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The Feminine Critique

Miriam Kosman

How are men and women really different? With all the talk about “woman’s role” in Judaism, most would be hard put to answer that question. For lack of alternatives, our community often uses societal roles to pinpoint the differences. She takes care of the children/cooks chicken soup/sings lullabies. He earns a living/learns Torah/changes the oil in the car. But societal roles, particularly in our rapidly changing society, are a weak and fickle reed on which to hang an entire philosophy about gender.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Even if we switch tactics and use personality traits to define gender, we find ourselves in choppy waters; we all know warm, nurturing men and analytic, rational women. Some women are natural leaders, while some men find it difficult to take initiative with anything. Even the much-vaunted ability to multitask is not distributed equally over the gender divide; picture the typical male executive: answering phones, giving orders, and making crucial decisions all at the same time. Reducing people to narrow stereotypes forces us to perform mental calisthenics to maintain our model even when it clashes with reality. We wonder: If what makes a woman a woman is that she’s home with the kids, what do we do when she comes home from the office at 7 p.m. to a meal her husband cooked and children he put to bed? How do we organize things in our mind if she earns more than he does, or happens to know more halachah than he does? What happens to our paradigms when the husband is very family oriented and she, immersed in her work, looks up bemusedly when someone mentions an anniversary? It’s important to note that our discomfort with paying lip service to an ideal that doesn’t match reality does not stem from a lack of appreciation of the akeres habayis, or the significance of our role in building a mikdash me’at. It’s not a devaluing of what it means to be a wife and mother; one would have to be blind not to see that the viability of all of Klal Yisrael rests on healthy, happy homes infused with Torah. It’s not that we aren’t enamored with the beautiful picture of the apron-clad Mommy, murmuring Tehillim as she feeds her baby with her right hand, prepares a meal for a kimpeturin neighbor with her left, and smiles lovingly at her husband on his way out to shul. In fact, that picture may even describe us — some of the time — in our most valiant mode. It’s just that it doesn’t describe all of ourselves.


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