I received an email from a young lady who is studying in college; she asked me several questions about how I regard feminism, and I decided to post my reply here, since I thought it could be interesting to my readers.
“What, in your opinion, is feminism?”
Before I get to answer this rather complex question, you must keep in mind that I’m an Orthodox Jew, and therefore believe men and women are inherently different, and have different roles as outlined in the Bible. These roles are easy and natural for most men and women to assume, and indeed throughout history men have been doing most of the outside pursuits, leading their families and providing for their wives and children, while women were centered on their role as wives and mothers, took care of the practical and spiritual aspects of family and home and leaned on their husband as leader and provider.
Now, I know feminism is a vast movement and not all of it can be tarred with the same brush. Some feminists accept the fact that men and women have different inclinations and capabilities in various fields (though I must say most do not realize the extent of the difference), and claim their only goal is equal opportunities for people of equal capabilities, disregarding their gender. Some are egalitarians and deny that men and women have any inherent differences at all, and claim that the different inclinations we see in men and women are merely the product of social stereotypes (I do have to say I find it striking that some people actually think the dramatic differences in our biological structure bear no influence on our minds).
Some are radicals, such as a certain group of Israeli feminists who infiltrated the army and conducted biased research, on the base of which women were entered into combat units which were previously men-only. The fact that combat training did irreversible damage to the health and fertility of some of those young women, and that the presence of women acted towards the lowering of standards and the detriment of military performance, was apparently of no concern to them. They didn’t care that they are basically putting their own country at risk, as long as their ideals were promoted. Fortunately some sane people woke up and spoke against it.
For the sake of the discussion, I’ll say that feminism is any movement that detracts a woman from her natural role as a wife, mother, nurturer and guardian of the home. Even those movements that claim they only speak about the creation of “equal opportunities” practically continue the damage to the social structure which was caused by feminism. For example, once efforts are done to make entering the work force more feasible for mothers (such as, by lowering the cost of daycare), it becomes expected of women to take advantage of this marvelous “opportunity”.
“Where did you learn about feminism?”
You don’t have to take a special course in feminism to know about it. All you have to do is observe how things are done in all aspects of life today, compared with past generations. I’m 25 years old; for me, feminism was the norm – I grew right into it, thinking women should go into battle and sad and furious when I heard a woman gave up her career for the sake of her family, without even thinking it was feminism. For me, it was simply the right direction in which “women’s rights” were evolving. It was not until later that I realized just how different men and women are and how beautiful and harmonious is the plan of G-d, which includes men and women complementing each other in their different roles. So I suppose you could say I didn’t learn about feminism, but rather, I un-learned it (still in the process of it) later.
“Do you think a young girl could benefit from some aspects of feminism these days?”
I think the key here is to look at what feminism has actually done. Has it promoted the overall happiness of women, stabilized the social structure of families, created a healthier (both physically and mentally) generation of children, contributed to economy, reduced the levels of stress and anxiety for both men and women? No, no and again, no. Feminism robbed countless women of the fulfillment they could easily and naturally have had as wives and mothers, leading them to the false belief they must do something “greater” to be happy, and causing the average “modern” human being to believe that the existence of a woman as “just” a wife and mother is illegitimate. This is now ingrained very deeply in us. Even many of the women who do stay behind to guard the hearth and home, often fret about proving they are “doing enough” at home in order to justify their presence as homemakers.
Of course, I realize that feminism as a social movement did not spring out of nowhere. There was a deep grain of social injustice and therefore dissatisfaction, but was it because there were flaws in G-d’s design for men and women? No, but rather, it was because faulty human beings failed to keep up with what was so beautifully outlined for them. I firmly believe that, had all husbands treated their wives in the fair and kind way they were supposed to, the utter concept of feminism would seem laughable. And I must say that at least in the Jewish tradition, men were never permitted to abuse their wives and were required to treat their wives with respect and affection, and provide for their wife to the best extent of their abilities.
I often hear, “but there were always some who did not feel inclined to marry, and they found themselves in a terrible situation because there were no other options for them. Isn’t it so much better now, when a woman can do meaningful things such as work or study, and support herself in the absence of a husband?” and to this, I’ll say that humans are complex and lives are complex, and I cannot attempt to cover any and every scenario here – but overall, I’m speaking of social trends. Staying single was not a trend, it was more of an oddity. With the onset of feminism, what happened was not that going into the man’s world of academic competition and work was secured as a valid option for the few women who didn’t marry. Rather, it was turned into the expected path for the many, many, many more who wanted to, and did marry and have children, and were then expected to juggle it all so as to “enjoy the best of both worlds” (side note: without truly being able to fully dedicate themselves to either path, as human resources are limited after all).
So, when a young girl today enters university or starts a promising career, it may be said that she is “taking advantage” of the opportunities feminism provided for her, but we mustn’t forget that she is also doing what is now expected of her – again, thanks to feminism. Academics and career are not a “treat”, they are now an obligation, and the reason why this is not fair to women is easy to see when you observe women juggling career with marriage, motherhood and homemaking.
It goes without saying that not all women have “careers”, just as most men do not have careers, but simply jobs aimed at putting bread on the table (and many feminists who hold themselves aloof don’t realize just how snobby and elitist it is to talk about “self-fulfillment” and “self-realization” and “empowerment”. Only a select few can afford that!). Many just work because it is now the expected norm for a woman to be doing “at least something” outside the home, and also because the flooding of the market with female labor force caused a sharp drop in salaries, so that living on one income immediately became much less comfortable than before (though certainly still feasible). Husbands began to feel that it is their right to expect the wife to generate an additional income, forgetting that it is their obligation to provide (again, in the Jewish tradition).
All of this created a vicious cycle, the breaking of which requires conscious decision and quite a leap of faith.
All of this is just the tip of the iceberg and in no way a full account of why I see feminism as nothing short of a tremendous social disaster and the cause of terrible tragedies in countless families and society as a whole. Truly, I could continue talking on and on about rampant divorce, promiscuity, abortions, the downfall of the father’s authority, and general confusion and misery that sadly, now plague the women of my generation. But perhaps I’ll leave that for another day.