I have considered investing in a piece of cardboard upon which I can marker, in proud Sharpie letters, "Spare me the apologetics." I will then attach this piece of cardboard to my forehead and wander around school receiving confused and subsequently horrified looks.
I do not know why the majority of people instantly assume that if you think about Tanakh and you are female, you are probably angry about the Torah's portrayal of women. I have not opened my mouth about women, I have not mentioned the fairer sex, I have not hinted in any way that I am distressed over the Matriarchs, and nevertheless Rabbis, teachers and fellow students go off on long elaborate rants about how women are just as equal as men, desperately engaging in some form of apologetics to stave off what they must see as being my imminent transformation into an angry rhinoceros, charging them down with my outstretched tusk.
But I am not a rhinoceros, I am not charging, and I have no desire to do so. Indeed, I have absolutely no idea why this is expected of me. When I mention that actually, I'm quite okay with the Torah's depiction of women, they step away from me warily. "Are you sure?" they ask tentatively, still waiting for me to breathe fire. And when I don't, and continue to ask my original question, they look as though they're about to cry in relief.
I don't see it. Am I really so rare? Are all Modern Orthodox females biblical feminists, holding their Bibles over their head as they angrily confront their Rabbis? Am I a traitor to my gender? I don't think so. But if I am, I suppose I will have to grin and bear it. Chin up and so forth.
The fact is that I quite like our female characters. How can I not like them? We have our Matriarchs, fascinating and flawed people, Dinah, whose claim to fame is the massacre that ensued in her name, Osnat, who is theoretically Dinah and Shechem's daughter, Tamar, who pretends to be a harlot, Miriam, a prophetess who leads the people in poetic song, On's wife, who saves her husband's life through combing her long tresses outside her tent, Queen Attaliah, our legendary murderess, Jael, who murders Sisera with a combination of her feminine charms and a tentpeg, Queen Jezebel, mistress of deceit, Deborah, who scornfully laughs at the man who relies on her and helps him to victory, Judith, who cuts off Helifornes' head, and so on and so forth.
So no, the argument that women are underrepresented or viewed in a condescending fashion doesn't work well for me. Tanakh is full of fascinating women. Many of them are seductresses (can we ever forget the wily Delilah? And consider the fact that Tamar and Jael both achieve their ends through similar means), some are prophetesses, several are warrioresses; many of them fulfill several functions. Women's roles are not confined or flattened in Tanakh; they are large and expansive. Women are not constantly victims; indeed, one of the few cases when a woman is a victim occurs by Tamar, and then Absalom avenges her lost honor. Women are characteristically wise and sly (the Wise Woman of Tokea, whom Joab hires to convince David to receive his son is a perfect example, as is the unparalleled Queen of Sheba) and have many excellent qualities at their disposal. Women are characterized as being wise, sly, gutsy (consider Tamar's challenge to Judah, "Identify, if you please..."), beautiful, sensual, decisive, resourceful (consider Tzippora's hurried performance of milah on her son with a nearby sharp stone), moral (the women refuse to donate their earrings to the cause of the Golden Calf), jealous (consider Sarah's reaction to and subsequent treatment of Hagar), clear-sighted (Rachel's understanding that Jacob was to have the blessings, not Esau, an unusual departure from the idea that it is women who are blinded by love.) Women are strong, powerful; they are queens, often evil queens (Jezebel and Assalya) and tricksters, liars or deceitful as it suits them (for these last consider Delilah and Jezebel, who hires false witnesses to procure a vineyard for King Ahab.)
Ah, you will now caution me, but leave aside the female characters. The problem is with the way women are treated! Look at the consequences of rape; why are women not valued more highly? Why is a woman worth less (monetarily) than a man? It's not fair! It's unequal! It's brutal, immoral and barbaric, and Chana, you ought to be upset about it!
Really? Some of the points you raise are good ones. I am bothered by the idea of rape in the Torah; I also have not studied it well enough to truly raise the question. But there are many ideas that bother me in the Torah; why should this one be more significant than other ones? And I certainly am curious about the inheritance laws, and I understand why you would be unhappy with the idea of an agunah when the man always has an option of marrying more than one wife, or that the lady must perform chalitzah. Yes, these are all excellent questions. But is this reason for me to get upset? Shall I go attack the Rabbis now?
I have heard all sorts of reasons for why women are not obligated in the full 613 mitzvot, as men are. Most of these are soft forays into the realm of apologetics. "Oh," someone coos to me, "women are on a higher level than men. Therefore, they don't need the full 613 mitzvot in order to come close to God! Men, those beasts (she doesn't actually say this, but that's the insinuation) need to have their passions controlled and regulated for them; hence they have more mitzvot." This is when girls invariably start crying out that they want to put on tefillin and a tallis and other good things like that and start citing sources that don't even exist about Rashi's daughters (I've never seen a satisfactory source on this one.) I have no problem with girls putting on tefillin, not at all! Go ahead! But don't start telling me that I ought to feel unequal and that I need tefillin to make me equal. That's simply ridiculous.
Our society is obsessed with equality meaning sameness. You have a purple shirt; I have a purple shirt, but they have to be of the same cut, make and brand. You're a guy and wear tefillin; if I want to be equal, I have to do the same. This is ridiculous. I'm a girl; there are differences between us, and simply stating that there are not won't make it so. I freely admit that the majority of the guys I meet are stronger than I am. This doesn't mean I can't break their wrists if I feel like it and have enough of an opportunity (Tae Kwon Doe is useful) but guys come in immensely useful when it comes to lugging my boxes up the stairs. I will break my back and probably tumble down the staircase and lie on the ground in a shriveled heap; my cousin needs only to get a firm grip and can easily stow my box in my room.
Then it comes to women's megillah readings, women's selichot and egalitarian siddurim. I don't know the halakha on this, so nothing I have to say comes from halakha. But once again, I feel similarly; if you want to have a women's megillah reading, go ahead! But why do you look at me as though I am a brainwashed lunatic if I prefer to attend a traditional megillah reading where I get to hear my father lein? As for egalitarian siddurim; I personally find these to be amusing. Are you honestly going to make me feel better if we both say "she'asani kirtzono" instead of your saying "she'lo asani isha?" Now you're going to tell me that the only reason I'm not a fan is because I've never tried it. Not so! I spent a Shabbat with my Conservative cousins (amazing people, by the way; there are many Orthodox Jews who could benefit from imitating them) and was in the awkward position of having to accept an honor at their shul. This sweet old man who was ninety-two or so wouldn't take no for an answer. So I reluctantly went to open the aron. Imagine! Me, a girl, opening the aron! Who would have dreamt it? Was there some sudden and wonderous thrill, some spark of connection to God as I pulled the curtain aside? No, there was not...I am telling you that there is absolutely no reason to covet the honors and the aliyot and whatever else the men supposedly "get to have" that the women don't get to have.
Of course, now we get into different territory- the motivation behind the desire to act the biblical feminist. Do you truly want to serve God and become closer to God through your wearing tefillin? That is one thing; in that case, kol hakavod! Please, wear tefillin! If this enhances your prayer and you are better able to serve God, that is wonderful. But if you simply want this because the men have this, I think it is silly. A Rabbi of mine (whom I respect) once referred to women's minyanim as reminding him of little children playing house. It's not real, but they are children playing pretend and it makes them happy! So we will humor them. You are going to tell me that that was condescending. Yes, I suppose it was. It doesn't make it less true...
We are different! That is the truth! Men and women are not the same. And equal doesn't mean treating us the same! Firstly, I don't think equality is necessarily something to strive for. But supposing it is, equality doesn't mean sameness. We have different tasks, different functions, different ways of serving God. Why must I covet your task? Why must you covet mine? Why must I feel the lesser because your task supposedly entails more than mine? I don't comprehend.
I am simply not angry. I'm really not! I am lucky enough to be living in 21st century America, where I am able to learn Torah, which makes me happy. So I'm glad I missed the portion of time where we had the various people fighting about whether women could even learn Torah or Gemara; that is one battle I would have fought. But after that, what else do I need to fight for? I am comfortable; I am happy. I don't view the mechitza as a deliberate device to separate me from my brothers because I am lesser, somehow flawed. Why would I think so? It is simply there per halakha during davening. Now, I do get annoyed if I have to sit behind drawn curtains when the Rabbi gives his speech, as that has nothing to do with halakha, and I want to hear the speech as well. That's when I start feeling like I have been relegated to the backseat, and I would protest. Thank God, I don't go to such a shul, so I have no problems in this area. I am very lucky.
I am very glad that women have the right to vote, are theoretically paid equal salaries to those of men and enjoy the advantages that America has to offer us. I am also glad that nearly everyone understands that women are quite able and capable of learning the Written and Oral Law. But beyond this, I see no reason to get all excited. Also, I'd like to be treated as a lady! Hold doors open for me, as you would for anyone; that's simply being civil. And as to the black guy wearing the "I Flip the Bird At You" t-shirt who gave up his seat on the subway to give it to me, I think he's wonderful! Maybe he gave it to me because I was a girl, in which case, that's great, too! Do you think I mind? I don't mind! I should always find such people who are willing to give me seats on the subway!
And don't let me walk alone in areas of New York that aren't safe for those of the female gender! You're not doing me or any lady any favors if you do! You should always escort a lady to her car if it's dark outside and the neighborhood is not particularly safe; that's the only courteous thing to do.
There are differences between men and women, both religiously and physically, and it is simply silly to deny those differences, and what is more, claim that we are the same when we aren't. There are some areas in which men do have different privileges or advantages over women, and good for them! There are some areas in which women outdo men as well! Must it all be a rivalry? I really see no need. I will tell you something even more heretical; I really miss the guys in my class. My English class was brilliant when I had the guys there; they simply have a different way of thinking than many girls. Aside from which, they would always make class entertaining! That's another thing; I don't mind off-color jokes or teasing, so long as the comments are made in fun; I don't get all uptight about these things. If I did, I would never have enjoyed AP Euro as much as I did...you really miss a lot in life if you get upset about this kind of thing! There's so much to simply enjoy; must we waste time taking everything personally, taking every comment seriously, defending women from the innocent comments of joking classmates? There is a limit, of course, but you'd be surprised as to where that limit is...Oh, you can't imagine the discussions I had in Art class; there was one girl in my school who was a rabid feminist and she frightened me. The guys and I had a very good time joking around; any comments were always made in good fun, but if she happened to overhear them, we were all in for a lecture...
So no, I am not a feminist! I have never been a feminist! I doubt I will ever be a feminist! You should enjoy and make good use of your women's selichot and your women's megillah readings and egalitarian siddurim, but please don't expect me to join in and fight alongside you! I simply don't see the need, and there are so many other things I need to be studying; I really don't have the time to spend on this. Let me finish my Rabbi Kanarfogel homework, please God, and maybe then I will be able to hear you describe why it's so unfair that this one or that one won't support your women's megillah reading...
The loveliness of it all is I'm sure you are looking down at me right now and saying, "Oh, poor girl, so brainwashed; she is to be pitied!" But I wonder, I really do; who has more fun, me or you?
I'm the one having the party here!