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Women Power
Mom with a View

Women Power

Young women are starting to defy external pressures and choose allegiance to their inner voice.


Sisterhood is powerful. It was the rallying cry of the feminist movement of the sixties. Women, unified, can change the world.

When I was in college, feminist thought had it that a man who held the door open for a woman was sexist (weren't they all for that matter, whatever they did?). We were perfectly capable of holding the door ourselves, thank you very much. My daughters, on the other hand, scorn the bad breeding of a man who doesn't open the door for them first. Where and how was he raised?

Men and women continue to be confused about who they are and what their respective roles should be. I think an unfortunate fallout from this sixties liberation movement has been a deep alienation from self.

Men feel they have to adopt a more sensitive persona to suit today's woman, while women privately complain about the lack of men with backbone. And women feel they have to adopt a very free-spirited attitude towards the physical side of life in order to prove they have thrown off the yoke of masculine repression, in order to assert their equality.

Business news has remarked on the dramatic increase in lingerie sales over the last few years. This is because clothing that was formerly confined to the bedroom has now become everyday public attire. Behaviors that were once reserved for marriage have become everyday activities on college campuses (as have some behaviors that don't exist even within marriages).

But a rash of new books, including Unprotected by an anonymous college psychiatrist, suggests that this greater freedom is not leading to greater happiness. These books confirm the sense of confusion and even depression experienced by young women today. Although the campus mental health centers seem to, ironically, further this sense of alienation from women's feminine souls and encourage the rampant promiscuity, anonymous' clients tell a different story.

They don't feel true to themselves when they engage in meaningless physical relationships. They feel miserable. They feel lonely and hurt. And betrayed -- by the boys, the system, their peers and perhaps even their parents. This is not who they want to be. It is neither fun nor pleasurable nor an expression of their true selves. Most girls don't want to walk around barely dressed and treat their physical selves so cavalierly. They just don't know there is another way.

Our inner voice whispers dignity, privacy, a desire to be appreciated for our inner beauty, a sense of self-respect.

Yet perhaps the pendulum is swinging back. Perhaps young women are recognizing that real power lies not in conforming to some externally imposed sense of who you should be, but in a more authentic allegiance to that inner voice. And our inner voice whispers dignity, privacy, a desire to be appreciated for our inner beauty, a sense of self-respect -- and a readiness to demand that respect from anyone who wants a real relationship. This is our Jewish soul, the soul of a princess.

The external pressures are strong. It takes courage to speak up. It takes community. It takes that powerful sisterhood. Who will stand with her? Not the campus therapists whose support of more licentious lifestyles contributes to her fear. Frequently not her parents whose own tumultuous adolescence during the sixties has led them to support "youthful experimentation". Certainly not their male peers who, most ironically of all, seem to experience the greatest benefit from a supposedly feminist freedom.

All that's left are the other women, her female friends, that powerful sisterhood. Those girls who are also hurt and wounded by ‘friendships with benefits' (whose?) and hook-ups. Those girls who have a strong sense of their own worth and won't allow someone to trample upon it. Those girls with a clear sense of morality and vision. Those girls with a sense of dignity who see "girls gone wild" not as an expression of liberation but as a further entrapment. Those girls who think ‘waiting until you get married' is principled and beautiful, not old-fashioned and foolish. Those girls who find the alienation from self too psychically painful. And the reward too ephemeral. Those girls with self-esteem and confidence. Those girls who value the purity and privacy of their souls.

It's a confusing world out there. With so many conflicting messages, it requires introspection and self-awareness to be truly liberated, to be someone who dares to be different, who is a true non-conformist. Like our forefather Abraham. In Hebrew he was called Avraham Haivri, Abraham who crossed over. He stood on one side while the whole world stood on the other. We have inherited that ability and strength. That's real courage and power. Someone who is able to ignore pressure from family, friends, and cute guys and be true to her inner core of values. Isn't that who we want our daughters to be?

Sisterhood is powerful. It can be used to destroy. And it can be used to reverse the tide of misguided and alienating behaviors. If women really want power, taking control of their identities and their relationships is a good place to start. (Today's most ‘liberated' women are actually letting men dictate who they should be.) It's a big job. There is a lot of pressure the other way. But if we really believe in this feminine power, if we really want to arm our daughters to face the world, then we have to let them know they can do it, they can fight for what they believe in. And they can win, with their mothers right behind them cheering them on.

July 21, 2007

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The opinions expressed in the comment section are the personal views of the commenters. Comments are moderated, so please keep it civil.

Visitor Comments: 20

(20) Sarah Rivka :), March 14, 2014 12:40 AM

holding door open

In my opinion, the first one to arrive at the door should hold it open for the other(s), whether it's the man or the woman.

(19) Shell, August 9, 2010 7:33 AM

with prayer and action

Even though I am 38 and didn't go through the sixties, i lived a train wreck of a life because of the idea of so called "feme

(18) Stacia, October 25, 2007 3:36 PM

Good advice too often unsaid!!!!

Wow. I have had many discussions with my daughter and some limited discusions with my female students about being true to there feelings and protecting themselves emotionally, and otherwise. They are challenged in a world where "it's okay" to say, "It's not okay for me!"
What a great article.

(17) Anonymous, July 30, 2007 4:31 AM

The momblog from 7/25 was out of this world... These words are pearls. They are good for everyone to hear in today's difficult times, frum and not yet frum.


(16) Rachel, July 28, 2007 6:11 PM

So true

I agree completely with this article's sentiments. As a 20-something BT, I've experienced pretty much everything out there. When I was living a secular life, I lied to myself that I was dressing for myself and not for men or male attention, but as I became religious I realized I was lying to myself. I was dressing for the sexual attention it got me. And while it is difficult to "cover up" when I have been blessed with the tall, thin frame that's so desirable in today's society, I don't regret it for a second. The real turning point for me was one night in Jerusalem. I had just started studying in Aish's Jewel program there and I was dressing tzniusly more and more often, but especially on Shabbat! Right after Shabbat I went to catch a bus to catch some friends. I took a side street I knew to be well-traveled in the daytime, without realizing that at night this was a mistake. Halfway down the street, three young men jumped menacingly out in front of me. With my head held high, I walked right passed -- and they parted to let me by. I felt as though my "religious" outfit of long skirt, long sleeves, and high-collar shirt was what saved me (plus, of course, the blessing of Hashem!). I had the sense that if I was wearing a mini-skirt and a tank top, the result would have been much different. This was Hashem's message to me to reevaluate the way I interacted with the world. B"H it is now two years later... and I now dress tzniusly every day! I wish I could help other young women come to terms with their own confusion and questions about self-image. Dressing modestly is the best way to get respect from others and to learn to respect yourself. Shomer negiah has also helped a lot -- it's nice to be able to tell men that my body is PRIVATE property -- and to be able to tell myself that as well!

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