Hillary Clinton’s Defeat Reminds Me of Sexism Within Orthodox Judaism
Last night, around 11 PM, I called my family who lives in California to hear how they were reacting to the election results. My father, a man who has strong conservative values and cares little for being politically correct, has been a Donald supporter from the start. He’s well aware that his daughter, who spent four years at an all women’s college and now works for a feminist non-profit, supports Hillary. I knew my father would be giddy with delight at Donald’s lead, but I called him anyways because that’s what I do when I’m scared. I call my dad.
As expected, he was amused by my anxiety and tried assuring me that I had nothing to worry about if Donald became president. He then handed the phone to my step-sister so that we could “commiserate.” I greeted her and asked how she was feeling about the election. Without missing a beat she responded, “I want Hillary to win because I want girls to have more confidence. I want them to know that girls can be president too, that it’s not only for boys.”
I sat there silently on my bed, moved beyond words that my ten-year-old step-sister so effortlessly expressed the exact sentiment that drives the work I do every day of the week. Despite the fear of impending doom that I was not able to – well, still am not able to – shake, she left me with a bit of warm hope in my heart.
But by the time I woke up at 5:15 AM and checked my CNN notifications, that glimmer of warmth had been replaced by a cold sense of defeat. Not only because a man who I do not trust with our nuclear codes is now one of the most powerful men in the world, but because I’m starting to wonder if we’ll ever be able to win. I’m starting to wonder what it’s going to take for a woman to ever be “good enough.”
I wouldn’t venture to say that Hillary lost the election because she is a woman. But I don’t think it’s possible to read the results of the election without seeing any degree of sexism. Because if the tables were turned, if Hillary were a businesswoman with no professional experience in politics, who made outlandish and offensive statements, and who had a questionable tax record, could she have won? If such a Hillary was up against a man with her own background in politics, who perhaps lied and was caught in as any many scandals as she had been, would that man still have lost to her? I think the answer to both questions is a resounding “No.”
As I walked towards the ‘A’ train a few hours later, I realized that this sense of defeat felt uncannily similar to one I had experienced just a week before. Last week I was invited to a focus group that was discussing the role of women in Orthodoxy. (This conversation was one in a long series conducted by people involved in the Orthodox Union’s work on a potential statement on the subject).
At one point in the conversation, while we were discussing the status of women’s education, the leader of the focus group shared, that in his experience, female students never score as highly on gemara tests as male students do. He wondered aloud why there has never been a woman who has managed to master shas with the same level of expertise as any men.
What he was silently insinuating is that it’s not the system that has a problem. It’s us.
I was raised to believe that if I wanted something badly enough, and I worked hard for it, I could have it. I was raised to not put limits on my dreams of the future because anything is possible. But today, my dreams were defeated. Today, as I sat on the subway on my way to work, I reviewed all the compromises I’ve made because I am a woman – giving up on the dream of being a litigator because it wouldn’t allow me to be a present parent, giving up on being a rabbi because I never thought Orthodoxy would make space for me.
Today, I’m wondering if I should tell my ten year old step-sister that one day she can be president; that one day, some day a woman will be good enough.
Today I’m wondering if it’s worth it to keep dreaming of things that might never come true. Because I’m tired. I’m tired of feeling defeated by a ceiling made of brick.
Shira Eliassian is a Program Manager at the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance. She graduated from Barnard College with a B.A. in English Literature and enjoys defining feminism for people at her Shabbat table. Shira can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org