Jewish Journal

Reaching Climax: The Women’s Rights Movement

by Maya Paley

July 23, 2012 | 5:26 pm

Women in the US are stuck on an incessant seesaw. We bounce up then we sink down. While we have taken tremendous steps, particularly on issues of voting rights, reproductive rights, education, and professional achievement, I sometimes worry that we already reached a climactic point in women’s rights and we’ve now hit our era of plateau.

Here’s what stood out to me these past few weeks in domestic news:

  • We bounced up with Marissa Mayer landing her job as the new CEO of Yahoo and announcing she was pregnant at the same time. You go woman!
  • We sunk down with abortion backhandedly being outlawed in Mississippi.
  • We bounced up with Catholic nuns in America standing up to the Vatican about reproductive rights and contraception.
  • But then we sunk down with the impact of the recession being that new jobs are mostly going to men (80% of them).

I’m not saying that we’re stuck in a “Mad Men” universe, but we may be stuck somewhere else along our timeline.

Are Women Still Fighting the Good Fight?

Older women I know have proclaimed to me that they just don’t see young women these days standing up for their rights and that they don’t think we (as in the women of my generation) have a deep understanding of how hard they all fought for the privileges we have today.

Younger women I know have proclaimed to me that they don’t see themselves as feminists and would definitely not call themselves that word in public. Why not? Because in their minds a feminist is a woman who does not wear a bra or use make up and hates all men.

Why I Love Saying the F-word

I remember when I first started calling myself a feminist. I had a limited understanding of what the word meant. My uncle was visiting from Israel and staying with us for a couple of months. I was 11 years old and apparently quite the annoying and overly sensitive child.

He said “Maya, make me an omelet,” and instantly I was fuming with anger, yelling back at him “What do I look like to you? Make yourself an omelet.”
I’m not sure where this anger came from.

Actually, I am sure.

It came from hearing stories from my mother about how for years she had to lie that she had a boyfriend because her father was against. It came from women in my family telling me about how they wanted to get divorces in Israel but could not obtain the get from their husbands, the divorce agreement through the Rabbinate that controls marriage and divorce in Israel. And it came from living in a completely different universe—attending a private Jewish elementary school in Encino where we often discussed equality and human rights and even highlighted women role models in our school plays. We also used to go to family camp where we sang “We Shall Overcome” and other anti-oppression tunes. 

Either way, I never had a problem calling myself a feminist. And I never had a problem evolving the word into a definition of it that was right for me. I never saw it as the man-busting, bra-burning, angry stereotype that many of my peers have suggested it is.

Defining Feminism

I saw, and still see, feminism as a quest for equal rights for women. But I also include the following in my definition:

  • accepting that each woman has the capacity and the right to choose and determine the correct path for her
  • accepting all people who define themselves as feminists including male allies, transgender individuals, sex workers, and others into the feminist community
  • working toward an end to acrimony between women

Have we hit our women’s rights climax?

I am dying to hear your thoughts on this. Bring it!

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Maya Paley is Director of Legislative and Community Engagement at the National Council of Jewish Women/Los Angeles. The programs she works on include the annual Jewish...

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