With Purim just a month from now, the internet is just starting to entertain with the usual, and welcome, plethora of videos, jokes, and other expressions of frivolity. A rather lively, and creative, one was brought to my attention by a colleague and, after a preliminary viewing, I showed it to my nearly-thirteen year old son.
He thought it was pretty cool. I did too. But what was troubling was this:
Me: Those cantors did a fantastic job with the vocals, don’t you think?
Ben: There were cantors in that? I didn’t see any.
Ben didn’t see any because he has only attended synagogues that have female cantors. Additionally, he is used to rabbis who sing. Really sing. So when he said he didn’t see any cantors, it wasn’t a conscious statement of gender-bias. It was an innocent statement based on his life experience.
To me, there is little difference between a child growing up to think that all rabbis are male and a child who grows up thinking that all cantors are female. Both beliefs are problematic — not mention incorrect in the liberal Jewish community — and some serious education is required in order to rear future generations whose beliefs regarding gender accurately reflect the vocational landscape. Because such gender-exclusivity exists in every discipline.
Earlier this month, The Atlantic ran a piece “A Simple Suggestion to Help Phase Out All-Male Panels at Tech Conferences” with a follow-up, “The Panel Pledge: A Follow-Up,” a few days later. Senior Editor, Rebecca Rosen, brings attention to a pledge, developed by Advancing Women Professionals and the Jewish Community, for men to take. This pledge asks men to forswear participation in any all-male panels in an effort to stem the homogeneity that so frequently occurs.
Having sat through many single-gender presentations, I see great value in this and I especially appreciate the approach. Having our male counterparts partner with us in challenging the status quo is a powerful statement. But I can’t sign the pledge. I can’t sign it because, of course, I am not a man. And I would not sign it because I think that it does not go quite far enough. A simple expansion of the parameters would call for a gender-balanced panel; one with men and women, with no all-male or all-female panels. There are, certainly, some legitimate exceptions to the mixed-gender panel. As a general rule, however, we need a pledge that calls upon women, as well as men, to take a stand. Because an all-female panel does a disservice to future generations as well.