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.