Troublemaking is an Unpredictable Sport
“When women talk about their accomplishments, it’s a signal to others to stop liking them,” said Rachel Sklar. “For men, success correlates with positive feelings. Women want to be well liked, they don’t want to rock the boat. We have to support our troublemakers.”
Sklar, a speaker, writer, and creator of TheLi.st, a media platform dedicated to connecting women and promoting their accomplishments, was one of three women honored at the annual Jewish Women’s Archive Luncheon, Making Trouble, Making History on Sunday, March 10th at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City. Recognized for making trouble, Sklar’s fellow honorees included Bel Kaufman, writer and former New York City public school teacher, and Rachel Cohen Gerrol, co-founder of the Nexus Global Youth Summit and Executive Director of the PVBLIC Foundation.
“Most organizations honor their living conformists and their dead troublemakers,” said feminist author and 2012 honoree Letty Cottin Pogrebin, the emcee for the program. Paying homage to troublemakers when they’re still alive , she said, shows that JWA is serious about investing in the forward motion of feminism, instead of waiting until they’re dead, and it’s “safe.”
The recent PBS documentary “MAKERS” which chronicled the last half-century of the women’s rights movement in the U.S. , suggested that young women don’t seem to care much about feminism and tended to overlook the work that’s taking place on line and in the streets.
In her remarks, Rachel Cohen Gerrol reflected on her charge to discuss millennial feminism, the mysterious anomaly that seems to confuse the mainstream media. “I benefit from the work you’ve done,” she said. “I won’t let you down.”
Gerrol’s comments were an interesting parallel to those of the 101-year-old Bel Kaufman, longtime NYC school teacher and fiction writer. In addition to talking about her experiences in the classroom–"It’s about love, it’s about facets of love”—she also told the crowd how much she enjoyed being old. “For the first time, one has the opportunity to do what one wants instead of what one has to do.”
Listening these three women reminded me that troublemaking is an unpredictable sport. You can interrogate and break up the status quo, like Sklar, or encourage young people to give voice to what they need, like Cohen Gerrol and Kaufman. You can also make trouble by saying what most people would rather not hear—what women have been taught about who we should be is meant to render us silent and paralyzed, devoted to the god of niceness and likeability. It’s one thing to acknowledge that there are people who proudly make trouble on behalf of women. It’s another to give them the podium, fill a room with them, acknowledge and praise them, joyfully and unapologetically, for making a ruckus.