Sunday, April 7, 2013

But I'm Not A Feminist!: How Not To Advance Your Cause

I'm always pleased when I see a marginalized person argue for greater respect, for their rights. Better that they speak up for themselves than to have others speak on their behalf.

So when I came across Rivkah Lambert Adler's piece in The Times of Israel, decrying the lack of spatial parity in her Israel Orthodox community, I was predisposed to be supportive. She was asking for simple fairness--if she pays the same ticket price, why must her seat be so much worse; why are the spaces allotted for women in communal spaces inferior? (By the way, this holds true in both American and Israeli Orthodox community--I apologize if the title implied that it was Israel specific.)

But then Adler's piece takes a turn--it goes from asking those in power to be more respectful of women, of not treating them like second class citizens, of using communal spaces much more equitably to discrediting other women and feminists for asking for too much.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not suggesting that I want to wear tefillin or serve as a ba’al tefilla or be called up to the Torah for an aliyah. I’m not inherently opposed to separate seating during services. Please don’t conflate and thereby dismiss what I’m saying because my point is based on gender. I’m not revealing my disdain for being a Jewish woman and I have no secret desire to be a Jewish man.

She does this as a defense mechanism to shield herself against criticism. She's basically saying--Guys, I'm not like one of those feminists who really wants to be a man. I'm just asking for a little respect here.

But in doing this, she is allowing the Orthodox powers that be to define the terms of the debate and the limits of progress. She could've left the discussion open-ended by merely arguing forcefully for the thing she wanted--equitable treatment in communal spaces--but she chose instead to discredit other women and their goals and agree to limits that will leave Adler and women like her in a subservient role. In this role, she will continually find herself in the position of having to ask for "respect."

I have more to say (naturally!) over at Jewcy. Read the rest there.

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