What We Need from Jewish Male Feminists
Hello, Men! I interrupt our regularly scheduled content to bring you an important message: We need to talk. We don’t need to yell, argue, or break any tables, but we do need to talk.
Throughout history and into this current moment, you have had some privileges that women just don’t have. No one calls you shrill when you raise your voice, no one expects you to balance having a family and a career, and no one is trying to take away your bodily autonomy.
This doesn’t mean you don’t have struggles or that your life is perfect; it just means that in certain, important, instances your way through life has been a little easier than it has been for your female or trans counterparts.
Which is fine. Well, it isn’t fine, but it’s also not your fault. And, I get it, my Jewish male compadres. Except for my not being a cis-man, I am pretty spectacularly privileged. I get how hard it is to find your starting place when it comes to conversations that seem exclusive, complicated, and focused on dismantling the system that has resulted in your privilege and women’s disenfranchisement.
So, I am reaching out to you as a friend. I am really glad that you are here. And I am here to provide some easy ways to start (or continue) engaging in the feminist conversation.
- Call your mother, or maternal figure, and ask about her life. Don’t call her because she wants to hear from you but because she has lived through an incredibly interesting time and made certain decisions that made it possible for her to be your mother or maternal figure. Did she go to college? Did she go to trade school? When did she decide to have children? What is she reading? The possibilities for conversation are endless. On a larger scale, value women’s stories. In our work at JWA, we hear from a lot of women that their stories aren’t important. Make it clear to the women who brought you into the world, the ones who raised you and supported you, that their experiences outside of your relationship are valuable and worth discussing.
- Read The Red Tent. It’s good! And it will be fun for you to finally understand what every Jewish girl from 13 to 15 has been reading and thinking about since the mid-1990s. You can talk about it with the bat mitzvah-age young women in your life. And lucky you, because young Jewish women are especially amazing people.
- Question the locker room conversation. When the Billy Bush conversation leaked, it felt like half the country (the half without penises) was shocked and the other half (the penis half) was basically unsurprised, because...“locker room talk.” I have great news for you: if you are in the locker room, you get to decide what the conversation is. I seriously don’t believe that all of the good men I know sit in warm, damp rooms and brag about sexually assaulting women. I am worried that the good men I know who do frequent exclusively-male spaces (actual, virtual, and even metaphorical) stay silent because they are worried about being mocked or ridiculed (and perhaps dismissed and diminished like the people who are being discussed). The great Lindy West said it best when she said “Real men get made fun of.” Please, be willing to put your ego on the line in exchange for eradicating the idea that male-only spaces are inherently misogynistic. Please, be the good Jewish men we need.
- Listen to women and believe what they say. Not just your mother, your wife, your girlfriend, but the women who are trying very hard to communicate their lived experiences to you. These women are doing this in movies, poetry, books, television shows, TEDtalks, and everyday conversation. Not sure where to start? JWA has curated a whole bookshelf’s worth of books written by Jewish women that can help jumpstart this process.
- Embrace the idea that God can sometimes be a woman. We are used to hearing words like “father” and “king” to describe God, but there are many feminine images of God that often get obfuscated or downplayed because of the perception that femininity is synonymous with weakness. If it feels uncomfortable or weird to think of your God as a mother or as a feminine being then––lean into it! It takes time to adjust to new ideas of language and representation but this adjustment results in a powerful expansion of possibility for everyone. If it feels wrong to think of your God as a woman, ask yourself why, and try to push past easy reasons like “because the Talmud says.” Maybe even ask a rabbi.
- Call yourself a feminist. Seriously. If you think women deserve to be treated like human beings, please call yourself a feminist. I know it might seem like a label that couldn’t possibly apply to you, but here’s the rub: anyone can be a feminist. You don’t need to identify as a woman to care about women but you do need to have the guts to identify with the movement that has historically been the main force of social change for women. What’s more, please remember that other men, the women in your life, basically everyone, are all looking to you to model normalcy. Remember that privilege thing we were talking about? Yeah, this is it. You get to decide what is normal (and that is a big responsibility). When I say I am a feminist, it is basically par for the course, but when you, with your maleness and your easy ability to be taken seriously, when you say that you are feminist, you expand the idea of what a feminist looks like.
And, we need more feminists that look like you. So, welcome! I am so glad you are here.
Thanks to members of the JWA staff for crowdsourcing this list with me!
How to cite this page
Book, Bella. "What We Need from Jewish Male Feminists." 2 August 2017. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on August 11, 2020) <https://jwa.org/blog/what-we-need-from-jewish-male-feminists>.