To Be or Not To Be–Feminism

I remember when I wrote The Bible According to Eve, I hoped that it would speak to women who wanted “more”: working women, feminists and such. The Bible According to Eve: The Women of the Torah is my book which tells the story of every woman in the Five Books of Moses from her perspective. I used what I learned about the difference of male and female thinking, which I learned in a class “Theory of Mind” in high school because I was in a college preparation program. I truly thought that by putting women first I had created a feminist book. Of course, the book The Bible According to Eve: Women of the Torah, is the first and only published volume of a set of four books spanning the entire Hebrew Bible. Yet when I was interviewed by a student newspaper at W.S.U. about The Bible According to Eve, he did not seem to see the “feminist” nature of my work. Perhaps this was because I did not start with a programmatic theory on which the book was based. Perhaps this was because I only sort of understood post-Freidan feminism.

I have read Betty Freidan’s The Feminine Mystique. Though many people admire the central idea of the book without finding the evidence she marshals forward compelling, I found the basis of a novel in there: originally The Wife, but eventually retitled Careless Love. It was about a housewife who turns to writing romances because she is bored and lonely and the man she is married to is not nearly as interesting or exciting as he was supposed to be before they married. The idea that the based on is in Freidan: that romantic love cannot by itself create a person’s reason-for-being. I even made the husband, Jack, relatively sympathetic, because the idea was that he was not the cause of the problem nor the solution but that Helen was trying to make him into something he was not: her “meaning of life.” Even though Helen has two affairs (I won’t give any spoilers except to assure the reader that this Madam Bovary does not commit suicide), the strange truth is that in her blaming her husband she is in one sense she is too faithful to him. She believes if only Jack wanted, he could make her happy. That is why it is natural that she writes romances: because those books sell the idea that all a woman needs to be happy is a nice man. I have never really bought the logic as an adult.

I buy that Freidan is right that a woman needs more than a husband to be happy. I have always wanted to write–but I suspect most women would prefer to have a career of some sort, whether academic or business or even in a factory. At the book store I even got a book about a female character whose form of self-actualization involves buying a camera and taking pictures in Central Park. I am embarrassed to say I haven’t read it yet: occasionally I think of it anxiously and wish I could find the time. Yet when I was taking the course “Philosophy of Feminism” at the state school, I had doubts if I could take my “feminism” much farther than that.

First of all, I could not really buy the idea–Freidan’s own–that women should intentionally develop “masculine” traits while men should intentionally develop “feminine” traits in order to find “balance.” Even the teacher admitted that it was she who still did the cooking and her husband the gardening. That the two roles, though they could be done to death or become confining, are the ones most people feel most comfortable in. Or at least, I believe so. I don’t enjoy dressing up in nice clothes or wearing makeup, but I basically accept that not only am I the cook now, I probably will be if I ever get married. Of course, not all the “traditionally feminine” jobs are as refined as men imagine. I have hated that in The Taming of the Shrew, the redeemed Kate speaks of how white and smooth women’s hands are because they are not forced to do the “real” work. What they leave out is that cleaning toilet stools and scrubbing floors are traditionally “feminine” occupations.

However, after “liberal feminism” the textbook took a real downward turn. In “Radical Feminism” the book discussed two different “types”: the bisexual, pro-pornography type who believe that women should have the same “rights” (I wanted to call them “vices”) of men versus the lesbians who were against pornography. I couldn’t see myself as either. When we got to Mary Dally I found a woman I did not, frankly, understand even: she wanted to castrate God, call all heterosexual sex “rape” and basically emasculate men. I couldn’t see myself in anything she wanted. More, it wasn’t just about God (though that was bad enough), I couldn’t see wanting to be a lesbian. At that point in my life I don’t know if it bothered me if somebody else wanted it, but I couldn’t. So this form of feminism had nothing to say to me.

It also deeply offended me that though there was Socialist Feminism and Psychoanalytic Feminism, and the teacher was nice enough to get a section of Existentialist Feminism for a student who wanted it from a previous version of the same textbook, I really wanted there to be a section: Religious Feminism. I wanted it there even if the book was extreme enough that it only included the work of Phyllis Trible and Elaine Pagels. If Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaiden’s Tale had to be there, I wanted Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent there, too. Personally, I would even like to have seen some “conservative feminists” like Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg whose Moses: A Human Life I found interesting. However, maybe since she does not write about feminism per se her book might not “fit.” The point is, I felt like this textbook assumed we were all atheists–and gay.

Since then I have never known if I am a feminist or not. Most of my friends assume I am not, or that if I am a libber it is in a rather mild way. I am a Conservative Jew, and I think the fact that I keep Kosher and Shabbat convinces some of them that I am incapable of radicalism. That, and we have had rabbis who were really not open to hearing a convert’s ideas.

That is why I am glad my rabbi is allowing me to teach a four-session class on Abraham. Though this one is not about feminism, it will allow me to express my own ideas. Maybe–despite what I said above–I can be “a little lib.” I always wanted to prove I was a deep thinker and not merely “pious.”

Published by hadassahalderson

I am a professional author who lives in Wichita, KS. I went to Friends University and spent one year at Claremont Graduate University. My published work includes: The Bible According to Eve I-IV and Faust in Love.

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