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Isn't it pretty?

Friday, February 27, 2004

Feminism from a Non-Feminist

If you ever want to get upset about the treatment of women, read some classical philosophy. So many of the philosophers tend to discard women as not being capable of rational thought, intellect or virtue. I have been reading Aristotle's Politics. Aristotle sees women on a level slightly above that of a natural slave but far below that of a free man. What actually constitutes a natural slave and a free man is up to a lot of discussion, but let's suffice it to say that women are not seen as especially worthy in Aristotle's eyes. Aristotle is not the only one who makes comments about women being incapable of the same complexities as men. Plato, in the Symposium, makes broad statements about women being incapable of deep love, and Michel De Montaigne, in Of Friendship, states that women are unable to participate in a true friendship. What kind of relationships must these men have had with their wives? They all had wives, but didn't seem to think a whole lot of them. I have to wonder if they ever discussed what they were writing with their wives, or whether their marriages were merely for the purpose of procreation, that their wives were only seen in the bedroom, and not spoken to very much at that time. I have to believe that women were just as intelligent and capable as they are now, and I wonder that they were kept down so much as to not be able to convey their worth to the men whose homes they shared. I was discussing this last night with someone, and he made a comment to me about how maybe I should be looking closer to home about the way women are viewed, implying of course, the way that women are viewed in the Orthodox Jewish world. I told him that it is misunderstood, and we kind of left it at that. The truth is, as much justification as can be given to a lot of the issues the outside world sees with how women are viewed in Judaism, there is a lot that goes beyond what is acceptable to me. I don't consider myself a feminist, I don't have trouble not being counted in a minyan or sitting on the other side of a mechitza. I am not asking to read from the Torah, nor am I even complaining about having to wear skirts in the winter and long sleeves in the summer. What I do have a problem with is those who say that a woman's place is strictly in the home, that a man's education (Jewish and otherwise) is necessarily more important than a woman's, that a man should not be asked to do "women's work" such as laundry or dishes. I have heard all of these things justified within a supposedly halachic framework. It seems that the father right one goes, the more disparity there is between women's and men's roles in life. While I don't think that men and women are the same, should be treated identically, or even want the same things out of life, I think that a woman should be given the opportunity to find what fulfills her, be it the pursuit of a job or the choice to stay home with her children. I just don't think she should be bound to one path as the only acceptable way of life. I think women have so much to offer the world, and luckily, I think the world in general does recognize that today. I hope that in that way, the world has changed from the time when Aristotle was writing. I hope that whatever I decide to do with my life, whether I decide to stay at home with my children or go on to get my PhD, I can be supported in that endeavor by men and women, Jewish and non-Jewish. And I hope that other women out there feel able to do the same.

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