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Why My High School Class Voted to Stop Reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s Depictions of Women

Eventually, my male teacher thought we should discuss whether or not to continue reading the Brod chapters in our study of the book. Although I was certain that these chapters were demeaning, and not crucial to our understanding of the book’s main plot line, I wasn’t sure if that meant we should stop reading them altogether. Authors are typically intentional with their plot and character decisions, and maybe we could learn from our discomfort surrounding Brod’s portrayal. Moreover, perhaps it’s unwise to censor literature in general. On the other hand, when words unequivocally feel demeaning, do the author’s intentions really matter? Ultimately, after an impassioned class debate, we voted to stop reading the Brod chapters.

Foer did a wonderful job illustrating a story about Judaism, and I appreciate his work. Yet, he wrote about women in a way that felt careless and belittling. He was able to write beautifully about Judaism, an identity that he shares, but wrote poorly about being a woman, an experience that he lacks.

It’s important that stories about women are told by women, or at least influenced by them in real ways. I’m not saying that men can write stories only about men and women can write stories only about women, but I do believe that getting a diverse group of opinions and people involved in your work is crucial. Everybody’s life experience is different, and we can’t expect to understand one another automatically, but we should work to listen instead of speaking on each other’s behalf. The main message I derived from Brod’s mistreatment is this: representation and diversity matter.


This article was originally published on Jewish Women, Amplified, the blog of the Jewish Women’s Archive, and was written as part of the Rising Voices Fellowship.


 

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Lilith Magazine.