Young Jewish Women
A Deeper Conversation
"We’re starting to relate things that were not related before. Eating disorders in girls, obsession with boys—which often leads to deferential behavior—the very few women who are running Jewish communities, and very few Jewish female role models for girls. All of these things were separated in the past. Now it’s all becoming part of one big story that’s actually undermining our girls and our dreams for our girls.”
Learning to negotiate gender norms and expectations is a central development task for nearly every adolescent girl. This task is made all the more challenging because the girls -- including Jewish girls -- can get very mixed messages about feminine expectations and how to meet them.
Food, Weight, and Eating
For instance, popular Western notions of tall, willowy, athletic bodies with small features and straight, blond hair may be challenging for any young woman whose features diverge from that "ideal." And, of course, the vast majority of women, including many Jewish girls, can’t possibly measure up.
Jewish girls also get mixed messages about food, cooking, and weight ("Eat! Eat! ... But don’t get too fat!”). This can be especially important because cooking, serving, and food-centered rituals involving women are woven throughout many communities’ Jewish practice.
Marriage, Achievement, and Economic Security
Girls may learn that they are expected to excel academically and achieve professionally, while simultaneously getting the message that they need to attract and marry high-status, high-achieving males who can support them financially and psychologically for the rest of their lives.
While many communities go out of their way to encourage girls to become leaders, there are also long-standing, patriarchal traditions in many homes, schools and synagogues that reflect and reinforce the cultural and religious primacy and centrality of males.
So even as girls are encouraged to excel, to be the best they can be, to grow to be the next generation of leaders, many also learn in very subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) ways that they are still expected to play secondary and supportive roles when it comes to the men and boys in their lives.
A Vulnerable Population
Despite these and other known impacts and the vulnerabilities they can create, Jewish women and girls are almost totally absent from the academic literature on gender and more studies and data are greatly needed (read full report here).
A Model Curriculum
With help from partners like Dr. Dana Edell, Jewish Child & Family Services, jGirls Magazine, and NYC's Congregation Beth Elohim, TrueChild has developed the JET Curriculum (Jewish girls Empowered Together).
JET's easy-to-master exercises are intended to help any girl-serving group—community agency, summer school, B'nail mitzvah program—help teach young Jewish women to think critically about rigid feminine norms.
Exercises on a range of topics like health, achievement, marriage, etc. also incorporate "J-Qs" or Judaism questions designed to encourage girls to think about embedded gender norms in religious and cultural traditions and practices. JET also incorporates a new addendum to help groups adapt it for use with Modern Orthodox groups.