The current theme here at the Sisterhood is about women being seen and heard. I like that! Renee Ghert-Zand wrote about a really important initiative to encourage women to get their strong voices out there by writing more op-ed articles. Debra Nussbaum Cohen and Devra Ferst reminded women to speak up unapologetically. And I, myself, have been writing, perhaps a bit obsessively, about female representation (or lack there-of) in print, in professional life and in leadership. It’s all about women having a presence, and being properly acknowledged and respected for what they say and do.
Elsewhere on the blogosphere, other Jewish women have apparently been thinking the same thing. Over at Jewish Women’s Archive, which cross-posts regularly with The Sisterhood, there is a new initiative to help achieve the goal of seeing and acknowledging women’s work. The project, which the Forward wrote about here, is called “On the Map”. It’s a graphic interactive, user-generated database of Jewish women’s history and achievements.
A space dedicated to visually representing Jewish women’s work is quite a welcome creation.
One of the best aspects of this initiative is that it is user-generated. This has several important implications. For one thing, it means that anyone can upload data, and therefore the collection reflects diverse information. This is especially important in women’s work, which often does not merit the global attention that it deserves. The project relies on people who truly understand women’s worth from close up – beyond celebrity renown and often out of reach of the broad media – to share their knowledge. This type of system has the potential to truly make the invisible visible, which is vital for women.
In addition, the system encourages women to support one another, which is also critical for women’s advancement. We are sometimes as guilty as men of failing to give one another the respect we deserve. On the Map is encouraging women to write about one each other, and to thus model public support for one another. If we don’t speak up about women’s work, how can we expect men to?
Related to this is the idea that the initiative builds collaboration. It is a reminder that encouraging women’s leadership and increased public roles and visibility is not just about going into competition with men. It’s also about bringing with us a different working culture, one of collaboration, cooperation and care. The very nature of this initiative, which relies on a kind of democracy of knowledge, is precisely a model of a women’s culture of collaboration, in which everyone is capable of contributing, and all knowledge is valued.
Finally, you don’t have to be a woman in order to participate. That means that men are encouraged to write about women as well.
So I went onto the website and I uploaded a few entries, and it felt great. It’s a beautiful site, and it is waiting for people to fill it in. If you know a great Jewish woman (or two), I can only encourage you to write about her – and help Jewish women be seen. I plan on continuing to upload women’s stories whenever I can.