“No woman deserves to be treated this way. None of us deserves this kind of abuse.” – Michelle Obama, October 13, 2016
I am dismayed that in 2016 we are still debating how women deserve to be treated. Before the last presidential election I hoped that this conversation would soon be over. I was wrong. From salary disparity to sexual assault, women are still sometimes treated as second-class citizens. Starting with the women in Torah, we can see great strides have been made over millennia. And Torah can serve to remind us that women deserve even better treatment today.
In Parashat Chaye Sarah, Abraham sends his servant to find a wife for Isaac. Directed to find Abraham’s kin, the servant happens upon a cousin, Rebekah. She appears to be the perfect wife for Isaac. The servant greets the family, offers gifts of gold, and insists on leaving the very next day with Rebekah in tow. At first, her brother Laban and father Bethuel accept the offer on Rebekah’s behalf. As the servant prepares to leave, Rebekah’s mother chimes in with Laban, insisting on a ten day cooling period and a check-in with Rebekah. “They called Rebekah and said to her, “Will you go with this man?” And she said, “I will.”
Torah suggests that with her mother’s intercession, her family finally thought to ask Rebekah’s opinion before trading her off for some gold nose rings. Or perhaps the family was truly saddened by her departure and hoping that she would decline to leave. Either way, once asked for an opinion, Rebekah has a clear response.
We are left with this troubling reminder of our patriarchal history and misogynistic tendencies – men don’t own women and women don’t need men’s permission to make decisions about their lives. Sometimes Torah offers us stories from which we discern a need for humans to evolve. Sadly, it has taken millennia for men to even contemplate treating women as equals.
It doesn’t matter that my wife and my daughter are both smarter than I or that they are generally more sympathetic people. Precisely because of their role in my life, I became aware that gender should not matter at all with regard to how one is regarded in the work place or respected in society. And when it comes to health care, neither lawmakers nor doctors should second-guess women’s choices about their bodies and reproductive rights.
I write this as a “note to self.” I know that when I speak to my daughter, Sarah, I express greater concern for her safety than I do with my son. I question her choices more frequently as if I can guarantee best outcomes. I can’t help myself sometimes. This world continues to treat women differently, as inferiors or objects or worse. And men of power speak in “locker room” talk that embarrasses decent people and that has shaken Michelle Obama to her core.
So to all the Sarahs and Rebekahs and Rachels, and to the Aminas and Tinas and Fatimas, I pledge to provide positive support, loving encouragement and refined trust in you, even as I am worried by the men in this world who threaten your rights and your well being. I hope to see you on January 21, 2017 at the Women’s March on Washington to remind the world to pursue justice and equality. My son and I plan to be there too.
R’ Evan J. Krame