Tuesday, June 29, 2010

My Feminist Response to the Haredi Marriage Crisis

With all of my opposition to modern feminism, it is easy to lose track of the fact that I am a feminist if of a nineteenth-century John Stuart Mill School. I believe that human beings can better themselves through reason, as they pursue their own good in their own way. It helps if they are left to themselves and are not shackled by tyrannical governments and societies. Since women make up a little more than fifty percent of the human race, this applies to women as well. Women need to be brought in as equal partners in society and government and this can most effectively be done through education and suffrage. I do not recognize the concept of "women's rights," only human rights. Also, since I deal with rights solely within the context of protection from direct physical harm, I have no interest in waging war against "patriarchy" or deconstructing "male" modes of thinking. Feminists would be correct in criticizing me for employing a distinctively Enlightenment/male discourse and attempting to shove women into it, thus making it impossible for women to ever truly be "equal" in its most extreme sense. I do not care; what I offer is a logically consistent system and if women do not wish to take it they are free to try their luck with traditional patriarchy.

My nineteenth-century feminism was awakened by a recent article I saw on the Haredi website Cross Currents, "Avoiding Corruption in Shidduchim," by Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblum, which attacked the current manifestation of marriage dowries within the Haredi world. Rabbi Rosenblum argues that the practice of insisting that the prospective in-laws of Haredi men be expected to support their future sons-law while they sit and study in order to gain their daughters a respectable match creates its own back-door materialism, as marrying the girl from the wealthiest possible family becomes a status symbol. I thought it was a very good article. That being said, I was struck by the fact that the article and subsequent comments all focused on the boys vs. in-laws dynamics. Lost in the shuffle was the fact that there are young women involved here, being asked to make life-altering decisions in support of a system that relegates them to if not second class status then at least to secondary roles. So I put up the following comment:

Something should be said here about the situation of women. I think that it is interesting that women remain passive figures even at your hands, Rabbi Rosenblum. I was just talking to a married a Haredi woman about her decision to become a speech therapist and asked her what her goals were in growing up. She responded that her goal in life was "to be a Mommy." A very wonderful girl, but there are lots of people who want to be mommies and many who might even make good mommies. Why should any bochur [young man] take someone simply because they will make a good mommy, unless this woman can support him by becoming a speech therapist or has a father who can support him? Change has to start with women valuing themselves as individuals, beings with unique talents who cannot simply be replaced like a spare part.

You can say that I was channeling Mary Wollstonecraft in seeing women's equality as starting with women taking control over their lives. To be fair, there is even here a bit of the modern feminist in that I am asking a modern question; what does it mean when one party is the activist initiator and the other remains passive to be acted upon? One can also pick up from my comment that, however I may like individual Haredi women as people, I have little respect for them as beings capable and deserving of the sort respect and equal treatment that the Haredi world is not giving them.

Cross Currents took down my comment. I guess suggesting that women need to come forth as individuals in control of their own lives is too radical for some people. I can get used to the idea. Mothers lock up your daughters for I am coming with my radical feminist doctrines. I offer them the chance to be people and even to be respected for it.


Garnel Ironheart said...

Cross Currents is getting quite strict with their comment posting. Prtty much anything that doesn't start with "I agree with you 100%" doesn't get up there anymore. Certainly not my comments (although to be fair I didn't except the one where I called RYA a xenophobic snob to get put up)

Keep in mind the dirty truth: women in the Chareidi world are a necessary evil. They are needed for producing children and earning money so the menfolk can sit and learn. That's the lesson of Rav Rosenblum's article. The idea of women leading full, educated and professional lives is heresy to them.

The Bray of Fundie said...

a. The posting of rabbi Rosenblums article in and of itself represents giving voice to heresy in many kharedi circles. So at least give points to cross currents for that

b. Did you try emailing the author directly?

c. I don't see this as a Feminist issue. I think in the shidduch system where stereotypes/resumes court and, often, marry stereotypes/resumes rather than individuals courting and marrying individuals, views boys/men as fungible spare parts who can simply be replaced. Really, what difference is there between looking for an OT/PT Bais Yaakov girl or a South Fallsburg Brisk boy? It's not patriarchy that dehumanizes us it's tyrannical implacable conformity and uniform expectations.

Izgad said...


The fact that Rabbi Rosenblum is considered “liberal” within Haredi circles is part of the problem. I did not send him an email. I imagine that he has better things to do than talk to me and respond to my criticism.

I would see those Haredi boys who are actually learning as being in a better position because they carry value in of themselves. The boys exist to learn, an intellectual exercise, and the women exist to support them while they learn. Furthermore a boy can choose between Lakewood, Brisk and the Mir. There is a creative element to learning, room for the creation of the individual.

At the end of the day you are correct. An oppressive society is going to end up being oppressive to everyone. Kind of like the villain who constantly kills off his own henchmen.

The Bray of Fundie said...

the difference is that you believe Kharedism to be oppressive by definition whereas I believe that by tweaking the level of conformity it would cease to be oppressive. I seek to throw out the bathwater..you, the baby.

Clarissa said...

Excuse me, but "Sex in the City" is NOT feminist. As a feminist, I find it deeply offensive to women and profoundly patriarchal. Only a patriarchal woman sees the pathetic and completely unrealistic life of these women as enviable. The show was made to appease MALE anxieties about the liberated women of today, as well as the anxieties of patriarchally minded women.

Love the rest of your feminist post, though. And especially the response to Rabbi Rosenblum.

Sadly, though, you will undoubtedly discover in your feminist crusade how many women are prepared to struggle with all they have against the opportunity to "be people and be respected for it."

Welcome to the feminist club, my friend!!!

Izgad said...

I went blasting Sex in the City two years ago. If you do not wish to classify that show as feminist, I have no objections. The show is certainly not the type of feminism I approve of. Last I checked, though, the show’s fan base was never conservative men, but liberal women. If you are right then the clear and present danger for women’s empowerment comes from “liberal” women.

Clarissa said...

"If you are right then the clear and present danger for women’s empowerment comes from “liberal” women."

-You are right in that the danger today does come from women, as paradoxical as that might sound. This is, of course, a very unwelcome conclusion for many people. You have no idea how hard it is to publish research that leads to this conclusion. People don't dispute the findings - because they can't, of course. But they get very upset anyways.

Sorry for the rant. :-)