Rabbi Avi Weinstein

In Order to “Lean In”, Women have to be comfortable Spreading Out. No offense, I may not have a clue here.

In Uncategorized on April 28, 2013 at 1:31 pm

Gene Weingarten veers into dangerous as a male entering the gender divide. In his most recent column Below the Beltwary he wonders why the feminists’ self understanding resembles a continuous state of adolescent angst. It’s worth a read, and while it may be no news to women, it certainly turned my head around and then sent me whirling in bizarre Talmudic directions.

Gene opens his column with an observation no doubt provoked by Lean In the work by Sheryl Sandberg that keeps the conversation going. 

In the past several months, American women have been engaged in intense, public hand-wringing dialogues with themselves over whether they should “lean in” to be more aggressive careerists; whether it is okay to even mention a woman’s gender when writing about her scientific accomplishments; whether an obituary can discuss the deceased woman’s domestic skills (and in which paragraph such information belongs); whether women at Ivy League schools should seize the opportunity to find husbands among their intellectually equal classmates (or whether this is a deeply regressive anti-feminist impulse); and whether a woman CEO is betraying the sisterhood if she outlaws telecommuting.

He  wonders out loud when will the movement get beyond this type of rumination. Wisely, not trusting his own instincts, he calls a trusty female colleague in another city to enlighten him, and  she immediately demands that he “take off his pants”, which though somewhat abashed, he does. She takes hers off as well and asks him to read the label on the back of his jeans.  “Levi-Strauss W 34 L 32.” She replies,, “Mine says, “Adriano Goldschmied.” Period.”

The point being that where men find clothing that fits their size, women have to fit into pre-ordained clothing sizes. Men never say I have to get down to a 40 short for my daughter’s wedding, but women will diet to fit into a size eight. My own source of things feminist Dr. Eileen Solomon, mother of one of my very astute students, Hannah Solomon Schwartz, elaborates. “Men will get their suits altered without giving it a thought, but women will feel that they have failed if they don’t fit into the preordained size.” I would say, “Who knew?” But that admission just indicates my high level of male cluelessness. How much do you want to bet that this does not rate a two on  the feminine insight meter?

Van Morrison knew this over forty years ago when he wrote the lyrics to his top forty hit “Wild NIght” on his Tupelo Honey album. 

All the girls walk by dressed up for each other, while the boys do the boogie woogie on the street.”

He indicates that the judgement girls pass on each other submits to an unwritten standard that consciously or sub-consciously they all accept. It’s not so much about us guys, but about them and their relationships with each other.. 

A stroll through the garden of the Israel Museum gives a graphic comment on Talmudic uneasiness when it comes to celebrating beauty. On one side a beautiful example of a Roman mosaic creates a celebration of ancient western art and culture, while close by a crude and inelegant collection of small tiles display the laws of the Sabbatical year. The sages could care less about how it looked, but only what it had to say. Coincidence? I think not.

While Rabbi Yochanan’s beauty was celebrated, it may have been considered anomalous that such a magnificent specimen contained great wisdom. Caesar’s daughter once told Rabbi Yeshohua Ben Hananya,

What magnificent wisdom in such a hideous vessel? He replied, ‘What vessels do you use to keep your wine? She answered, “Vessels made of clay.” He answered, “People as important as yourselves shouldn’t you put the wine in vessels that reflect your stature? She reported this to her father who immediately placed the wine in vessels made of gold and silver. The wine spoiled in a very short time. Caesar asked his daughter who gave her this bad advice? She told him. Caesar summoned Rabbi Yehoshua. whom he asked why did you tell my daughter to do this? Rabbi Yehoshua answered, “What she said to me, I said to her.”

The Gemara continues and challenges this story by commenting that people who are good looking have proved themselves in learning, but the Gemara counters, “If they had been a bit uglier, they would have learned more. (Ta’anit 7a-b)

When Roman soldiers complimented Rabbi Meir’s daughter on the way she walked, she took note and the rabbis took a dim view of their attentions and her response to them. No doubt about it, beauty was no asset and deterred one from more lofty pursuits. As professional schools have become female majorities nowadays, it’s not enough to lean in, they one still must “fit in.” 

And regardless whether one wants to show more skin or as little as possible, there is no avoiding the pressure. Whether one is an aspiring model, or a Beit Ya’akov girl the focus on the body and the pressure people feel are virtually identical.  Both cultures have their share of eating disorders. The rabbis observed that a daughter of Israel should be impervious to Roman catcalls, however complimentary, but being men they, like me, never noticed what happened on the other side of the gender divide.

While leaning in women should spread out and let the clothes fit around them instead of the other way around. Spreading out may be more difficult than breaking the glass ceiling, but infinitely more important. Gina Barecca, Weingarten’s expert offers the following advice:

We need to begin with mandatory quality child care in all places of business. Mandatory flexible hours, offered to everyone, men and women. A system of workplace job assessment and promotion that values quality of work, not the number of hours put in.

This, she says, will fix everything. I admit that I don’t exactly understand how, but I have a new appreciation for the Rabbinic distaste for the Greco-Roman ideal.

A word t Gene, however,, keep your pants on–it’s an image that I don’t need bouncing around in my head.


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