…t-shirts tor the generations

“My mother,” one of my first t-shirts read, “is an otolaryngologist.” I was the only kid in my first grade class with that shirt. I was the only one with a NARAL shirt, too, and probably the only one whose mother read Ms. Magazine’s “Stories for Free Children” at bedtime. Today, I can still feel my embarrassment about those shirts, remember coveting the Barbie shirts I wasn’t allowed (Barbie might give me a negative body-image) and wondering why my mother spent so much time at work, instead of baking cookies, or getting her hair done, like my friends’ mothers.

I felt different, and difference, then, felt like a liability.

Twenty-three years later, as a feminist and a rabbinical student, I’m grateful for the difference, the t-shirts and the stories. I’m grateful for the earnest and idealistic feminism instilled in and pushed on my little sister and me.

Unfortunately, I could use a few t-shirts of my own these days. The pressure in my (Reform, Jewish) community to be partnered is intense and unrelenting, and even my mother would love to see me pregnant, especially as my 30th birthday approaches. My starting salary at a congregation or Jewish organization will someday likely be less than my male counterparts, mostly because of my gender, and all those things that my mother told me about being able to be anything I want are true (but only in the Reform movement, and definitely not in Israel). Women’s bodies are still objectified, and Jewish women’s bodies (and selves) are still the butt of too many JAP jokes.

So will I make my daughters wear “My mother is a rabbi” t-shirts? Probably. And will I have my children later than my mother? Absolutely. Will I have to fight for gender equity in the (Jewish) workplace in the same ways she did? Probably. Will my fights be about issues as fundamental, and as troubling? Gratefully, only some of them. And maybe, someday, my daughters will wear t-shirts that say: “My grandmother is an otolaryngologist, my mother is a rabbi, and hopefully, someday, I won’t need a t-shirt.” 

Jordie Gerson is a 3rd year rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College in New York. A graduate of Harvard Divinity School, and a writer for Jewcy (www.jewcy.com); she lives in Brooklyn, New York, with a nice collection of t-shirts.