Hi Professor H! You probably don't remember me, but I took a few classes with you back in 2001 or something like that. :) Your classes changed my life- I remember you had us do an assignment reflecting on how gender had affected our lives, which was the first time I had ever reflected on such things. That assignment was a huge turning point for me. Up until your classes I had been planning on being a housewife after graduation (like every other women in my family- they all go to college and then become housewives/stay at home moms). After your classes (and as a result of that assignment) I ultimately ended up minoring in Women's studies in college and then going on to a PhD in Sociology specializing in gender and the family. I finished my PhD last year, and I'm now an assistant professor of sociology at X university.
I thought I should let you know how much influence you've had on my life. Thanks so much for all you have done for me!
Since I wrote that essay 10 years and about 8 computers ago, I thought it was lost forever. But yesterday I was going through my old notes from this class (while working on lesson planning) and I found a rough draft of the essay I had written in my notebook! I had forgotten that back when I was in college and commuting back and forth to my parents for 4 hours a day, I used to write rough drafts of essays in my notebook on the train, and then type it into a computer later.
So this is what 19 year old baby feminist me had to say about being female, transcribed word for word, horrible grammar and potential factual errors included. I'm also going to include some things I crossed out in this draft that I can still read, cause I think they are interesting in terms of my own self-censorship:
What being female means to me
In order to apply to a private jewish high school, one must take a standardized test called the BJE's. Like the SATs, the BJEs included sections on math and english, however the BJEs additionally had several sections testing biblical knowledge. I remember being so relieved in 8th grade that I was female- for boys who take the BJEs, an additional section was present, testing talmud knowledge. I was happy, because I did not have to study this extra subject. I wasn't expected to know it. I was not held to as high a standard as the boys were. I was not tested on the talmud, because unlike the boys in my class, I was not going to be learning the talmud in high school. This was a given. It was a given to the extent that standardized tests for young jewish students standardly left out an entire section for the female test-takers. If I had gone to a co-educational Jewish high school, the girls and boys would be separated every day while the boys learned talmud and the girls learned something easier.
In my all female high school, we were permitted to learn talmud for one year because "when we grow up and become mothers, we need to be able to teach our sons talmud on the elementary level." The easier biblical subjects that replaced talmud in our curriculum were limited to the more "useful" subjects for women - such as the jewish laws pertaining to cooking, and other subjects were applied towards our futures as housewifes - we learned about cooking in physics, and child care in psychology.
Growing up as a jewish female I have constantly
been faced with this degradation of women in all aspects of life, not only religiousfelt my options were limited.
Being female means I am constantly experiencing emotional tension. On one hand I fully expect anyone I choose to live with to do his or her equal share of work, yet on the other hand I resent my mother for not teaching me how to cook, for how can I be a good wife if I can't cook? I want to defy the culturally controlled image of women as thin and yet I can't help choosing the less tasty but lower in fat item in the vending machine. I don't want to promote cultural differences between men and women but I want to wear the tighter shirts, and shave my legs, and carry a pocketbook, and paint my nails, and wear makeup, and tweeze my eyebrows, and have long hair. So every time I shave, or tweeze, or put on make-up, I feel guilt, but I
feel like I look too bad to leave my house if I don'tkeep doing it.
Most of the women in my family have been housewifes- my mother, her mother, her sister, my dad's sister. I have one aunt who is a lawyer (and feminist) and who did not stay home to raise her child. She is looked down upon by my family for having an outsider replace her "role" as mother. When I was in high school I assumed I would be supported by my husband, and did not see the point of getting an education. Yet if I asked my parents if I could skip out on college, they laughed at me like I was joking, and said I would need college to get a good job. Why would I need a good job? So I wouldn't have to be dependent on a husband. When I got to college, and became a feminist, I told my father that if I did get married and have children, I would be returning to work as soon as I was up to it. My father told me that I would have to stay home and watch any child I had until they were old enough to go to school. When I questioned this, he explained to me that as the person who had carried a child to term, it was my responsibility to watch it. He seemed to have forgotten that it takes two people to make a baby.
Since I am female, I am constantly being told what I can't do. In kindergarten, I wanted to race with the boys on the playground, but my teacher forbade me because "it wasn't ladylike." In high school my peers told me that I shouldn't listen to metal, because that was "boy's music." I fooled around with a guy or two and my friend started calling me a skank. This is my friend who got laid by a girl whose name he didn't know until afterwords, when she gave him her number. My teachers told me I couldn't wear pants because that was men's clothing.
Is it any surprise that I've wished I was male since I was little?
I recently spoke with a friend who was married last December. When I asked what she was doing with her life, she answered she was waiting for a baby. She is 19. For most of my childhood friends, this is the norm. I am the exception.
I am the exception. Although I am sure my appearance and experiences are not atypical, I can't help but feel that I am somehow different than other women. I am a feminist, yet I find the majority of my close friends are men.
I emphasize with men. The stereotypes that are applied to women do not apply to me.
It cuts off there. Reading what I cut out there towards the end makes me realize that much of what I had problems with in the ortho-jewish community is that I wanted to have more of the "male" roles, and this was just not possible in the ortho-jewish community. But out here in the real world, I can have a leadership position that commands respect (kinda like a rabbi!) and my behavior definitely falls within the normal range of behavior for women. I wonder if I would have become non-religious if I was a man and had those roles available to me?