The Rising Voices Fellowship is open to female-identified teens with a passion for writing, a demonstrated concern for current and historic events, and a strong interest in Judaism—particularly as it relates to issues of gender and social justice. Learn more or apply for 2017-2018!
The Rising Voices Fellowship is funded in part by a grant from the Hadassah Foundation.
“It doesn't seem to matter if you have a PhD in neuroscience, that won't stop some [man] from assuming you are ignorant on the subject and carefully explaining what he learned in his high school bio class.” This quote, from an article by Lily Feinn published on Bustle, perfectly explains the art of mansplaining.
Every morning when I wake up, I immediately open the New York Times app on my phone to read the morning briefing to which I’m subscribed. I’m instantly informed of worldwide events from the past 24 hours. Then, I scroll through my Facebook feed and find out what my friends think about these same topics.
Competitions can bring out the best in people. Unfortunately, they can also bring out the worst. Team competitions, even silly camp ones full of crazy outfits and team cheers, require leadership, and unfortunately, some leaders don’t value everyone’s voices equally.
Freshman year, my new friend John (name changed to protect the male ego) made a lot of gay jokes, and I laughed at every one of them. He would make all these jokes about Jews, egged on by his Jewish friends, and I laughed at every one of them. Freshman year, John would joke about rape, and when I didn’t laugh, John laughed at me.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve butted heads with Orthodox men. There was the time in third grade when I volunteered to sing the Torah trope, but was discouraged by a boy in my class who said that “girls don’t actually read Torah at their bat mitzvahs.” In other words, why bother? Then in sixth grade, when all I wanted was to learn advanced Talmud, I was met with a discrediting, “okay, Abigail, okay. We’ll see.”
High school boys often try to explain physics or calculus problems to me in a way that clearly implies they think I have no idea what I’m doing. Sometimes a classmate asks me a science question and almost immediately a male peer nearby says, “Don’t worry! I can explain this if she can’t!” In addition to mansplaining, jokes about feminism and subtle sexist comments occur on a daily basis at my high school, so I’ve become used to it.
Looking back, I now know that the comment about my sandwich choice was an extremely inappropriate thing for a coach to say to a student. It was also just rude. But most of all, it capitalized on my outsider-ness.
I didn’t want to play football, I just wasn’t accustomed to being told no, especially without being given a logical reason. So the right for girls to play football, which I could’ve cared less about personally, became a cause for which I fought with persistence.
I have a twin brother. Most people, upon finding this out, ask if we’re identical. In the scientific sense of the word, my brother, Jacob, and I are fraternal twins, and I always have to suppress a laugh when I’m asked this question because it’s biologically impossible that we’re identical. However, except for our gender difference, Jacob and I share many social identifiers that influence how we experience the world.
Food and food justice had always been something that my family and I were passionate about, so I decided that for my Bat Mitzvah project, I would found a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program at my temple. CSA is a system in which customers pay a deposit in exchange for weekly bags of fresh vegetables, giving farmers more financial security, and the customer a steady supply of healthy, environmentally friendly, and in-season produce.
The summer of 2013 was when I taught my bunk at Camp Young Judaea that girls have more than two holes “down there.” Now for those uninitiated with the workings of a girls’ bunk, this may seem crazy or even obscene. However, for us, this was just another lesson in a long line of facts about the female body I had told my bunkmates that summer.
Nearly 200 years ago, residents of the West Side of Cleveland destroyed the bridge that connected the banks of the Cuyahoga river, separating themselves from East Cleveland, and intending to become their own city. Since then, we’ve built a new bridge and stayed a single city, but we still haven’t gotten over our differences. East Siders think that West Siders are blue-collar conservatives who have failed to build up their communities. West Siders think that East Siders are snobby, rich, white people who never leave their suburban bubble.
I had fallen so deeply in love with Jewish text study that I neglected to see the many ways in which I was not represented in those texts. The tension became clear: How could I honor a tradition that did not make space for me as a female?
When I was in 7th grade, all of my Jewish friends complained about having to memorize Torah portions and prayers for their Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. I had a Bat Mitzvah too, but mine was secular and didn't include these traditional elements. My secular ceremony was different than any other Bar or Bat Mitzvah, and that is what made it so special to me.
I started wearing tefillin at camp. I was fourteen and I had a lot of ideas about overthrowing patriarchal Judaism, and I thought it looked cool. Tefillin are traditionally worn only by Jewish men who have reached bar mitzvah age (thirteen), although Conservative and Reform Judaism, some of the more liberal sects of Judaism, are very accepting of women wrapping as well.
My mother struggled her whole life to bring her love of Judaism and her expectation of gender equality together. I was raised on the foundation that she had worked tirelessly to build.
I never realized that it was possible for my whole outlook on Judaism to be transformed in an hour and a half, or that a few moments of hearing voices come together in prayer could move me so deeply. But that’s exactly what happened when I led my youth group in Shabbat services this past March.
I would understand if upperclassmen boys bad-mouthed feminism – they tend to have the need to silence strong women. But our head of school? The first female to hold this position at my school? What kind of example does that set for new girls on campus?
Boys in my preschool told me that I should like pink. “Boys like blue and girls like pink;” that was their reasoning. They told me that if I wanted to play with them at recess I couldn’t “act like a girl.” I didn’t understand what they meant, but I agreed to the terms. While things like this didn’t bother me in preschool, as I got older, people’s choice of words started to have more and more of an impact on me.
As a vocal feminist, you might expect me to get upset at various sites in Israel, such as the Kotel, because women are not treated equally to men. On the contrary, I tend to forgive these characteristics that go against my personal values, and instead embrace the spiritual and Jewish aspects to which I can connect. However, I broke this trend on a Shabbat trip to Tsfat, one of the holiest cities in the country with one of the most observant populations.
Dress codes. If you’ve been on the internet in the past few years, you’ve probably noticed that teenage girls tend to butt heads with them quite a bit. You may have read about how blatantly discriminatory dress codes are when it comes to gender. You might already be informed about how they contribute to victim blaming, are a form of slut shaming, and reinforce rape culture. Indeed, dress codes have become a sort-of gateway into feminist thought for teenage girls. For me, they were certainly a rude awakening.
I don’t think I fully understood the importance of my mother's words at the time. But looking back, this lesson, and being raised in a household that constantly preached passion and hard work over vanity, are some of the things that have shaped me most into who I am today.
I wouldn’t really say I write for change. In theory, yes, that’s a wonderful idea: the idea that everything can be changed through the power of the pen (or should I say keyboard), but I honestly don’t believe that’s true in my case. Would I love if my blog posts really inspired people and made them want to change the world around them? Yes! But I know that’s probably not the case. In fact, I think it would be a little naïve rather than ambitious of me to think that.
How to cite this page
Jewish Women's Archive. "Rising Voices." (Viewed on January 21, 2017) <https://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices>.