Sunday, October 26, 2014

Working women - Orthodox feminism or simply facing reality?

Cross-Currents by   Dr. Leslie Ginsparg Klein is the Academic Dean of Maalot Baltimore. She previously taught at Touro College, Hebrew Theological College, Gratz College and has lectured internationally. She has a Ph.D. in Education and Jewish Studies from New York University

“Orthodox women should have a job, not a career.” That is the message that frum girls are hearing at home and throughout their education. I’ve heard it repeated by my students, graduates of Bais Yaakov high schools and seminaries, who use it as a guiding principle. Words are powerful and words have significance. These words, and their implicit meaning, are damaging to women and our community. I implore parents and educators to stop using them. [...]

Why does it matter whether we call work a job or a career? What do people mean when they make that differentiation? Within sections of the frum population, particularly in the Yeshivish community, “job” is considered a positive term, while “career” has a negative connotation. As I understand the usage, job refers to a position that will not interfere with family life; that a woman takes solely to earn a parnassah (paycheck). Career, on the other hand, refers to a position where work is prioritized over family; that a woman takes because she enjoys working and views it as a source of fulfillment. 

While the message that women should make their families their top priority is an eternal one, in today’s world, this trope of “have a job, but not a career,” is irrelevant and even damaging. Perhaps it made sense fifty years ago, when the Orthodox community perceived second-wave feminism as advocating career over motherhood. Perhaps it had a place in the work world of thirty years ago, when women were expected to choose between having a family and pursuing a career. Perhaps it was relevant in a time when for most married women in the Orthodox community, working outside of the home was a choice. These are not the realities of today.[...]

The message of looking for a job, not a career, further seems to imply to women that if you consider your work a job, not a career, then you will not have to face the challenges of balancing work and family that “career” women face. This is patently false. Women with “jobs” also struggle to balance their work and home lives. Mothers with “jobs” still have to arrange childcare, still have to figure out what to do when their kids are sick, and are still expected to work when their kids are on vacation. They may be asked to work on weekends or work overtime. They may be called at home and expected to take work home with them. They are still going to have to leave their six-week-old baby in someone else’s arms. Because whether you call it a job or a career, employers have the same maternity leave policy. Do you think that if you call it a job, not a career, it will be any easier to leave your kids? These issues are equally salient whether you are working as a lawyer, a secretary, an occupational therapist, or a Bais Yaakov teacher. Calling what you do a “job” isn’t some magic formula that will solve the challenging issue of work-life balance. As such, we are setting our students up for disappointment, disillusionment and failure.

This message also costs frum women potential employment opportunities. According to Dr. Elly Lasson, of Baltimore’s Joblink, many Orthodox women fail to secure positions because employers sense that they are not enthusiastic about working and are only interested in the paycheck. They perceive that these women don’t take their professional lives seriously. Employers, even frum ones, want to hire candidates they view as enthusiastic, dedicated, and motivated. They look for these qualities in job interviews. A candidate who is excited about the job opportunity and cares about her work will get the job over one who displays an attitude of work not being important to her.[...]


  1. Let me see if I can follow her logic.

    1) If you take a job, you will have to send your child to a babysitter etc etc. There will be challenges to your domestic primacy.

    2) Since there will be challenges, just throw the baby out with the bathwater!

    Consider your job your primary focus; turn your job into your profession; turn your profession into your career. Oh yeah, you may even land a cool job where they expect you to work about 70 hours a week. And you will be expected to live the proper social life and culture that that specific career caries. You will be living your career. Nice going.

    Oh, Judaism, motherhood etc? Perhaps it made sense fifty years ago, when the Orthodox community perceived second-wave feminism as advocating career over motherhood. Perhaps it had a place in the world of thirty years ago, when women were expected to choose between having a family and pursuing a career. These are not the realities of today. Career is more important than motherhood.

  2. the answer is to b nthusiastic about doing our job competently and as a soilid team payer but not viewing our job or career as what validates you self worth. that comes from your yiddishkeit and raising the next generation of Ovdei Hashem

  3. It's not either/or. A person can find satisfaction in both pursuits.

  4. To my knowledge, Frum girls in Israel are encouraged
    to learn and get a job that "gives them strength" (Emotionally + income

    I suspect the difference from the
    states is that up to now, in Israel only the woman was allowed by law to earn
    money until they have four children (because of the army), so in Israel the women need to be high earners.

    In any
    case, the attitude towards the workplace is mostly influenced by the
    mothers, much more then the schools.

    Furthermore, statistically, most women are not
    suited for 6 figure incomes, regardless of their attitude, so developing
    the upper percentile who can is more appropiete then installing the
    feeling that people are worth they paycheck, in all the girls.

  5. It is next to impossible to develop a family and a serious career simultaneously. The perception that frum women aren't serious about their careers is the perception that they are interested in having children. The only way to change that is delaying marriage and child-bearing. That is what Dr Ginsparg Klein is in fact advocating.


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