Southern & Jewish
Southern & Jewish celebrates the stories, people, and experiences – past and present – of Jewish life in the American South. Hosted by the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life, posts come from educators, students, rabbis, parents, artists, and many other “visitors-to and daily-livers-of” the Southern Jewish experience. From road trips to recipes to reflections, we’ll explore a little bit of everything – well, at least all things Southern and/or Jewish. Shalom, y’all!
Last week was Purim. As a little girl, I loved that holiday – not only because it meant cookies and carnivals and a hilarious spiel (which, being in a small community, I got to have a starring role in from age 10 on up through high school), but also because it was the only holiday where a Girl Like Me was front and center.
Esther, of course, was that Girl Like Me. She was loyal to her people, respectful to her uncle, kept quiet when she was supposed to keep quiet, but did what she needed to do when the time came. She was a model for what I thought being a Good Jewish Girl should be.
Fast forward one week from this year’s Purim. (And a few years, and a few revelations, from my younger years of celebrating.)
Today is International Women’s Day.
I’m a thirtysomething woman with a little girl of my own.
And I’m not so sure that Esther is the best female role model in the story.
My daughter is still too young to understand much about Purim. She enjoyed eating so hamentaschen and dressing up like a giraffe (who wouldn’t?), but that was really what stuck out for her this year. In a few years, though, she’ll be exposed to the whole megillah… and I want to give it a different spin for her.
When I was young, Vashti was villainous. She was the Bad Girl. The queen who spurned her king, who misbehaved, who deservedly exited the story right at the start, unworthy of anything but our judgment.
But what did she really do?
- She was harassed by a group of men and stood up for herself
- She spoke out when she wasn’t supposed to, but when it was important to do so, which got her punished instead of praised
- Even when she had no one to support her, she held fast to her beliefs
- She ran out of patience and refused to maintain the status quo
- And maybe she was super cool in other ways, too, but we’ll never know, because she got kicked out of the story early… for subverting expectations, asserting self-respect, and taking a stand in a world where women were supposed to just do what they were told.
Especially in the era of #metoo, of #timesup, of the ongoing oppression of female-identified people worldwide and ugly treatment right in the middle of our own story… Vashti sounds like the kind of woman I want to be, and the kind of heroine I hope my daughter will see, at a much earlier age, as a Girl Like Me.
Happy International Women’s Day. And here’s to all the Vashtis out there.