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How Being a Woman Got in the Way of My Feminist Statement

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I finally caved. When this class began, it was billed as an advanced Talmud “chabura” (somewhere between class and discussion), open to men and women. I joked that if they really meant for it to be open to women, they wouldn’t have scheduled it for Thursday nights–because in my community, Thursday night is often sacred to Shabbos preparation, by and large done by women.

But I really wanted to go, and my husband is the sort to do stuff in the kitchen (he’s also the sort to learn Torah, but was willing to forgo this one). And let’s face it–my cooking often gets procrastinated to Friday anyway.

So I went, and I loved it. I’ve been teaching Jewish texts for over 10 years, but I rarely learn for learning’s sake, or go to someone else’s class. For a long time, I was OK with that; I had been a student for years, and relish being on the other side. But recently, I had begun to feel stagnant, with too little intellectual stimulation from others. Teaching presents plenty of challenges, and I learn plenty from my students (many of whom are adults and far more educated than I in every field but the one I teach). But it’s different. That first Thursday night, I felt like I was waking up after a long nap. It was amazing and invigorating, and I kept going.

I can be honest enough–with myself and the world, apparently–to admit that I also felt a little self-righteous. Several months pregnant with my fourth child, going out at 9:15 at night every other Thursday, in the cold and snow of a deepening Cleveland winter, to be the only woman in attendance with this group of guys learning Talmud–of course I felt self-righteous! I wasn’t going for the sake of making a feminist statement; I honestly love the texts and discussions, and however tired I was, I found consistently that I would wake up and get right into it once I was there. But, while I wasn’t going simply to be the only woman there, I would be lying if I said my gender, especially being the only one, didn’t help motivate me off the couch..

I’m talking about this in past tense, as if I’m not going anymore. I have every intention of continuing. The problem is, I didn’t go tonight.

I broke my streak. And why? Basically, because I’m a woman.

Because I’m pregnant and worn out. Because I actually got around to inviting Shabbos guests, so I did have cooking to do. Because when school was cancelled for inclement weather, the differing demands of my husband’s profession and mine meant I was the one with the kids all day. Because somehow, I let that get in the way of cooking Thursday afternoon like I’d planned, so that it still had to be done Thursday night, and I was too drained to start early enough to be comfortable leaving things in my husband’s hands by 9:15. Because, whether it’s my nature or an internalization of societal roles, I am possessive about my kugels and couldn’t bring myself to let my husband take over. Which, though the nature vs. nurture thing is still up for debate, all comes down to the fact that I’m a woman.

To whatever extent my attendance at this class was motivated by my gender, I failed tonight because of my gender.

If I was trying to show the world–or more realistically, the 10 guys in the room–that women can indeed learn, I failed tonight.

If I was trying to “have it all,” I failed tonight. Today, I ran errands and made last-minute appointments for my daughter, and in between I tried to set up a creative and fun (for my kids) way to get work done, and then I washed dishes for an hour and made dinner, and then we ate dinner, and then my husband showed up and I collapsed. When I gathered the strength to get back in the kitchen to start on Shabbos, there wasn’t enough time to do it all myself and get to the shiur (lesson). Something had to give, and I gave in.

I’ve never believed in the hype about “having it all”; I’m too realistic, and not energetic enough, to demand that of myself.

But I believe pretty strongly in trying anyway.

We all have lots of priorities, and I refuse to prioritize them. Sure, my kids are my highest priority, but voicing that as an abstract value says very little about what I should or could do with any given minute of my day.

So, I do my best to triage, to figure out which minutes are best devoted to which priority. I want to get them all in, somehow. But of course, it doesn’t always work out the way I want.

I’m annoyed by the fact that my other priorities interfered this time in a way that I don’t think they would have if I were a man. I know it was ultimately my choice, but I could have left my husband to finish the recipes and dragged my tired self and fetus out in the snow. So, maybe I’m annoyed with myself. Or, just frustrated. I wish reality could be different; I wish I could have made it different. I wish I had organized my time better. I wish I had gone. I wish I didn’t have to choose one thing at the expense of another.

Except that, of course, the reason they’re all priorities is that they all matter to me. They all contribute to building the life I want and the person I want to be. The struggle to juggle them, I have to believe, is itself meaningful.

I just wish it weren’t so hard.

 

The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. Comments are moderated, so use your inside voices, keep your hands to yourself, and no, we're not interested in herbal supplements.

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