The Orthodox Response to Mindy Meyer?
My mother is an Orthodox woman who was raised by Orthodox parents and married an Orthodox rabbi. She has also earned, thus far in her career, a bachelor’s degree and three postgraduate degrees. And while she has more degrees than the average Orthodox woman, she also has more degrees than the average American; as of this year, only 30% of American adults had at least a bachelor’s degree.
I was raised in an Orthodox household where, as you can gather, education reigned supreme, so I was frustrated when I read Katie J.M. Baker’s recent Jezebel article, “Orthodox Jews Are Unsure How They Feel About Divalicious Aspiring Politician Mindy Meyer,” about the so-called Orthodox response to Meyer — and how it’s been labeled a conversation about the domestic role of Orthodox women.
That no woman has emerged as a political candidate, despite the Orthodox community’s growing size and political sway, is largely a result of women in the community being relegated or elevated, depending on one’s perspective, to a domestic role-expected to dress modestly, live quietly and draw little attention to themselves in the outside world.
I covered Meyer’s story as much as the next journalist (here and here). I called her, met with her and wrote incessantly about her. I was the Forward’s Meyer expert. But I never considered it interesting that she was an Orthodox woman pursuing a career, nor did I think of her as someone who was “trying to break down her community’s gender divides,” as Baker writes. Meyer was fascinating to me for a myriad of other reasons — her enthusiastic (if naïve) campaign; her seemingly random career decision — but I wouldn’t consider Orthodox feminism among them.
Baker also cites the recent anti-Internet rally as an example of Orthodoxy encouraging women to stay out of the limelight (women were not allowed to attend). But she confuses Orthodox Judaism with ultra-Orthodox Judaism, and she isn’t the only one making this mistake. In fact, Jewish journalism tends to make the same generalization, and as a Modern Orthodox woman, the distinctions are enormous.
Ultra-Orthodox communities may advocate a separation between men and women that seems extreme and unusual to average Americans. Ultra-Orthodoxy may not support a woman in the public eye, and it may not advocate for women wearing “a color as flashy as pink.” Ultra-Orthodox women might be placed in more domestic roles than non-Orthodox women. But Modern Orthodoxy produces career women and community women; women who dress fashionably but modestly as they lead corporations, schools and law firms, who become doctors and business owners and, yes, even journalists.
So, no, Jezebel; the article you’ve posted is not the “Orthodox” response to Mindy Meyer, as the headline implies. You’ve taken a conglomeration of various aspects of Orthodoxy, picked out seemingly sexist ideals of the ultra-Orthodox, and assigned them to a nebulous, Jezebel-defined “Orthodox” at large. Don’t worry; lots of people do it, but no one should.