- Try this thought experiment: Think about an Ideal Jewish Man. Ask yourself what are the prominent qualities of that ideal Jewish man. You may even want to make a list, write down the qualities that emerge. Now, take out another page and write down the qualities of an ideal Jewish woman. Are the two lists different? Where is there overlap? Where do you find differences?
Now, imagine that the list of qualities you used to describe “man” were used to describe “woman”. Cross out the word “man” on top and replace it with the word “woman”. What do you think about that woman? What adjectives come to mind? Now look at the list of qualities you had for “ideal Jewish woman”, and imagine that those qualities refer to a man. What do you think of that man? What qualities come to mind?
What are your insights from this exercise?
- How is the subject of feminism presented in your school, community or family? Is it presented as an idea that is antithetical to Judaism or “outside” of Torah? Or is it presented as part of a vision of “tikkun olam”, an idea that Jews have a responsibility to advance compassion and social justice in the world?
- Do you think that girls and boys are spoken to the same way in your school, community or family? For example, what kinds of compliments do girls tend to receive? What kinds of compliments do boys tend to receive?
- How is success attributed between boys and girls? Who gets told, “You must be smart or lucky” and who gets told “You must have worked hard”? How is failure attributed? Who gets told, “You can do better” and who gets told, “Never mind”?
- How does your school, community, or family treat girls who are good at engineering, computers, chess, physics, or audio-visuals? What about girls who are loud and opinionated? What about girls who like to lead services, or who wear tefillin and/or read Torah?
- How do girls who are not “pretty” or “thin” or smooth-skinned or “cute” treated and related to? How about girls who are muscular, assertive or bulky?
- How does your school, community or family relate to boys who like to dance? What about boys who like poetry? What about boys who wear pink? What about boys who are not aggressive and loud but introverted and quiet? What about boys who do not like sports, or who are gangly?
- Have you ever witnessed kids mocking other kids because of their bodies? Have you ever watched a child squirm away in shame because of comments from other children, or from an adult? How did you or other people around react?9
- Do girls and boys learn the same Jewish subjects in the same intensity at your school or at home? (eg, boys learn twice as much Talmud; boys are expected to stay after school; boys sit at the head of the Shabbat table while girls serve the food). If there are places where there are different rules for boys and girls, what is the rationale behind the rules? How do people react to these rules?
- What is the gender composition of optional STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subjects (eg AP Physics or AP Calculus, etc)? What about in after-school clubs? Are there clubs that are single-sex not by design but de facto? How do you interpret that? What happens to students who try to break expected gender norms – like a girl joining an all-boys computer club, or a boy joining an art club? How are they treated by peers and by adults? How are they labeled?
- Who represents the student leadership? What is the gender composition of student council? What about school assemblies? What is the gender composition of the speech-makers at school public events?
- What is the gender composition of writers in the school newsletters? What is the gender composition of photos? What are girls and boys doing in the photos? Is there a difference? And what are boys and girls writing about? Is there a difference?
- What is the gender composition of the prayerbook (siddur) children are using? Are there photos of girls? What are they doing? What about other school books?
- How much time and energy do you and or your community and school spend talking about girls’ dress? Who gets sent home for dress-code infractions more – boys or girls? How do punishments compare? What kind of language is used to justify girls’ dress-code infractions? What about boys’ infractions?
- What kind of language is used in your school, community or family to describe casual social interactions between boys and girls? Are they viewed as scary, dangerous, impure, sinful, or wrong? What messages do kids internalize about sexuality? If a girl and a boy are caught in what is perceived to be an “inappropriate” situation, how are they treated? What kind of language is used to reprimand the girl? What about the boy? Are they the same or different? What messages about sexuality are internalized?
- How are gay youth treated in your school, community or home? Are they welcomed, included and remembered in every setting? Are they mocked? Does your school or community pretend that they do not exist?
- How is Jewish ritual taught to boys and girls? Do they have the same obligations around daily prayer? Are they taught the same blessings? Are they taught the same messages about Shabbat, or are they taught that there are different ways that men and women mark Shabbat?
- What is the gender make-up of the school leadership? Are there women represented in the highest echelons of the staff? Is there salary parity between women and men? Are there women on the board? Has your school ever had a female board president?