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I am woman, hear me roar – just not at a Jewish community event

Sharon Berger
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Published: 28 February 2020

Last updated: 4 March 2024

Warning: this article is not just for female readers; it is relevant no matter the number of chromosomes you possess.

I RECENTLY MET A young woman who told me that she only reads female authors. I was taken aback. While I didn’t outwardly challenge her strident decision, I mentally started listing all the male authors I had enjoyed reading over the years and thought what a loss to dismiss all male voices with such a broad stroke.

While I definitely intend to continue choosing my next novels based on the appeal of their content and ideas, rather than the gender of the author, I do understand her growing frustration with the male-dominated world that continues in the  21st century.

This hit home to me last week after attending a massive UIA community event in Sydney with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in an audience of over 2000 people. Of the six performers and speakers, there was one lone female Israeli, who gave the vote of thanks after the main speaker had left - and so had many members of the audience.

To be honest, I don’t know why I was expecting anything different as I have attended too many community events where there are zero female speakers, token or not. It feels like the Jewish community has a long way to go towards gender equality, or anything even close to it. (I understand, anecdotally, that Victoria Is a bit better than NSW.)

There are different parameters to judge this bias in the community: number of female CEOs, board members, images of women in the local Jewish media, etc. I recognise that I am quite sensitive to the importance of gender equality, but that it doesn’t bother many people in the community, even many of the women in the audience.

If it did, presumably they would stop attending events where they are continuously marginalised. Perhaps that’s why they gravitate to women’s division programming.

UIA is running a women’s-only event in a few weeks, without Rivlin, featuring three women, entitled “Extraordinary Women Inspiring Stories”. Indeed, the three female speakers do seem very interesting. One is a former Mossad agent, one a biotech leader and the third “one of Israel’s leading finance, technology and philanthropic figures.”

My problem with this event is it’s only for women. Why?

If a young female teenager is at the main event, what messaging does she get? The big high-profile male speaker is for the main event, and so too are all the speeches by the male machers of the community. Where are her role models for being a visible part of the community? Or should she hold out the hope that in the future her partner mentions her graciously in his speech?

The three female speakers are for a more bespoke audience, all women, which the teenager is even less likely to attend. While I don’t know the anticipated numbers, I am fairly confident that it won’t be 2000 people. Is what they have to say so much less important that it shouldn’t reach a larger audience? (To be honest, the men really said very little of consequence.)

I am not against all-female events in principle. There is a different energy that is unique to female-only get-togethers like Rosh Chodesh groups, which can be a really welcoming and safe space for women to congregate.

There is usually a slew of them in the lead up to International Women’s Day. It’s fine for women to opt into these all-female spaces, or even to choose to read female authors exclusively. However, that shouldn’t come at the expense of having female voices included in our mainstream community messaging as well.

Sydney Mardi Gras is being held this weekend. You would have to have your head in the sand to miss it. Rainbow advertising abounds everywhere.  The cynic in me would like to think it’s not just about advertising promotion but also important messaging to the LGBTQI+ community that they have a place in our modern-day society and are a welcome part of it.  For a young gay teen this is a really important, positive message.

We need to ensure that our community has more positive role modelling for our entire community, not just the male half of it. At this recent event, the women were good enough to “man” the registration desks and probably organised the logistics and details for the night.

All Jewish community organisations need to work harder to cultivate, nurture, encourage and even coach women to give them the confidence to find their voices in the public domain.  Then no Jewish organisation will have the excuse to continue hosting all-male line ups in 2020 and beyond.

Cartoon: Avi Katz

About the author

Sharon Berger

Sharon Berger is the Events & Partnerships Manager at TJI. Sharon is a former journalist for The Jerusalem Post, Reuters, the Economist Intelligence Unit and the Australian Jewish News.

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