Jewish, Feminist, & Strong: Lessons from my Role Model
Today we welcome our first post from Hannah Elbaum, one of our Rising Voices Fellows. Be sure to check the JWA blog each Tuesday for a new post from one of our fellows—and check out the great educational resources provided by our partner organization, Prozdor.
My parents don’t talk about feminism.
It’s not a taboo topic, just not one we typically discuss around the dinner table- or ever, for that matter.
But, feminism is not lacking in my household. My parents equally share responsibilities of taking care of a house, three kids, and their respective jobs. Still, the words “equality of opportunity,” or “feminism” have rarely been said aloud under this roof.
In school, I am known as the outwardly Jewish, feminist girl. Sometimes the title hurts, but mostly I carry it with pride. The Jewish part makes perfect sense to me, yet I have very little knowledge of where the feminist reputation originated.
Recently, I have become more aware of gender inequality issues. As my social circle widened and my exposure to feminism increased, so did my wealth of information of a variety of topics, from which songs are currently popular to the pro life/pro choice debate. Some of the topics I recognized in a vague sense, but as my friends told me statistics and recommended books and articles, I wanted to know even more. I do not agree with everything I have learned, but the knowledge has allowed me to understand the idea of feminism in a big picture kind of way.
As I learned, I asked question after question, spent hours online researching, and reading books and articles. There is no way I would consider myself an expert, but the more I question, the more the moniker of “Jewish, feminist girl” seems to fit.
After reading one book, I sat down with my mom and began to discuss what it meant for me as a junior at a public high school. We talked about female role models and opportunities. Many of the issues presented take place in a stage of life I have not yet reached. My mom, however, possesses the perspective of her own life, the current picture, and a reflection in which I am able to compare my own perceptions of life.
I struggled particularly with the idea that women must be strong, independent, self-sufficient, and working in a job frequently dominated by the male gender in order to attain a level equal to that of men. What if the path I choose is be a mother? Certain arguments seem to say that in devoting one’s whole life to mothering, a woman has given in to sexism and stereotypical gender roles. I, however, disagree.
My own mom chose, for many years, to spend time in our home taking care of my siblings and me. Only once we all reached the age of attending school full time did she begin to return to work. When she went back, she did not return to the career path she had chosen in college, but explored her options and found a job about which she is truly passionate. She is not lesser than any man simply because she took many years off from an office job. In fact, in my mind, she is the model of an ultimate feminist, a woman who decides for herself what her job is and when she will or will not be working in her life. She is unafraid of change, proactive in finding opportunities, and loves what she does.
As my interest in feminism continues to expand, I rely more and more on my mom to be my role model of the strong, Jewish, feminist. She taught me how to advocate for myself. She showed me what equality in a home looks like. She raised me to follow the path I choose to take, not the one society or another person stretches out before me. More than anything, my mom encourages me to be myself, every Jewish, feminist part, and is proud of me every step of the way.