Sex and food in the same issue—what a pleasure, right?
Well, not exactly.
The sex report (not good news) is about a form of precocious sexual activity we’ve been hearing about at LILITH with increasing frequency, and it seems to have much more to do with power, peer pressure and popularity than with pleasure. I have more to say on the subject, from both feminist and Jewish perspectives, in my introduction to the report which begins on page 14.
But the food article is another story. It’s not a joke, nor retrochic, that this feminist magazine is publishing a recipe. We store some of our most vivid recollections through sense impressions—sight, sound, smell, taste, touch—so it’s no surprise that food is an index to our memories. Recipes can reconcile us to people and places we may have thought we’d left forever. In a memoir in this issue we’re voyeurs in the Brooklyn kitchen of a woman whose professional life revolves around food, and whose personal practices differ dramatically from those of the Syrian Orthodox cousins her family split off from a generation ago. We witness show, through recipes, she reclaims both the dishes and the lineage of her childhood.
A resurgence of interest in family recipes (maybe like the boom in mah jong and knitting among twenty- and and thirtysomethings) is one part of the search for a connections with female relatives. In another era (a mere 30 years ago?), a Jewish woman typically had her first child when she was in her twenties, and a generational reconciliation often took place around child rearing. Even adult daughters whose lives had not mimicked their mothers’ in other ways were able to connect with the older generation as they replicated the pattern of procreation. Mother-daughter splits were often patched (if not totally repaired) when the daughters became mothers themselves. Today, with many women not having children until they are well into their thirties, or not having children at all, the chances of bonding over a child/grandchild fade. Now food becomes the great conciliatory leveler. We heart his from younger women and from their mothers with every holiday. If the mix of memory and desire that triggers recipe transmission doesn’t bring women closer to their families of origin, well, at least there will be a good meal out of the attempt.
Babies have also been in the consciousness of the Women’s Caucus of the Association of Jewish Studies this season. To explain: the Association is the academic umbrella for scholars in a diverse range of fields connected to the study of Jews and Judaism—sociology, Bible, demography. Middle East affairs, women’s studies, literature, and more. At LILITH, we’ve often used the Women’s Caucus of the AJS as a measure of how far women academics have come since their first breakfast meeting at the annual December meeting of the Association drew together may be a dozen women more than 15 years ago. Now, hundreds of women gather to network and celebrate the explosion of interest in Jewish women’s scholarship.
And yet…Despite the recognition women receive for their outstanding work in every aspect of Jewish studies, despite the fact that their books win awards and their research wins kudos, one of the prime topics for discussion on the women’s caucus list serve this fall was the push for childcare at the Association of Jewish Studies annual meeting. Not that anyone was saying this is exclusively a women’s issue (atleast for now, making babies requires sperm as well as egg).But, clearly, the Association had been happy to ignore the subject for all the years it had been meeting without a strong female presence.
In response to the pleas for childcare to be offered routinely at the annual meeting, I wrote:
For years—in fact, since LILITH’s launch in 1976—every time I’d be asked to give a daytime lecture to a Jewish group I routinely insisted that there he childcare available to attendees. I was (and still am)often told that “No one will use it.”
My reply? Even if no one does the first time, more will come when offering childcare is routine. But more important, if some ways, is that Organization X send the message (not so hard to decode) that the community as a whole—not just the desperate female parent—takes responsibility for raising Jewish children.
It might not be a bad idea for all of us to adopt this practice when we’re invited to speak. It would help to move along the cause of universally available childcare if some of the pressure comes from the podium, and not just from the parent.
Right after I posted this I was disheartened to see a new study on how having children cripples the careers of academic women. The study, “Do Babies Matter,” provides what is believed to be the first national data on how professors with children fare in academe. Turns out that women’s chances for tenure are greatly reduced if they have children. And while having children, particularly early on, can severely damage the job prospects of women, fatherhood is actually a boon to academic men, since if they have children they are far more likely than women to have a stay-at-home spouse to help meet all needs. Can you believe you are reading these findings in the 21st century?
Maybe this is LILITH’S retro issue, reminding us of all the tasks we thought we’d completed, and which have to be revisited this season. Fasten your seat belts. Here is the short list of the struggles touched on just within these pages: to protect our right to choose when and if we will have children; to educate girls and young women about a healthy sexuality; to look against the consequences of Jewish divorce law on women who have come through the get process. Welcome to the past.
There are, however, some notes for a rosier future. One of these is the launch of a new poetry project at LILITH, made possible by Charlotte Newberger of Chicago. Poetry can explain the world in ways that no other literary form can, providing a unique opportunity for refracting Jewish women’s issues. For 27 years, LILITH has been one of the few publications—general, women’s or Jewish—to feature poetry. As more magazines of note (women’s magazines, Jewish periodicals, and literary journals) have shutdown in the past five years, LILITH has become an increasingly valuable venue for poetry written by women on Jewish themes. Now, with the generous support of Newberger, a business woman and arts activist with a special interest in poetry, LILITH will be able to publish poetry in each issue of the magazine.
We are also delighted to announce the new Charlotte New berger Poetry Prize at LILITH. Poets are invited to submit their work by May 1, 2004, to be considered for this first annual award. Please submit no more than three poems, in hard copy only. The distinguished judges will be announced in our spring issue. First, second and third prize winners will receive a cash award, publication in LILITH, and the opportunity for a public reading. Poets and LILITH readers alike can all be grateful for the generosity that is bringing this poetry project to life.