[The post below was inspired by a conversation I had this Shabbos about how beis medrash rabbaim are warning young men to avoid dating and marrying women with feminist leanings, and that this issue is among the top areas of concern among young men in the more liberal yeshiva circles who want an educated, yet frum wife. Anti-feminism and how to avoid marrying a feminist is a popular topic of conversation among Orthodox young men who are beginning to date, as many do not want wives who aim to bring feminist values into the home.
These conversations are happening particularly in Modern Orthodox yeshivot, where young men have a greater chance of being set up with women who identify as feminists. This issue is widening the rift between Modern Orthodoxy and Open Orthodoxy further, as Open Orthodoxy is seen as a proponent of feminism. Those who oppose Open Orthodoxy and want to firmly root themselves as part of the more “traditional” Modern Orthodox camp, are more vehemently opposing feminism than even before, aligning themselves more closely to the haredi position on women’s roles within the home and Judaism in order to differentiate themselves from Open Orthodoxy.
This will put Modern Orthodox women in a difficult position, as the sign of allegiance is denouncing feminism if they want to marry and be a part of the Modern Orthodox community without suspicion. This post is what I imagine a lecture on identifying and avoiding Orthodox feminist women might be like, based on the conversation.]
Dating in the 21st century has become a daunting prospect for Orthodox young men. Men on the shidduch scene have to face a danger that their fathers and grandfathers didn’t when making the all-important decision of selecting a spouse. Sure, there were those pesky female-voting flappers with their rouged knees and propensity for breaking out into the Charleston that our great zaydes had to contend with. Yes, there were the hippie flower children who insisted on women’s rights, free love, birth control, abortion, and Woodstock that our grandfathers had to avoid. True, our fathers’ generation saw unprecedented numbers of women getting higher educations and joining the workforce in greater numbers and in more positions of authority than ever before – and we can’t forget about Madonna.
However, all of these separate events in their time seemed to have left the Orthodox community unscathed. Our women understood that the cultural feminist revolution sweeping up the non-Jewish world and changing the fabric of secular society had no place among the Jewish people.
It seems that the various freedoms and hedonic pleasures women have been grabbing at for the past hundred years, selfishly placing the principle of egalitarianism in all things virtue or vice above their God given role as helpmate and mother, have finally accumulated to a point of normalcy and expectation even among our own pious bas yisroels.
Our mothers, growing up during a time when all avenues of secular education were open to them, and all careers were an option, culled a very useful psychology called cognitive dissonance.
Through cognitive dissonance, Orthodox women were/are able to live in a secular world where females can be doctors, lawyers, CEOs, mayors, governors, prime ministers, and presidents, while also living in a world where women are excluded from spiritual leadership positions that rule over men, are foridden (except by more liberal factions) to be educated in certain areas of Jewish law and biblical texts, and are discouraged from speaking, singing, performing, or appearing in public images where men might see them. This cognitive dissonance is not only approved of, it is encouraged.
Men today realize that it’s an impossible task to keep women away from the temptations of a larger world that opens up endless opportunities regardless of gender. Our community also realizes that if it wants to create a financially sustainable system for our Orthodox lifestyle, it benefits everyone for women to be given the opportunity to achieve higher paying jobs in order to support their families, and in some cases, allow men to learn full time. Certainly, feminist gains have inadvertently had benefits for our community in terms of our wives’ abilities to become equal or even primary family breadwinners, but have the damages been worth it?
When husbands are no longer seen as the head of the family household, now vying for that position with their wives, the children become confused. Shalom bayis all but disappears when the fight for egalitarianism is fought at home, and we see this break down in the form of the rising divorce rates in our communities. It seems that some of our mothers have gotten the wrong idea that bringing in parnassah is more important than bringing in the spiritual wealth earned through compliance with halachah and mesorah. The cognitive dissonance is dissolving.
How much worse is it today for our current generation of single men, who face a shidduch market filled with young women from such households where the mother is highly educated, has a respected career outside the home, and has made her father seem insignificant? What are the lessons she has learned from watching her parent’s dynamic?
This next generation of Orthodox wives and mothers are going to take things even further than their mothers did. There are some delicate questions that need to be added to the standard topics of conversation on dates. It used to be enough to ask about where a girl went to school, camp, and at which shul her father davens. Asking about where she hopes to live, what schools she intends to send her children to, and whether or not she intends to cover her hair used to be sufficient in determining compatible hashkafot. Now there are other questions that must be asked, albeit, not necessarily on the first date.
You must tread carefully, because if everything seems otherwise bashert, her views on feminism might simply be a childish whim to go along with the trend of the moment, which she can be encouraged to abandon through logic and reason if she knows these sentiments will cost her the shidduch. Twenty years of marriage and multiple children and grandchildren later, you might both have a good laugh remembering her initial perspectives!
Here are some sample questions that can be asked to discreetly determine if the woman sitting across the table from you at My Most Favorite Food is a feminist –
- What is your opinion about the group, Women of the Wall?
- What would you rather have as a wedding present, a pair of candlesticks or a pair of tefillin?
- Do you think that women should lead a mezumin if there are less than three men over bar mitzvah at a meal, but more than three women over bat mitzvah?
- Should a woman be allowed to make kiddush at the Shabbos table if her husband is present?
- What do you think about swapping brachot every now and then, where I bench licht and you make hamotzei (this can be a trick question if said with enthusiasm on your part as if you would enjoy such a scenario)?
- Do you believe that the most important mitzvah entrusted to women is tznius?
- In your opinion, does tznius elevate a woman’s status or degrade her (there IS a right and wrong answer to this question – if you are confused about this, please ask your Rosh Yeshiva)?
- What is your opinion on female rabbis?
- Should women be able to study Gemara?
- Would you want to dance with a Sefer Torah on Simchas Torah at shul?
These are some examples of questions that can form the basis of a vetting process to flush out hidden feminists that you might have the misfortune to encounter on the dating scene. These are young women who are indiscernible from their non-feminist counterparts. These young ladies dress the part of sincere Bas Torahs right down to the muted makeup, sensible flats, stockings, and skirts with no slits. However, lurking beneath the demure surface lies a predator determined to ensnare her unwitting prey into a lifetime of struggle over Torah boundaries. The only possible outcomes will be, God forbid, violating Hashem’s timeless commandments regarding His divine roles for each gender or divorce.