Before you begin…Read Part One here.
Part Two: How Religion Promotes Gender Bias
Israel boasts some unique qualities. It is a Jewish nation-state, classifying itself as the homeland of the Jewish people.
It operates on the Hebrew calendar, the people predominately speak Hebrew and more than 75% of the population identify themselves as Jews.
Due to Israel’s unique demographics, the state culturally mirrors Jewish ideals and customs. In relation to gender, Israel (and/or Judaism) tends to lead women down a much different path than men. Examples include separate railway cars for men and women, separate praying quarters at many synagogues and especially the Western Wall, and many cultural customs in which women are to dress and act demurely.
This author cannot pretend to understand the entirety of the Jewish religion, but one thing learned in Israel is women are viewed as spiritually perfect and men as spiritually imperfect.
“It’s about time!” you say? Hold your camels for now. While women are viewed as spiritual perfection, they are heavily expected to act as such, creating a great cultural divide between the actions of men and the actions of women.
While observing a conservative Shabbat morning service, our group of American women notices a large partition between the men and women: a physical divide to symbolize the even greater societal divide of genders. All men stand in front of the partition – in view of the Rabbi, altar, Torah and all other spiritual physicalities. Women stand behind. They cannot see the Rabbi, they can faintly hear him speak and their side of the room is deadly quiet. The men sing, dance and rejoice. The women hum quietly, bow their heads and keep eyes glued to prayer books. It does not feel like the same celebration taking place 15 feet away.
Judasim 101, offers some insight in an article entitled, The Role of Women. The author explains the origins of a woman’s spiritual perfection:
“According to traditional Judaism, women are endowed with a greater degree of ‘binah’ (intuition, understanding, intelligence) than men…It has been said that the matriarchs (Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah) were superior to the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) in prophecy.”
The author continues to explain how women did not partake in idolatry of the Golden Calf and how many traditional sources suggest “women are closer to G-d’s ideal than men.”
What then follows this intense expectation of perfection is daunting restriction. For example, the child expected to earn only A grades in school lives under an insurmountable amount of pressure. He or she generally expels a great amount of time, effort and sacrifice in order to maintain reputation and satisfy parental expectation.
Women in Israel follow the same lead. Because they are expected to conduct themselves more admirably than men, they live under constant pressure to perform and act in a pleasing manner. Actions become agents of societal approval, rather than free will. This is not to say Jewish women do not believe in or wish to subscribe to such religious gender differences. It is simply to say whether or not they fall in line does not change the way society believes they should behave.
In comparison, women in America feel the same pressure to appeal to the men of society – the dominators and controllers of political, social and economic life. Society hardly views women in America as spiritually perfect and most often views them as the opposite. Women embody sex appeal and emotion – two traits not generally praised for their contributions to intellectual society.
Also, intelligence – a trait Judaism subscribes more to women than men – is almost exclusively attributed to professional men in America. Women who excel do so mostly because maturation in society has allowed them, not because they are any smarter than their male counterparts. When a woman steps into a position of CEO, she is viewed as a rarity. When a man steps into the same position, it is seen as a Tuesday afternoon.
While religion tends to rule gender differences in a state like Israel, culture and ignorance rule differences in America.
The point remains: As long as these two genders play on two different fields, we will never be a united front. Society will not evolve into one mass of human beings; it will, by cultural pressure, remain a society of men versus a society of women.
The only way to bridge the divide is to change the game.
Part Three coming soon…