Where are the Jewesses?
I recently returned from the National Women’s Studies Association conference, an annual event that brings together scholars, administrators, writers, students, and activists. I’ve been going to this conference for a few years now, and I always enjoy it. I consider myself an “escaped academic” of sorts (i.e., someone with a PhD who has chosen not to work in the academic system), and most academic conferences either bore me or give me the heebie jeebies, but NWSA is the one that fires me up. Anyway, this year I was only able to be at the conference for one jam-packed day, during which I presented a paper called “Listening for Gender in Katrina’s Jewish Voices” on JWA’s oral histories with Katrina survivors, and also attended a couple of panels, saw a documentary, checked out new books at the book fair (stay tuned for some book reviews), and schmoozed a bit. But one of the main things that struck me this year was the absence of any observable Jewish presence. This is surprising because I’m sure a lot of the women at the conference are Jewish (it’s a feminist conference after all, and Jewish women are still a strong presence within the women’s movement. See Jewish Women and the Feminist Revolution.) There is a Jewish caucus as part of the NWSA structure, but it’s not very active – in fact, this year, apparently, no one except the chair of the caucus actually showed up at the annual meeting! Flipping through the conference book, I didn’t see any other panels or papers (and there are LOTS of panels and papers during the 4 day conference) with a Jewish theme other than my own.So why is it that Jews are still kinda closeted in this feminist context? Is it because most of us are white, and so being Jewish is not multicultural or cool enough? Is it because we’re embarrassed (instead of proud) of the disproportional leadership roles we’ve played in the women’s movement? Is it because we’ve fallen into the trap of thinking other people’s identities are more interesting than our own? Is it because of latent (or internalized) antisemitism? What do you think?