I will save my full critique of the blog /facebooksite Kveller (“Jewish Parenting Advice and Perspectives”) for another post, as it really deserves more space. Suffice it to say that as both a feminist and a Jew I find it at times infuriating (Buy this hot mamaleh tank top!, What food is masculine?, How does Mayim Bialik organize her closet? Circumcision is standard for boys- welcoming ceremonies for girls are all new and weird).
But I have to say with the Forward‘s latest blog (Just Married), which features a very pretty young modern-Orthodox couple and the story of how they get used to navigating marriage and their religion, I am now not sure which is media outlet is more offensive (especially as I had begun to expect more from the Forward).
I admit that as I have been married for 17 years now, maybe personal blogging on getting used to being married is kind of lost on me. I don’t recall being that so unaware of what would be in store for me or thinking that others would want to hear about it but perhaps I was or did.
Two things bug me on a Jewish front in the media in general and as epitomized by the Forward’s carrying of this blog.
First is the romanticization of Orthodox life (especially ultra-Orthodox life) in an aren’t-the-Amish-quaint-and-pure kind of way, by liberal Jews who themselves don’t want to practice that way for very legitimate reasons.
Second, is the lack of acknowledgment of the way the majority of Jews practice Judaism in North America, which is not standard Orthodoxy, but is real, valuable and legitimate.
You can see the second aspect in the piece on the high cost of being Orthodox. Which tells you all about how it is more expensive to be Orthodox. ‘Cause Jews of other denominations don’t send their kids to day school, belong to shuls or JCCs or send their kids Jewish camps or youth groups, or take off work for Jewish holidays or buy kosher meat.
Another Just Married post talks about a folk belief/superstition that Mrs. Lictman learned in school. She recounts that when bake challah for your husband on Shabbat ( a special mitzvah just for women), if the marriage is happy and healthy your challah will turn out well, but if it isn’t you challah will be bad. Some self-reflection has let her let go of some of that pressure. “At least, when the challah comes out bad some weeks, I don’t immediately consult a marriage counselor.” What about the general idea of mystical objects being barometers of relationships? What about some reflection on the idea that women bake for men? When I compare to where an article on baking challah could go-like a lovely dvar Torah I once heard from a (male) rabbi on how he loves to bake challah because it is his only chance to be a part of creating something holy in the physical world, whereas women have the chance (usually) with childbirth, I just shake my head.
From a feminist perspective, Just Married’s lack of awareness of the huge body of literature on feminism, body image, dress and male-gaze while writing about those very topics is very frustrtaing. For example, Just Married had a previous piece on how to navigate modest hair covering for the woman, of course. A later post has a nice photo in public website of the husband in his undershirt. There is also the almost obligatory post on how Mrs. Lictman does not mind the mechitzah at all because it is her time to talk to God and not be distracted by her husband. (There are some more compelling articles on mechitzah, but this is not one of them).
It is not like Forward also has a self-identified feminist Jewish blog as a counterpoint.
But from a feminist perspective today’s post really took the cake for me. In Heels versus Flats as a Married Women, Mrs. Lictman first talks about how as a married women she wishes to avoid or lessen attention from other men. In the very same sentence she says that this is the kind of attention she get when she is “gussied up” and walking around. Mrs.Lictman notices that high heels are seen as sexy and get more sexual attention from men, more so than a change in sleeve or skirt length. (Maybe because high heels serve no other purpose other than being sexy, where part of sexy is being easy to catch and tip over.) Then she wears flats to a party, feels dowdy, switches to heels, feels sexy and then back to flats for modesty. She talks about how she wants to go to a party and “strike the right balance between pretty and sexy.” That balance is very hard for anyone and worthy of discussion. But I expect (from a serious newspaper) that discussion would contain a critical look as to why it is so hard for women to strike the right balance or why they have to.
I would so love to read a real liberal Jewish feminist blog….