I want to draw your attention to several events we are highlighting this month regarding women’s leadership and liberation. The Jewish Women’s Archive is hosting a zoom eventon rethinking Jewish women’s history in America and the University of Michigan is holding a forum on Jewish women’s activism in the United States.
Despite the major gains of the women’s movement, the realities of the oppression of women are all too present. Last month I wrote about the House of Empire and its foundations. Patriarchy (the positioning of men as superior to and in control of women) is one of those foundations.
International Women’s Day (March 8th) usually comes close to Purim (this year on March 20-21 in the U.S). The story of Esther is a complex and difficult story. While it may have been written partially as a biting social critique of male power, the intense sexism of the beauty contest and the king’s use of women’s bodies still rings all too real in our world. On the other hand, the story’s central character is a woman who uses the power available to her to save her people. In this way there is a feminist edge to the story.
The darkness of the story is revealed in the very end when it is clear that the power relationships, with the king on top, are still in place. In that way, the story is a very real description of our reality of living in an unredeemed world and needing to use the power available to us in every era to fight oppression, including the oppression of women.
Perhaps the main point of the story, communicated through the absence of God’s revealed presence in the narrative, is that Divine power is just under the surface of reality waiting for us to draw on it in our liberation work.
There are collective and individual aspects of this work. On the collective level we work for equal pay for equal work and anti-discrimination laws and policies. On an individual level each of us, particularly the men, can look at how we may be sustaining patriarchy in our relationships, work and personal lives.
It was recently pointed out to me that the texts I draw on and syllabi I prepare for classes lack women’s voices. While it is true that the traditional Jewish canon does not contain many women’s voices to draw upon, there is more I could do to identify and raise up the women’s voices that are there. To be honest, I first felt defensive when I heard this request and only later realized I was being given an opportunity to dismantle the patriarchy. Thank you to the people who raise these challenges and I encourage my male brothers to look at their own defensiveness when confronted about sexism and then take positive action.
May this Purim and our experience of the Esther story open up wisdom for us of how each of us, individual and collectively, can use whatever power we have to make full dignity for all women a reality.