As a student at a women’s college, walking into a library adorned with portraits of women didn’t feel refreshing or exceptional so much as it felt expected. But all those portraits of past presidents tended to make me forget that walls like this aren’t all that common. In truth, many institutions don’t even have one woman showcased.
Last week, after Jewish writer Tillie Olsen died at the age of 94, I picked up a copy of Tell Me A Riddle, her first collection of short stories published in 1961. Last night I re-read “I Stand Here Ironing,” a story that recounts a poor working woman’s ambivalence about her parenting skills and about her eldest daughter’s future during the Great Depression.
Having just returned from Israel, I was reminded of how differently some women’s roles are perceived outside of the pluralistic framework that defines my pocket of the American Jewish community. Since I spend my usual 9-5 day surrounded by opinionated power-house feminists, I sometimes forget that most of the world does not know this as their reality, or acknowledge that a diversity of women's roles in religious life or otherwise even exists at all.
When my mom started college in the 1960s to pursue a B.A. in Math, she was told by her advisor that “Women don’t major in Math at this university. Choose something else.” And so, she did.
Yes, we’ve come a long way since “math is just for men.” It’s doubtful that many Americans in the 21st century still consider female doctors and female lawyers as something particularly “radical.” ndeed, professional opportunities have grown exponentially and women have seized them furiously. But we’re fooling ourselves to believe that women and men are now occupationally on par, particularly in the corporate world in which the gender gap remains glaringly static.
A recent article in Lilith Magazine entitled “How Do Women Define the Sacred?” speaks to the ways in which handmade tallitot (prayer shawls) have become central aspects of Jewish women’s spirituality. Though women have become increasingly enfranchised over the past several decades in many areas of Jewish life, the bulk of religious liturgy is reflective of Judaism’s patriarchal origins. And so, handmade women’s tallitot challenge a prayer legacy primarily composed and transmitted by and for men.
Few people use their employment bonuses to start an organization of their own. But at 23, Holly Shulman -- listed in “Real Hot 100” -- is setting a new standard. Instead of enhancing her wardrobe or beefing up her music collection, Shulman used her bonus to found “Vote Against Violence,” a political action committee to combat domestic violence and sexual assault.
Though some Jews reject Halloween because of its Christian origins, others fully participate in what they consider to be a neutral, mainstream celebration. Either way, it’s difficult to escape the flood of candy, jack-o-lanterns, and synthetic spider webs as well as the latest Halloween “fashion.” Anyone who has watched the evolution of women’s Halloween costumes over the last several years may have noticed that Cinderella and the Hershey’s Kiss have long gone out of style in the wake of more risqué get-ups.
Last month, Randolph-Macon College, a small liberal arts school in Lynchburg, Virginia, opened its doors to men, ending the college’s 115-year-old legacy as a women’s institution. Students at Randolph-Macon bitterly opposed the changes with petitions, protests, and lawsuits. Yet sadly, due to the financial pressures to win applicants, little could be done to reverse the decision.
Kate Goldwater, a former JWA intern, has a new venue to express her feminism: her own clothing store, AuH2O. Kate makes her own line of clothes from recycled garments, which she restyles. Many of her pieces have a political message, such as her “Reproductive Freedom Fighter” dress and the “I am a Feminist” tank top – both of which convey the message that being sexy and political are not mutually exclusive.