This is the twelfth entry of an ongoing series exploring Jewish feminism.
This is embarrassing and something I should never admit because it betrays a lack of commitment to passionate principles and also a resistance to deep thinking. But here it is: “Jewish” and “feminist” exist in two different boxes for me, and I have never managed to get them to share borders. This is not for lack of trying.
I am Jewish, and I am the founder and editor of a woman’s website. In college I read Lilith magazine and I went to the kinds of reformed services where God was sometimes a “she.” (I went to college in California.) I also briefly attended such a synagogue in D.C., where I live now, and participated in a long and earnest discussion about the dual gender nature of the deity.
But ultimately the whole enterprise made me squirm.
I was born in Israel and grew up in Queens. My synagogue there was full of old men and they only spoke Hebrew and never much cared what we, the young people or we, the girls and women, thought about anything. It was a thoroughly unpleasant and unsatisfying spiritual experience, but that’s what we had. Over the years I have tried to move away from it and create myself a more fulfilling, nourishing kind of Judaism. But the truth is, it makes me uncomfortable.
I realized in recent years that what I want from my Judaism is ritual — old, familiar, and some might say thoughtless ritual. I like to say the prayers the same way I have always said them, sing the songs in the same old tuneless way and make my kids go to Hebrew school. And in the old version, God is just He.
Whenever I see “best of” lists, award finalists and even table of contents, I can’t help but immediately scan them to see how women fared. Because of this little tic, I find myself regularly complaining to my husband about the lopsided male-to-female ratio in the bylines of the highbrow magazines we receive, which include The Atlantic, The New Yorker, and The New Republic. He often tells me I am being a bit neurotic, and that women are, overall, pretty well represented.
But after months and months of my informal surveys I was pretty sure I saw a pattern, so I decided to take a look at the numbers. A quick calculation of all non-cultural criticism stories in these three magazines over the past year shows that women trail men when it comes to bylines. The New Republic scored the worst, with only 13% of its stories penned by women. The Atlantic had 22% and The New Yorker (where I didn’t take in account fiction or Talk of the Town, in addition to criticism) had 30% of its stories written by women. (I didn’t take into account cultural criticism because that is an area in which women are generally well represented.) Over the past year, The New Republic had 138 men and 21 women listed on its tables of contents, The Atlantic had 100 men and 29 women, and The New Yorker had 170 men and 73 women.
For the most recent issue of The Atlantic, Hanna Rosin penned a nearly 9,000-word cover story, “The End of Men,” in which she chronicles the growing influence of women, and the subsequent shrinking influence of men. Through statistics on employment trends, educational success and even the growing desire for female babies, Rosin argues that the XXers are the gender of the future, and that patriarchy is yesterday’s news.
In 2008, Brandeis professor Sylvia Barack Fishman published a study that focused on similar trends in Jewish life. Matrilineal Ascent/ Patrilineal Descent: The Gender Imbalance in American Jewish Life took a look at the feminization of non-Orthodox Jewish life in seminaries, summer camps and synagogues. In the study, she wrote:
American Jewish boys and men have fewer connections to Jews and Judaism than girls and women in almost every venue and in every age, from school age children through the adult years. The descent of male interest is evident not only in domestic Judaism, as expected, but also in public Judaism, religious leadership, and secular ethnic attachments.
The Sisterhood’s Elissa Strauss asked Barack Fishman about whether “The End of Men” is a Jewish phenomenon, too.
• New Israeli census numbers are out, showing that Jewish Israeli women bear fewer children, on average (2.1) than their Muslim (3) Christian (2.2.) and Druze (2.7) counterparts.
• The Gloss sits down with Tamar Reich, an observant Jew and former Krav Maga instructor who recently opened New York City’s first all-female performing arts space.
• Tamar Caspi writes an open letter “to moms & dads of marriageable-age kids,” arguing, in the Jersualem Post, that it’s counterproductive for parents to insist that their children date only Jews.
The perils of tampon advertisements was the topic of conversation Monday evening, when DoubleX co-editor (and Bintel Brief guest columnist) Hanna Rosin, former “Colbert Report” executive producer Allison Silverman, Sarah Haskins of Current TV and Susan Kim, author of the new book “Flow: The Cultural History of Menstruation” (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2009) came together in New York for “That Not-So-Fresh Feeling: Marketing Embarrassing Products to Women.”
The panelists were incisive — and hilarious — in their dissection of fem-care product advertising; they pointed to tampon and maxi pad ad tropes, such as the beachy and nautical imagery, white dresses and bathing suits, and stylish urbanites in bold reds hats.
Their collective thesis seemed to be that these advertisements send the message to women that they should be ashamed of their bodily functions; after all, the ads never actually address menstruation head on, but instead focus on endorsing a carefree lifestyle — a not-so-logical supposed byproduct of using their goods. (The definition of carefree, as we learned in slide shows presented, changes from one decade to the next, from wealthy socialites and hard-bodied athletes of decades past to the cosmopolitan fashionistas of today.)