Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Tradition

The Fiddler on the Roof soundtrack will most likely enter your head sooner or later, so you may as well get it over with now.

Lynn Davidman's book on why many women are choosing Orthodox Judaism stirred up some irony, as far as I see it. She follows women in two different settings, the liberal Lincoln Square synagogue in NYC and the very conservative Bais Chana residential institute in Minnesota . Lincoln Square primarily attracts career women who want to do something socially and intellectually stimulating, while Bais Chana brings in women who desire live with other hasidic Jewish women for three months, take classes about Jewish faith, and learn about womanhood in the Orthodox sense (this facility even arranges marriages for single women who request it).

Here's the irony: these are women who are choosing traditional, religiously defined gender roles. For Bais Chana participants, they are choosing long skirts and submissive lifestyles. For NYC residents, Lincoln Square offers a more liberal interpretation of Orthodox Judaism but still requires that men and women worship on different sides of the room. There is much more to it than this, I'm over-generalizing I'm afraid, but it struck me that the women in this study for the most part came completely on their own volition, many times to the chagrin of their families and friends.

I think this is a perfect example of how 21st century feminism should be sure to include traditional women. There is an element of choice that has long gone unnoticed in the way many women live out their lives in "traditional" gender roles with fulfillment. We can all think of stay at home moms who love their lives or pastor's wives who play the piano and also love their lives. I am quick to judge these women because I have made decisions that do not fall immediately into the June Cleaver stereotype, but I have realized how beautiful tradition is in many senses. Not tradition for tradition's sake, but for the meaning behind it all. Further, I hope that the feminist movement will continue to see the agency and influence "traditional" women possess. Every woman has a voice, regardless of who wants to acknowledge it.

6 comments:

Phil said...

Good points and observations. I wonder if the same "traditional" feminism(s) exist in those evangelical women interested in Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy (or those who have converted from evangelicalism)?

Phil said...

Lauran,
On my earlier point, you might want to take a look at Amos Yong's new book, _The Spirit Poured Out on All Flesh: Pentecostalism and the Possibility of Global Pentecostalism_ (Baker, 2005), ch.4; he has some great comments about "traditional" women and Pentecostalism and suggests areas for further research.

APN said...

Oooo....

Thanks for that book recommendation there Phil. Coming out of Pentecostalism myself, I would find such a book rather intriguing....

Phil said...

Dear "N,"

In Houston? Yes, this is the first book of Yong's I've ever read and it certainly won't be my last. He really presents a thoughtful and what he calls "pneumatological" way to address and engage ecumenism, world religions, politics, etc.
The book is discursively "thick" but entirely readable.

LK said...

Hmm, I'm interested to look into denominational backgrounds and see if the same trends exist for women who remain in the same tradition...

APN said...

Beautiful description.

Thanks Phil.

*looks around for that unlimited pile of cash lying around so that he can truly begin to invest in a decent library*


And yes, Houston