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Grin and Wear It

If you squint, there is actually something to it — the “Don’t Blame, Don’t Complain” campaign. It appears to be sponsored by the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Program (JWRP), though it’s also being actively promoted by Aish.com. After all, individual lives might well be improved by looking on the bright side, at least once in a while. But, like every laundry detergent commercial ever created has taught us, even if a message could be universal and helpful, it’s worth noting when it seems like it’s being delivered only to women. To a feminist — to this feminist — that’s problematic.

To be fair, the Aish.com YouTube video doesn’t picture only women. (You can find it easily; just search for “Where’s the Salt.”) There are kids, and men, who all appear as the (female) narrator explains that we, all people, should stop feeling entitled, understand that God doesn’t make mistakes, and learn to stop complaining. How? Well, with a nifty orange bracelet that can help you remember to do as Pirkei Avot recommends and be happy with your portion. Don’t complain for three weeks, and if you mess up, change wrists and restart the clock. Clearly, these bracelets were meant to evoke the Lance Armstrong “Live Strong” originals (not the best marketing ploy at the moment), but in spite of the relative diversity of the Aish.com video, the “Don’t Blame, Don’t Complain” campaign seems to actually be targeting a specific audience — women.

Given that the JWRP is best known for offering tours of Israel specifically designed for women with children at home, it can seem unclear how “Don’t Blame, Don’t Complain” fits into their larger aims. However, their mission also charges Jewish women to “bring values back to the world.” They even frame this charge in historical terms: “just as Jewish women were the leadership of the feminist movement in the 1970’s that created real social change, so too Jewish women must be the leaders in a new social movement based on values.”

Is it admirable to grin and bear life’s difficulties? Maybe. Is holding back your complaints about the lack of salt at a summer picnic a good goal? Maybe. But too often, one man’s trivialities are another woman’s civil rights. Think about abused women, especially in the Jewish community, who for far too long have been told to stifle their pain and anger for the sake of “shalom bayit” — peace in the home. Or the silencing of Jewish women who have wanted to come forward to receive treatment as substance abusers. Encouraging Jewish women not to complain both misconstrues the historical model of feminism that the JWRP claims to be fulfilling and stifles the voices of dissent that have brought Jewish women (and their communities) to the fruitful, creative, engaged places where they are today.