When radical feminists squirm, it makes me smile, and it’s not because I am anti-feminist. It’s because when any radical viewpoint is challenged it brings me pleasure.
My definition of radical feminism is those who on a very deep level believe that men and women are the same except for the obvious physical differences. These people will come up with all sorts of “nurture vs. nature” explanations for every observable disparity between the sexes making it relatively impossible to argue with them. As is common amongst extremists of all types; they are so certain of the correctness of their world view that it takes more than just logic to rattle them – it takes something equally as radical.
Take, for example, a recent concert by the Chassidic all female band Bulletproof Stockings at Arlene’s Grocery in Manhattan. Traditional Halacha (Jewish Law) prohibits women from performing in front of men so the band asked if they could allow only women into their gig and the venue agreed as long as they promised a full audience. With men being shut out, I obviously wasn’t there to see if they delivered a sold out show or if they were any good. I do know that they are very good with publicity as the story was picked up by a bunch of entertainment news sites as if it were a breakthrough event.
I try not to label myself, so I have no clue where I fall on the feminist spectrum. To me it seems obvious that men and women are quite different, and I have read many books and articles that agree. I try to be sensitive to times when people discriminate against women using the fact that they are different as an excuse. In Judaism, different does NOT mean inferior. To my mind there is no excuse when, for example, at some weddings where the Chuppah is outdoors, men crowd around leaving no room even for close female relatives. Without serious study, it is hard to tell whether the Chuppah situation happens because of gender bias or just an extreme insensitivity to the needs of others but in either case it is just wrong. Other things are just wrong and despite the fact that they are part of Halacha it is hard to see how they could ever be carried out considering the history of mankind. Like slavery. Kol Isha falls into a different category; prohibitions that are not in sync with the non-observant world yet cannot be proven morally wrong any more or less than the prohibition against cooking on Shabbos.
As an observant Jewish artist, I am particularly sensitive to the struggles involved in maintaining a balance between artistic expression and Halachic and (Orthodox) societal norms. Growing up I fought an uphill battle to justify putting time and effort into my music and one of the first Yeshivas I worked for told me outright they would fire me if I played at a secular venue – and the ratio between secular and non-secular venues is approximately a hundred million to one. So I can relate a bit to the even more frustrating position of talented women who can not perform in front of men. Anyone who understands the value of artistic expression has to feel for an artist who has little to no possibility of expressing their art. Artistic dreams tend to whither away when there is nowhere to be found, to sing, to play.
So I am extremely happy for the women in Bulletproof Stockings for figuring out a way to express themselves while upholding their deep beliefs and traditions without compromise. I hope that they are paving the way for many more innovative artistic efforts from Orthodox Jewish women!
I speculate that not everyone is as happy about this turn of events as I am. If you are a radical feminist, I ask you – are you happy for them? Or are you upset because they have found a way to uphold a law that you undoubtedly consider oppressive? If I played a concert and banned women, I know you would object vehemently. Perhaps you should protest Bulletproof Stockings and insist that they let go of their archaic patriarchal beliefs. Gather outside their shows armed with placards reading “Let Males Into Your Show!” Maybe file a lawsuit against Arlene’s Grocery for gender bias, after all don’t gender equality laws prohibit a business establishment from discriminating on the basis of sex? Of course, if you did any of these things these young women, whom presumably you care about, will no longer have access to the type of exposure they deserve and will not have opportunities to express themselves as female artists. In this case, you need to decide what is more important; feminist ideology or actual living females. Squirming yet?
To support Orthodox Jewish female musicians I recently designed a Kol Isha Advisory logo. Please feel free to use it and spread it around. Some feminists may find it degrading. I think it’s a badge of honor.
To download original Adobe Illustrator Artwork for the Kol Isha Advisory logo click here.
(cross posted on rabbiskaist.com)