Are opinionated Jewish women hiding behind stereotypes?
Scratching, clawing, digging. Those words don't sound very friendly, do they? When it comes to getting beyond the surface of stereotypes, they're even worse than that. They're painful. Embarrassing. And uncomfortable. And that’s just when we realize that we’re assuming what we know about someone else. What about the stereotypes that we hold of ourselves? I love seeing myself as a mom. But I shudder at “mom jeans.” I embrace being a writer. But I sure don’t want anyone to see me as self absorbed. And I’m a hard-core feminist. But I laugh off man-hating commentary. For the record, I don't hate men. Or wear mom jeans. Or think too highly of myself. There, I feel better now.
Do stereotype buckets that we fall into, and buy into, hold us back? Quiet our voices? Squelch our life strokes?
Leah recently sent me an article entitled, Where Are the Opinionated Jewish Women?
That’s shocking, right? And why? Because as we all KNOW Jewish women are way opinionated. Over-opinionated perhaps? While there are enough stereotypes out there to go around, the overbearing, loud, opinionated, annoying Jewish woman? Yeah, that one’s pervasive.
We’ve all heard it, seen it, read it, or in my case lived it.
And as a Jewish mom? Pushy. Over-protective. Stifling. Who wants to be seen or known as that? Who wants to become it?
But today as I remind my preschooler to put a sweater on because I’m cold. Or nag my first grader to wear her mittens, because again with the cold. And my two year old? Don’t even get me started with the hat. Or the mittens. Or the boots that he refuses to wear. And I realize a terrible, horrible, very bad thought: I have become MY MOTHER. And perhaps, your mother. You know exactly what I mean here, don't you? You can hear my voice because you've seen it displayed somewhere, somehow. And yet, I'm not going to lie to you, that is how I sound. That is me.
When I dig deep down and scratch beneath the surface? I realize that I cringe seeing myself that way. And my heart breaks at the thought of my own girls one day cringing at a view, an image, a stereotype that they know holds true. Of themselves.
Because in reality while stereotypes are generalizations and aren’t FACTS by any means, they do stem from somewhere. And more often than not, there’s a kernel of truth in there. Most of us laugh at the jokes or smile at the references because they resonate somehow.
So what does that mean about me? Am I self-hater? A stereotype-perpetuator? No. I'm a realist who gets how I work and who I am. I also realize that one day my girls are going to come to similar conclusions about themselves and who they are. And it's okay to talk about these stereotypes. Give them voices. And if they're somehow holding us back? Well then it's time to take action.
Stereotypes provide molds. And at certain times in our lives we all fit oh-so-very comfortably into whatever mold we’ve chosen, or are given. And we like them. But then comes the day when we want to break out of that mold. And then it’s our job as women, to do just that for ourselves. And as moms, to do it for our girls.
Esther D. Kustanowitz wondered about this issue in terms of Jewish women and writing here at the Urban Kvetch. And associate op-ed editor at the Forward, Karen Loew, wondered about it, too. They pose the question: why are women's voices sorely under-represented in Jewish journalism? And the myriad of possible answers: are women too slow and careful when jumping at opportunities? Too busy? Too good-for-the-whole focused? Are they submitting work and it’s being ignored or rejected?
Or. Or are women, in general, and Jewish women, specifically, downplaying the stereotypes of themselves to seem marriageable? Likable? To others? And perhaps, to themselves?
Whatever the arena, whatever the mold if you will, break through. Color outside the lines. With sharpie strokes. No eraser marks. It’s okay that I love to drink a cup of coffee late at night with a blanket and a book. That's such a, you know, mom thing to do. But it’s also okay for me to go out and dance in the rain, name my ambition and go for it.
The powerful forces at JWA believe this, walk it and live it. And you can to. Whatever it is that sparks your fire: Go. For. It. Nu, what are you waiting for? Listen to your mother!