when women's only opportunity for survival and gratification, her only opportunity to feel as though she accomplished something in her life, was through others, through her husband and children (like the Bach's mother-in-law, Sara, who earned a living for herself and Rav Yoel and his wife (her daughter) by being a seamstress and financially supported a Gadol (great Rabbi and commentator). So grateful was Rav Yoel that he took as his surname "Sirkis" which is a diminutive of the possessive of his mother-in-law's name Sara.) But this just isn't true today. And, I must add, that BECAUSE, in earlier days, this WAS the only way for women to find a sense of accomplishment, it is very likely that women suppressed that part of themselves for the most part. And, if that's the case, then that flip explanation that I have heard ad nauseum since at least my pre-teens probably never was true at all!

My displeasure with the attitude of men in this regard is that men often feel that, just because they have the power to decide for women, that they know what women want and what women are thinking and feeling and that's just not the case. Now, I must admit, I don't know much about what men are thinking or feeling (only, inasmuch as I can extrapolate from their own words or gezeirot -- statutes) I'm not out there claiming to know a man's "heart" (clearly I don't or I'd be in a relationship, but I digress) or out there making laws or statutes that men are obligated in. This has been my bete noire pretty much all my life.

I think it is important that more and more women begin to study what men do to become Rabbis. Whether or not a woman gets the title of Rabbi, we need to know what it is that the men are saying and what it is that they are saying about us. We need to understand the river of halakha and how psak (conclusions/decisions about what halakha is on specific issue) is arrived at. Toward that end, I am studying so I can be part of the dialogue. Men don't have a corner on the knowledge market or the analytical market. We need to shop in that market too.