from the rib?: On Interviews and Intersection

July 4, 2010 § 2 Comments

Over at from the rib?, our own Shira has been posting fantastic excerpts of her Keystone project — a semester-long independent project that every senior at our high school had to complete. She interviewed Jewish women from New York City between the ages of 5 and 95 to explore the powerful intersection between Judaism and feminism.

Often we think of feminism in splintered sectors: Jewish feminism, conservative feminism, Marxist feminism, eco-feminism, pro-sex feminism, queer feminism…the list goes on. The popularity of feminist blogs can help to support this way of thinking, since some blogs make use of a targeted niche. Here at Women’s Glib, for example, we assert ourselves as a blog for young feminists, though the ideas we cover often aren’t specific to teenage women. As bloggers and writers, we tend to focus on what we know because it’s familiar, it’s safer, it’s more respectful to others’ experiences. (That’s not to say we shouldn’t think or write about oppression issues that don’t directly affect us; it’s only to say that often it’s best to read and interact with those who have experienced such oppressions firsthand.)

Shira’s project is a reminder of the importance of pluralism: the idea that within one group (for example, Jewish women), it is natural and desirable to have “numerous, distinct” individual identities represented. Lucille Weisfuse, Shira’s 88-year-old grandmother, is a conservative white Jew from Brooklyn. She says of feminism: “I don’t feel in this day and age -– women have accomplished so much –- I don’t feel it’s important. Women can get any kind of job they want today. I think we’ve made so much progress that we don’t have to work for feminism so much. There are so many other causes.” On the other hand, Sophia Henriquez, a 16-year-old mixed-race and mixed-religion Reform Jew, identifies strongly with feminism. “It’s instinct. It’s what my mom taught me.”

Our power as feminists comes from striking an organic balance between individual experience and shared identity. We can accomplish the most by working together. Just as two people can lift more weight than just one, feminism works best when groups of people ally with one another to achieve a common goal. This is the concept of emergence, the idea that a whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Shira’s work has also reminded me of the power of personal narratives. My favorite aspect of feminism is that it encourages us to speak, to tell our stories, assert our truths, vibrantly, loudly and without shame. In a culture that’s hell-bent on silencing women, there is perhaps nothing more instinctively powerful, more potent and visceral than freeing our minds from that screaming silence and allowing words to spill from our bodies. This is feminist, and it is biblical, too: Jewish history is built on stories passed from one person to another, through times of immense struggle. When we speak about what has happened to us, we can take solace in our shared experience.

Explore the archive of Shira’s Keystone-related posts, and keep checking from the rib? for more interviews.

§ 2 Responses to from the rib?: On Interviews and Intersection

  • This sounds like an amazing project. I would be so interested to read more about it.

    One thing you said struck me so wrong, though, and brought me completely out of all of the other wonderful and true and inspiring things you were saying.

    The part about a culture hell-bent on silencing women? Yeah, that.

    Umm…I may be completely naive (which I don’t think is the case), but you didn’t specify which culture you were talking about, so I’m not sure what this means. There ARE cultures around the world that systematically devalue women and actively seek to silence their voices–out of fear or out of a screwed-up sense of propriety. But I don’t think Western culture is one of them. There are things in Western culture that silence women, devalue them, objectify them. But to label these things as intentional is a mistake, because on a large scale, I really don’t think it is. It’s in fact much more insidious than that: it’s automatic. It’s unthinking. It’s cyclical. And this distinction becomes important when you try to change things, because there’s a whole different set of weapons you must use when your enemy is invisible and everywhere than when it is embodied in a clear and tangible set of rules or people.

    • mirandanyc says:

      I’m talking about all patriarchal cultures (which my own Western USian culture is), though each individual experiences this problem to a different degree — often based on privileges beyond our control. The way I see it, this culture silences women both intentionally and unintentionally. And actually, the insidious-ness of the problem, which you point out, demonstrates the scope of the problem. When our cultural sexism is so deeply ingrained that it is automatic, it is operating on a large scale indeed.

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