Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Views on Feminism

I have been thinking about writing a post about my views on feminism for some time now, and I recently saw a video that related to women/feminism that I wanted to share and write about, so I figured now would be a good time to express my views before sharing that post.

How do you define “feminist”? If “feminist” could simply be defined simply as a person who believes that men and women are equal, then all people in the world should really be feminists. However, the word “feminist” often has different connotations to different people, which leads to different approaches and associations with the word. To some, “feminist” refers to a person who believes that women should try to be like men.

Outline of my views on feminism:

Men and women are equal. The word “equal” seems to confuse people. This does NOT mean that they are the same. When I say men and women are equal, I mean that they are equal in their value as human beings and deserve to be treated equally and fairly. Again, equal does not mean the same. Sometimes in fact, it is more equal to treat people differently than to treat them the same.

Men and women are different- physically, emotionally, spiritually, mentally etc. Men are better than women in some areas, and women are better than men in some areas. If you take a group of men and a group of women, you will find differences. This does not mean that they are not equal, and it also does not mean that you won’t find exceptions.

Why Feminism was needed to begin with:

Two hundred years ago:
1. Women could not vote
2. Women could not be hired for many jobs, were confined to the home, and therefore financially independent on men.
3. Women were abused, and were viewed and treated as sexual objects, a possession to men.

The good news is that Feminism solved some of these issues. The bad news is that not only did it fail to solve some things, it also created new issues.

What Feminism got right:

• Women today have the right to vote. While this may not seem like a huge deal, it really is because in a democracy every person should have a say about who is in charge and making the laws.
• Feminism opened up career opportunities for women. It is a problem for women to be financially dependent on men and not be able to earn a living because all people should be free to make their own choices and be independent. Let’s say a woman is being abused by her husband. If she has no money, then she cannot leave because she will have no way to pay for anything.
• Women today also have more educational opportunities- they can now go to college etc.

What Feminism got wrong:

• In my opinion, the main thing that feminism got wrong is that it kind of messed things up for women in that we took on too much. There are two areas: The work place and the home. It used to be that men were in the work place and women were in the home and everything was evenly split. Then feminists decided to take on women being in the work force, but the problem is that men never took on being in the home more. This creates two problems. The first is women doing twice the amount of work as men, since we have to work and then take care of things at home, where as men just work. And those who “help out” in the home are doing just that- helping out. If work is part of the woman’s domain, then housework should be part of the man’s domain. Secondly, in our society, most homes now need two salaries to pay for things. Feminism got rid of the option for most women of being a housewife. One salary is often not enough. Some women don’t want to work, they prefer being home, but now they need to work because of societal pressure.

• Not all feminists are the same and believe in the same things. Some believe women are superior to men. One thing that some feminists got wrong is that they basically said, “Men have it better. We want to be just like men, and not be women.” That is awful. Hashem created both men and women for a reason and both should be proud to be the gender that they are. There are great things about being a man, and there are great things about being a woman. There are also difficulties that come along with each gender role. Many people today dislike the Feminist movement because it was saying that being a woman is bad and we should just be like men. This type of feminism got it wrong.

• Feminism unfortunately did not completely change the fact that women are viewed as sexual objects. Just take a look at the media, and you’ll see what I mean. I still hope this will change, but it doesn’t seem like it’s going in that direction.


Feminism made it OK for women to do many things or act in ways that were normally things that men did or ways that men acted. However, I would argue that what the world now needs is a Masculinism movement to even things out. Firstly, it should bring men into the home more, since many men do like to cook and take care of their kids, but socially a man being a “housewife” is not accepted while a woman being a career woman is. The second thing that a potential Masculinist movement could do is demonstrated by the following: If a 3 year old girl starts playing with trucks, everyone thinks that’s fine. If a 3 year old boy started playing with dolls, his parents would be immediately concerned and take the doll away. It needs to be OK for the little boy to play with a doll- no, it doesn’t mean he’s gay. It also needs to be OK for men to be able to express their emotions. Socially it is unacceptable for a man to cry in public. That is a problem.

Feminism did a lot for women, but now things are unevenly split. Women have to be superwomen and do everything, while all that is expected of men is to make income.

Feminism and Judaism

I could talk about this one for a very long time, and write pages and pages, but for now I will just mention some interesting points.

The main idea is that Judaism/Torah views women and men as equal, but recognizes that they are different and therefore gives them different roles.

The Torah is respectful towards women and Tznius is a great example of this. While Feminism did not solve the problem of women being treated like sexual objects, the mitzvah of Tznius works to correct this issue. The less a woman is wearing, the more those who view her focus on her body and not on her soul. The more modestly that a woman is dressed, the more she is able to be viewed for who she is. The obvious proof of this is: take a look at women who are lawyers or politicians. They are all dressed modestly. Women who want to be taken seriously, who respect themselves dress modestly. Hashem believes each woman is a princess, and each woman should dress like one and behave like one. Just as a note, each man is a prince and should dress and behave like one too.

Torah Judaism and Feminism don’t quite see eye to eye. Feminism is American in that it is about rights- rights for women, women being able to do everything that a man can- whereas Judaism is about obligations. A modern feminist woman who hears that women do not count for a minyan might say, “Why doesn’t a woman count? Women are just as important as men?” If we examine this from the Torah perspective, we discover that women not counting as a minyan is really the Torah being compassionate towards women. Hashem knows that women have to take care of kids and it’s unfair to require women daven with a minyan. This is not a social reality, it is a physical one. A pregnant woman, or a woman who just gave birth cannot go to shul to daven with a minyan, and it would be unfair to command that she must. When a person is not required to do a mitzvah, we can’t always just opt in when we want. The ten men in a minyan are is ten people with the obligation. Women do not have the same status in terms of their obligation, and therefore cannot be a part of.

Another interesting thought is one that my teacher in seminary pointed out. She noted that it is ironic that many of the frum Jews who oppose feminism are the same ones whose households consist of the man learning in Kollel full time and the woman working. This entire model would not be possible without feminism, which is why women are able to be in the work place to begin with. Just an interesting affect of feminism on Jewish life, which I had never thought about.

The last issue I would like to bring up with regards to Judaism and feminism is that I believe unfortunately we sometimes end up being sexist because we confuse feminism with new changes which is against Torah Judaism because it is all about holding on to tradition. Almost all of the teachers who taught me that feminism is evil, are male. When males say things like “Feminism is a bunch of garbage. Why can’t women just be happy with how things are? Why are you trying to change things?” it is very insensitive. It’s almost like a white person telling a black person (and I say black and not “African American” because almost all of the black people I know are not from Africa!) that racism is all in their mind and what is the problem. The Jewish world today is still learning how to deal with the fact that the roles of women have changed in our society. We must hold on to Halacha and never compromise on what is right and wrong because the most important thing is doing what Hashem wants us to do. That being said, we also have to make sure not to confuse something that is Halacha with something that falls into the category of “this is how they did things hundreds of years ago because it reflected the reality for women of that time.” Halacha does not change, but our minhagim adapt to the times we are in.

So to sum up: Feminism brought about a lot of positive changes for women; it also brought about some negative ones.


  1. Great post, SternGrad!

    Feminism seems to be a touchy subject. It seems that nobody can bring it up without the whole world jumping on them. (As if it's an abomination to even QUESTION the concept of "feminism".)

    Honestly, although I agree with you that it has brought about positive changes, I would say that the negatives out-due the positives in many (though not all) situations.
    We're living in a very liberal, sexuality-obsessed generation. The divorce rate is higher than ever, and there're more off-the-derech kids than everb efore. Perhaps a contributing (but not necessarily the main) factor is feminism.

    Who said that working and getting 5 million degrees is better than being at home taking care of your husband and kids? Even in very frum communities, it's looked down upon nowadays.
    It vexes me that I'm EXPECTED to work. And it wouldn't help if my husband would say "honey, don't worry, you go work. And I'll work + take care of the kids."

    That being said, I'm still grateful for the OPTION of getting a degree (even 5 million :D) and being able to decide whether to go to work or be at home...

  2. One additional point, I've noticed another effect of feminism on men in today's culture, and that is a feminization. It is almost as though as women became more masculinized, men no longer felt that they needed to be masculine. Gone are the days of chivalry, gone are the days of gentleman, gone are the days of John Wayne. Men who used to leap up to give women their seat or open the door for them have been yelled at by a feminist one time too many. Now, instead of being men, they use hair products and get mani-pedis. Every marriage and relationship book will tell you that men need to feel needed...this is a society that no longer needs men, and as a result, they've all disappeared.

    Primum Non Nocere

  3. speaking as a self proclaimed feminist-
    i believe woman should have the same rights as men when it comes to society. I have no problem with the woman's role in Judaism.As a Sfardi girl there are certain brachot i say without Hashem's name..while the men do, it does not bother me that i dont wear tefilin/tzizit...

    Men and women are different. We have different roles! I have no intention of being a man..but that does not mean the man should have a better job opportunity than me or be allowed to vote and not me..

  4. Sefardi Gal- I also wish I wasn't expected to work, but it seems we can't have it both ways. By creating the option for women to work, feminism unintentionally made it obligatory.

    PNN- Good point. Although feminism may not have intended it, changing women's roles brought about change in men's roles. Gender roles are quite different from what they once were. Mostly, I think this is good, but men have certain emotional needs and women have other emotional needs, and that is not going to change. I disagree with you statment that "this is a society that no longer needs men." I think society needs men very much, just not in the same ways that it use to.

    aminspiration- agreed!

  5. Tznius does not equal what someone wears.

    Consider - it was in the last 40 years that women's clothing became risque. The concept of tznius predates wardrobe issues, nor was it unique to women.

    Tznius is about decorum. I know quite a few women who I have never seen their hair or legs uncovered (even by the pool), but their conversation is so prust I cannot call them tzniusdik. Wheareas there are some individuals who are so fine and proper in character, but may not abide completely by BY standards of tznius, but I would consider them incredibly tzniusdik.

    The laws of women's garments in the Shulchan Aruch state that a girl of bas mitzvah age and over cover her hair. None of us do that nowadays. So who is to say that all frum women must abide by the other ones?

  6. Bookworm- you are definitely right. I should have stated that when I was talking about "Tznius" I was referring specifically to the clothing aspect of the mitzvah. While dressing modestly is important, I would argue that acting modestly is more important.

  7. This is a great post. I consider myself an orthodox feminist, even though there are certain aspects of that movement that I disagree with. This post talk mostly about secular feminism (women at home vs. working etc.), but you make great points about tzniut. I'm curious, what are your views on feminism within the Orthodox world (partnership minyanim etc.)?

  8. Avigayil- Good question. Maybe I will write a post about that one day. I am not so into partnership minyanim as I think there are Kol Isha issues according to some Rabbis, and it calls attention to women, which I do not think is Tzanua, though not strictly against Halacha. The other big question that Orthodox Jewish Feminists ask is about women rabbis. I do not believe that women are permitted to be Rabbis. I do believe that they can and should be leaders in a variety of other ways, and I do support women who are Yoatzei Halacha- those who are trained in Israel to be experts in the laws of nidah and advise women in those matters of Halacha.

    I hope that answers your question.

  9. The underlying belief/assumption of feminism is the western ideology of individuality. Each person should be free and have the right to do as they please (within certain limitations of morality/law of course).

    That does run counter to the idea of obligations, which Judaism addresses in the different obligations (and thus expectations) for men and women.

    Traditional ideas stem from different ROLES, not unequal VALUE. I think we lost that along the way.

    There are two basic parts to home-maintenence. One is ensuring the financial and physical support (money for food, power, mortgage/rent, and further for individuals' hobbies and passions, extra curriculars, vacations, etc) and the other is creating a home environment and raising of children. Each is a tremendous and vitally important aspect of living and building a family/future.

    As much as I'd love the woman I marry to have six PhDs and a career she's passionate about (and I truly hope she does pursue her education and passions), my GREATEST concern is with the home environment and my children being raised in a loving, nurturing, fulfilling environment.

    As much as I believe a balance can be struck -I don't mind washing a dish or changing a diaper and I plan on being a very present and nurturing daddy -I'm not sure I it's possible to do both the way I'd like as an individual. Of course with help from an incredible woman I'm sure we'll do a fantastic job. Traditionally, responsibilities/obligations were split (husband supports, wife creates the home). Nowadays, there's much more joint effort, but that makes it more difficult to manage, negotiate and strike a balance -since it adds a dynamic and interpersonal element to creating a family that didn't exist even fifty years ago.

  10. Ish Yehudi- I like the way you put it: "Traditional ideas stem from different ROLES, not unequal VALUE. I think we lost that along the way."
    That's a great line.

    Like you said, there are two basic parts to home maintenance. I believe that either both people split the two equally however they choose. I would be fine staying home and doing all of the home stuff if the guy took care of all of the money, but if I have a job (which I plan to) and contribute to the first part, then I expect the guy to contribute to the second part.

  11. SternGrad - I can understand that expectation. (I do hope you can have more flexibility in how home maintenance is divided, or at least make your expectations for yours and your husband's contributions to the home abundantly clear -they can be the source of much conflict in marriage.) It's based on the zero-sum gain principle for the things that need to be done.

    But at the same time, I can see that many men (who grew up with the belief that they alone should support a family) may be very resistant to that kind of flexibility (though I value flexibility tremendously in relationships). And sometimes, the two spouses have different ideas about what has to be done and what can be compromised or pushed off.

    I have to say that as a human (and man), I absolutely HATE when something is demanded of me or framed as though the person is entitled to whatever they are asking for.

    There are productive/positive ways of making those needs known without dumping the responsibility on the other person and/or pressuring them. Appreciation and taking responsibility on one's own shoulders (instead of trying to push what one believes the other should do) are both key.

    I think a good chunk of that boils down to trusting that one's spouse will respond well, and will gladly help/contribute if approached (the right way).

    That's a two way street, in all aspects of home maintenance.

  12. I'm also compelled to add that I don't believe in "equality" for home maintenance. Everything just needs to get done. We each do what we can, and (respectfully, humbly, gently) ask for help with the rest.

    Whether I do more by a tiny bit or she does more is largely irrelevant. It vaguely reminds me of two kids comparing the height of liquid in their respective glasses.

    If someone is preoccupied with "fairness" or "equality" it really does get in the way of just doing in good faith -at least that's my experience/mentality.

  13. Ish Yehudi- I agree with you. Everything in marriage (and in families or with roomates or whoever one is living with) should be a discussion and not just a demand or an expectation. Division of responsibilities is something to be discussed and agreed upon.

    I also agree that the main focus is not on equality, it is what each person is OK with. For example, if a wife is a super neat freak and doesn't like when her husband cleans something because she has a higher standard, and so she prefers to do all of the housework, even though it is not evenly split, then that is fine. It's not about what's objectively equal, it's about what works for both people.


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