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When ‘Feminism’ Goes Too Far


Those of you who have met me have just suffered the indignity of having your jaws drop open unattractively at the title of this article. For those of you who I have yet to encounter, you should know that I stayed an extra semester at the fine institution of Yeshiva University to complete my Women’s Studies minor. My life is one big anti-patriarchy consciousness-raising session. However, I have recently discovered something new about myself: I do not think everything is feminism. For this revelation, I have The Commentator’s recent article “Socially Shackled Syntax: Far from Feminism” to thank.

The article, which I will dub SSS:FFF, attempts to be about everything. It is about freedom of speech, it is about feminism, it is about a young woman’s attempt to negotiate a system with which she does not agree (and apparently the feeling was mutual). Two Commentator pages filled with words and adjectives and turns of phrase and synonyms, not to mention a couple of “deconstructing”s of the author’s past experiences, and the article boils down to one idea: I can do whatever I want, I am Woman. Surprisingly, I do not agree.

But not for the reasons one might think. In fact, I do buy into most of the basic premises presented by SSS:FFF. I think it is wonderful that the U.N.’s General Assembly adopted a Universal Declaration of Human Rights that allows for the “freedom of opinion and expression.” I applaud bell hooks for forcefully revealing what many females experience, a forced silence that would not be in place had that extra X chromosome just morphed into the treasured Y. Truth be told, I’m even a fan of the First Amendment. By the end of the article, I was congratulating the author’s power to express herself as both a Jew and a Woman in the Yeshiva University environment that, at least until January, I call home.

There is just one nagging, pesky, hugely overarching issue with SSS:FFF, and that is its platform; the bottom of the pyramid of the article’s logic rests on shaky ground. I love extolling the virtues of feminism to anyone who will listen to me; free speech is highly important too. However, I do not feel that the type of “public discourse” with which Yeshiva Girl was engaging was in any way, shape, or form an appropriate expression of feminism or free speech.

I will introduce a caveat to what I am about to say by obnoxiously and wrongfully quoting Voltaire: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” (this quote, according to the Goddess Wikipedia, was actually said by Evelyn Beatrice Hall in The Friends of Voltaire). As someone who believes in free speech, I do think that Yeshiva Girl had and has the right to type whatever she wants into the blogosphere. I do not think that the subject matter of her blog should be used to prove the points she attempted to make in SSS:FFF.

The silencing of women and of free speech in general are huge problems, issues that should not be ignored or belittled. There are, among many other horrifying things that an oppressed woman, or man, might suffer, instances of abuse, rape, genital mutilation, sexual slavery, suffering under a murderous or corrupt government, kidnapping of male and female children to fill the ranks of an army, and genocide. There are also the smaller, but still important to note, daily instances of sexism such as sexual harassment in the workplace, put-downs and sexist jokes, and assumptions made about the ‘lesser’ state of a woman’s intelligence. If there was no women’s movement, and even more so, if there were to be no freedom of speech, the most basic mode of fighting these oppressions would be lost.

That being said, Yeshiva Girl wrote a blog post about her attractive seminary rabbi. I can only assume, given the nature of seminary rabbis, that he is a married man, most likely with a few children at home, and a wife who makes kugel, if not every week, then at least once in a while. So to “deconstruct” what occurred, an 18-year-old girl, high off her first taste of freedom and the anonymity of her blog, described her crush on sexy faculty member of MMY, whom she “dubbed McRabbi.” She got exposed, got caught, got repentant, then got unrepentant. A few years later, she used this experience as a jumping point from which to write an article about feminism and freedom of speech, the U.N.’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the Op-Ed project.

SSS:FFF might fall into the category of the oft-repeated feminist phrase “the personal is political.” It certainly turns a personal experience that is at risk of being described by adjectives such as “immature” and “insipid” into a huge political issue, replete with the First Amendment and Deep Religious Questioning. By doing so, it diminishes the validity of the important messages contained in the article. This is not feminism. Feminism is not taking a mistake that one made and glorifying it. The women’s movement is about supporting each other, not lusting after each other’s husbands in a public forum. To label SSS:FFF “feminist” writing is to invite potentially deserved criticism from sexist naysayers. It delegitimizes the work of hundreds of women who set out to prove that females do have significant voices. Each woman has the right to define what “feminism” means to her. For me, this is not it.