‘Ad Masai’? Until When?
When I was thirteen, bumps were hot. Me and all of my sisters would pull padded headbands back over our heads, then slide them forward, so we’d be crowned by an two inch high bump of hair. This was the look in 1995 in the frum community. But the style wasn’t restricted to us frummies – it was super hot in the secular world – a decade before, that is. We were duplicating the trends of Seventeen with a ten-year lag.
Sometimes I wonder/hope if some of the cultural and social norms of the religious world are the same as those of the secular world, with a time lag. For example, girls began attending school in the 19th century, while religious girls got access to schooling in the 20th. After most knowledge of natural and herbal birth control was lost to the Western world in the 14th and 15th century, birth control was widely re-introduced in the 1960s. Now, in the 21st century, a significant number of religious women (although less so Chasidic) are using birth control permitted through new “heterim” or Rabbinic allowances for difficult circumstances.
Jill Lepore’s recent NYTimes OpEd “Poor Jane’s Almanac” reminded me of this concept.
Lepore introduces us to Jane Franklin, one of Benjamin’s sixteen siblings. Jane never went to school, barely learned to write, and was married at fifteen. She buried eleven of her twelve children. Although she hungered after knowledge and read when she could, her gender, exacerbated by poverty and circumstance, meant she lived a miserable, limited existence. Benjamin, meanwhile, got to go to school for two years, had an apprenticeship with a printer, ran away when he was unhappy, and took his time recognizing his illegitimate son. When he married, his wife took care of their two children and household, while Benjamin traveled extensively in Europe.
With all of these freedoms, Franklin went on to accomplish too many astounding and varied successes to list here. They include: inventing the lightening rod and bifocals, and making significant discoveries in electricity, meteorology, refrigeration, and ocean currents. He established the first US subscription library, the US post office and was one of the signers of the US Constitution.
While Franklin was clearly a uniquely gifted individual, Lapore prods to us to consider what might have been Jane’s impact on the world if she had similar freedoms and opportunities. Indeed, what a different world would we live in, if we would have doubled our number of great leaders by giving women the same freedoms and opportunities as men.
Thankfully, we live in a time where that has begun to happen, where women have gained access to opportunity, allowing for great leaders like Marie Curie, Rosa Parks, Hellen Keller, Rachel Carson, Jane Goodall, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Susan B Anthony.
When I read Lapore’s description of Jane, I was reminded of the conditions of frum women, particularly Chasidish women. Jane Franklin’s limiting 18th century conditions share a lot with the modern day realities of many of our former peers.
And so, coming back to hair bumps, I wonder if the trends towards equal or increased opportunity for women may also drift into the religious community, just with a lag of a fifty or a hundred years….Printable Version