How do we value women's work?
Jewish Women Watching, the “anonymous, rabble-rousing, feminist collective,” performed an action this weekend in honor of Shavuot (a holiday once celebrated by bringing the first fruits of the spring harvest to the temple in Jerusalem). In past years, the JWW’s actions have asked serious questions about the Jewish community’s relationship with the Christian Right, sexist contradictions with the Conservative Movement, and the absence of women in positions of power within the Jewish professional world. This year, the JWW asks us “to confront the Jewish community’s misplaced priorities and relentless pressure to marry and deliver Jewish babies” using a parody of a JDate ("JewDate" here) profile under the name Need2Breed.
I have to say I laughed out loud when I saw the “action,” (lactose intolerance is listed under “genetic diseases”) and the first time I read it, I was fully on board. The accompanying press release calls on us to “broaden the standards that are used to evaluate a Jewish life. Recognize Jewish women as powerful beyond their reproductive abilities.” and “Celebrate the many types of families in the Jewish community” as ways to ensure true Jewish continuity. It also asks important questions from “Emma Goldman” and “Miriam the Prophet” like: “How is it that when I finished my dissertation and became the leader of a major Jewish organization, all people wanted to know was when there would be a ring on my finger?” and “And how is it that when I married a woman, there was no room for celebrating on OnlySimchas.com?” These are questions I ask myself as I overhear conversations in which Jewish women’s accomplishments are undermined by the fact that they haven’t found someone who acceptably meets the community’s criteria to “settle down” with, and I am so glad for them to be publicized.
And yet, somehow, the JewDate profile itself falls short of the promise that the press release offers. The images and text of Need2Breed’s profile mock the imagined woman who wrote it and not the institutions and individuals who insist that marriage and baby-making are the only valued achievements in the Jewish community. As an example, under the category “If married I will strive to be,” Need2Breed writes: “Docile/Undemanding, Sexually Pliable, Inoffensive/Politically Indifferent, Unambitious/Unintimidating, Less Interesting or Less Intelligent than you.”
I have to say that though it pains my heart, I know girls and women who seem to fit this desperate profile. But I know just as many young Jewish women who are making use of their BAs and MSWs and PhDs while pursuing egalitarian marriages and sometimes even having kids. Sure those in the former category could be criticized for internalizing oppression and responding to what they perceive as what matters within their community rather to their own desires, dreams, and accomplishments, but I don’t know that they should be the subject of the parody. I can’t help but wonder if a more effective action would have been the profile of Need2Breed’s male counterpart, “YidAdonisMD,” who though certainly less attractive and intelligent than he might think, is the one asking Need2Breed to be unambitious, unintimidating, and less interesting than he. Or a woman’s pseudo-diploma from a leading university with an asterisk at the bottom and the caveat “effective only upon date of first son’s bris.” Because in political actions it seems to me that the target should be the oppressors, not the oppressed.
To be clear, I think JWW's actions are thought-provoking and important. I'm just not sure that this one quite hit the mark it was aiming at.