Jewish Journal

Silence, Woman!

by Susan Esther Barnes

July 10, 2013 | 1:00 am

I was getting off the freeway on Monday, when I saw a bumper sticker in the back window of the vehicle in front of me. It featured a picture of California State Senator Dianne Feinstein, with a dog muzzle over her mouth, and the words, “Muzzle Feinstein.”

The message isn’t subtle, and it created a visceral reaction in me. It is typical of the kind of message aimed at women by those who feel we are threatening their male privilege. It’s insulting. It’s dehumanizing. It’s bullying.

It doesn’t matter what the women want or how much logic may be behind their arguments. These men don’t feel they need to respond with logic or reasoning. They don’t feel the need to make their case or to show weakness in the case of the women. No, their answer is to use their physical strength to silence us.

It is frightening to see such a thing in the United States. More so in California, which is generally considered to be one of the more progressive states. Although, I must admit, we are losing ground in that area, as evidenced by the passage of Proposition 8. Although that ban on same-gender marriage was recently overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, there are still many in this state who are up in arms about that decision.

This silencing of women is something that has been going on for a long time. It wasn’t that long ago (less than 100 years ago, less than a lifetime for some), that women in this country had no right to vote in elections. Women are still under-represented in top jobs in business and government, and women still earn less than men doing the same job.

Women continue to be undervalued, underpaid, bullied, and silenced.

Just this week, the Women of the Wall arrived at the Kotel for their monthly prayer service, and were met by crowds of ultra-Orthodox Jews who tried to silence them. Some blew whistles to try to drown them out.

What were these women doing that was so objectionable? They were trying to pray traditional Jewish prayers in the only Jewish country in the world, at the site where Jews have yearned to pray since the last destruction of the Temple almost 2,000 years ago.

These women were not breaking halacha (Jewish law), they were not breaking Israeli law, they were not attempting (and never have) to stop anyone else from praying in the manner they wish, they were not even trying to pray in a mixed group of men and women. Yet bullies showed up with whistles to silence them.

Because male privilege believes bullying is an appropriate response to threats to its power. Because religious privilege believes bullying is an appropriate response to those who sincerely hold beliefs other than its beliefs. Because so many have been accustomed, so long, to seeing women bend, compromise, and acquiesce to the demand for them to be silent.

But these tactics will not work. No more than Senator Feinstein will be silenced by the bullying of a bumper sticker will the Women of the Wall be silenced by the bullying of those with whistles.

Male privilege feels threatened because it is not only being threatened, it is being weakened. In time, it will be overthrown. Not because women want to replace it with female privilege. We don’t. All we want is to be heard, and to be recognized as equal partners. And we will get it. It’s just a matter of time.

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Susan Esther Barnes is a religious Reform Jew who can regularly be seen greeting people at her synagogue before services. She is a founding member of her synagogue’s chevra...

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