The Torch explores gender and religion in the Jewish community. Named for Deborah the Prophetess, "the woman of torches," the blog highlights the passion and fiery leadership of Jewish feminists, while evoking the powerful image of feminists "passing the torch" to a new generation. Disclaimer: All posts are contributed by third party authors. JOFA does not assume responsibility for the facts and opinions presented in them.
In my modern Orthodox co-ed day school, a certain event this week caused me to stop in my tracks. This post-exam activity, or should I say, activities, consisted of challah baking for the girls — and soccer for the boys.
My initial reaction was, why? Why does my school feel the need to separate the boys and girls for such gender stereotypical activities? I raked my brain for an answer, before coming to the conclusion that this was not justifiable; so I set out to change it.
The first step was to organize my thoughts. I wrote a hypothetical letter to my school, at the time with the intent of them receiving it. Typing furiously, I made my points loud and clear, (well, as loud as written words can be). I wrote about how mentally damaging it can be to split up the genders for such activities; how many of the boys play soccer during their free time anyway; how both activities are of no equivalence; and of course, how stereotypical and sexist this is.
One of my main worries was that these activities were strongly reinforcing the stereotype that “women belong in the kitchen and men are addicted to sports.” They were literally putting us in a kitchen!
After laying my points out on paper (or, technically, computer), I decided that realistically, no one was likely to listen to a written letter from a 13-year-old girl. I dropped the idea of a letter, and started planning a slightly more active approach.
On the morning of the activities, upon arrival in school, I headed straight to a friend that I knew I could count on to help me with my challenge. Together, we approached a trusted tutor. We were then directed to the school deputy head, who then told us to go to another member of staff altogether.
Finally, after a morning of trials and tribulations, we were getting somewhere. The meeting ended with winning results. The boys now had the choice to bake challah if they wanted to.
I was then put in a dilemma. Should I keep pushing for another option for the girls, even though I was the only one who cared enough about not baking challah? Thinking deeply into my original reasons for my protesting, I realized that yes, I should, because I was not about to partake in an activity that is so conforming to stereotypes and giving way to sexism.
I kept asking around, and pushing for compromise, but it couldn’t happen. We don’t do mixed sports so we could not join in with the boys. It was raining outside, and all the sports halls in our school were occupied so we couldn’t play a different sport. It seemed I had hit a dead end.
Eventually, frustrated with my school and my peers who were mocking me for my efforts, I marched calmly into my head teacher’s office and simply stated, “I don’t want to bake challah, so please will you find something else for me to do?” His response was close to the best I could have hoped for. I was able to help out with the lower school sports day instead which was for under 7s (and co-ed).
Some people seem to think that what I did was courageous and inspiring. I have to say that although it is a heartening way of looking at it, it infuriates me that for someone to stand up against sexism, a problem which should not be here to stand up to, they are assumed to be an amazing person. For me, standing up to sexism is something that is locked into my mind, like a reflex. I don’t take actions like this to make people proud, or to make people respect me; I do it because it is necessary for me, and every other decent human being, to push sexism that bit further from our world.
Pronounced: KHAH-luh, Origin: Hebrew, ceremonial bread eaten on Shabbat and Jewish holidays.