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Feminism and schlemiels

Judith Warner's New York Times op-ed piece caught my eye with its opening quote from Bella Abzug, one of my heroes: "Our struggle today is not to have a female Einstein get appointed as an assistant professor. It is for a woman schlemiel to get as quickly promoted as a male schlemiel." Warner's piece was, as you might guess, about Sarah Palin. (I won't say more about her for fear of threatening our 501(c)3 status.)

Apologies and respect to Abzug, but I disagree with her statement. To my mind, the battle of feminism is not to have women incorporated into the unjust systems of power that promote unqualified people based on other criteria (e.g. looks, wealth, connections, etc.). Sure, that would help some women and would indicate that gender is no longer a barrier to success. But feminism is not about helping some women. It's about changing the system in structural ways so that everyone benefits.

I'll give Abzug the benefit of the doubt (really, how could I do otherwise?) and assume that by "our struggle today" she meant in the 1970s - and if she were alive today, she'd hold up a different goal. Because for all the talk in this election about shattering glass ceilings, the point is not to get one person past those jagged fragments of glass, but to rethink architecture so completely that ceilings are a thing of the past.

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How to cite this page

Rosenbaum, Judith. "Feminism and schlemiels." 27 October 2008. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on July 22, 2017) <>.


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Love this article about reclaiming Jewish folklore for feminist purposes.
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