The second time I see H. is on a Sunday morning at the bus stop near my apartment. It’s the kind of rainy day in New York that makes you feel hopeless; the rain comes at you sideways, umbrellas blow inside out, and by the time you reach anywhere, you are sopping and angry and frustrated and wish you’d never even tried.
H. and I had met a few days earlier in the middle of woods, at a training for very courageous people planning to journey to remote locations with many young Jewish adults in our charge. She and I, and a few other women, had been part of one evening’s networking group.
Networking is the ultimate demonstration of privilege. That is, if you know what networking is, why it’s important, what to do with networks and know other people who also know these things, you are privileged. You’ve probably been to college, or even graduate school; you probably have had access to some kind of money and/or community that values connections and speaks about how it’s all about who you know. In the Jewish community, this is especially true; if you can manage to penetrate the walls of the organized Jewish establishment, you have a network that might last you as long as you want it, and maybe even beyond.
All the women in this networking group were smart, feisty, accomplished, well-connected, and like H. and I, really good at qualifying and disclaiming our accomplishments with phrases like “I sort of.” This tendency, which we confess to doing with a terrifying fluidity, makes it difficult for us to market ourselves aggressively, confidently and effectively. I nod so much listening to these women that my neck hurts the next morning. I also can’t fully own my professional accomplishments — be they creative or Jewish communal. When people ask me what I do these days, I say, “Well, I’m sort of being a writer.” I don’t say that before last spring, I’d spent my entire post college life working in the Jewish community, racked up a lot of important experience, and impacted many people.
I’d be willing to bet a fancy sum of money that most men do not have this issue, because they’re socialized to be assertive and market themselves without hesitation and with pride.
Resisting the way we’ve been socialized (and not one of us has escaped this imprint) is hard, especially when many of us have also experienced the martyr complex that the Jewish community demands from us in working for it, whether for money or in a volunteer capacity. Both men and women (to get binary about it) experience this burn out, but the way we rally — or don’t — looks very different. In my experience, women just put up with more, and although we know it’s going to happen again at our next organization, we don’t hesitate to go back in, to give our whole selves all over again. The Jewish community can teach us how to use our best selves, but the real question is if it can enable women to own their voices, without apology or qualification.