Some recent books about transsexuals claim that there really aren’t two sexes after all, and that gender is no more than a social construct. Huh? If we take as evidence what goes on in Jewish organizations, gender looks like the determinant not only of biology but of every other role as well.
Take meetings, for example. For my sins in a former life I go to meetings, and I imagine lots of LILITH’s readers feel the same way. Jewish meetings are where patriarchy lives on. feminism notwithstanding, and my patience is wearing thin. In the Jewish community, those running the show are still almost invariably men who—no matter that they are a generation younger and claim to be more “process-oriented” than the predecessors we profiled in LILITH years ago—still view their female peers with condescension. Though the rhetoric in the Jewish community pretends complete equality of participation, access and leadership, none of these is yet a reality.
And the mutual respect women model (for example, in the intergenerational discussion groups that members of the women’s task force of New York UJA/Federation have held with Barnard College women for the past few years) is often absent in mixed-gender activities.
Here’s a plea: that women who feel we own a stake in the future of the Jewish community not remain passive in the face of our own outrage and disappointment. Women activists have to emerge from our recent passivity and try to change the behaviors (and then the attitudes)of men. If we fail, the best and brightest young women will vote with their feet, and put their energies elsewhere. One example: a 35- year-old woman in Pennsylvania told me recently that in her job as an attorney she always spoke out if she witnessed sexist remarks, patriarchal attitudes or dismissive behavior. Yet as a “young leader” in her Jewish community she feels so disparaged and talked down to (“These men all remind me of my uncles”) that she stays silent. putting up with “stuff I’d never take in my firm,” so she is madder and madder, more and more disappointed, and asks herself when she’s going to have the sense to walk away from Jewish community involvement.
The males in power, running the meetings and the show, are often quite oblivious to the irritating (or soporific) effect they’re having on those around them. It feels to me that women and men in the organized Jewish community are inhabiting two separate universes, more so now than ever before. Who are the people with whom you make eye contact at meetings? Who are the people to whom you pass notes when you’re bored or outraged? Like unions vs. management, or the Jews vs. the ruling gentry, Jewish women pass each other the secret signs and signals of the underdog. It may be fun, and secretly empowering, to imagine ourselves part of a subversive universe of women, but we’ve got to come up from underground and tell those nice guys we’ve known for years that a change in the way they themselves act toward the women who are professionals or volunteers in the Jewish community may go farther to ensure that women want to stay connected than any grandiose proclamations about the importance of “continuity.”
And now—continuity in lower case, and with much appreciation and pleasure. With this issue, Faye Moskowitz joins LILITH as fiction editor, and the deep gratitude of staff and readers goes to Julia Wolf Mazow, who has done a wonderful job in that role for several years.