Oppression From Within

Frederick Douglas and Frankie Mae were similar in that they suffered from an outside oppression; or in other words, that it came from beyond their innermost circles. Imagine an oppression that your mother, father, friends, and contemporaries agree with and furthermore, insists that you go along with them. I speak, of the ever confining world of ultra-orthodox Jewish women.

Completely opposite of Frankie Mae and Frederick Douglas, the oppression spoken of here is invisible, and apparently non-existent. There is no twitter, facebook, or even a Harry Potter book permitted into the lives of these women. There is no contact with the outside world, save for the professions they must acquire in order to support a husband. Usually, these professions are part time, so as also to be able to run a family. The husband, goes to an ultra orthodox yeshivah to learn. Such is the life of a married woman, and the emotional and physical strains are instantly apparent. Of course, while juggling all of this, she is forbidden from socializing with men, and in literally and figuratively told to use thee back door to many areas of life. Women are always in the back, and out of sight; maintaining the ultra-orthodox level of tsnius, or modesty.

For a very scarce few, there are holes in this system of living. These people leave the fold and are ostracized. Most are to afraid to speak out because if they do, the futures of extended family and close friends would assuredly be in jeopardy. Everyone knows, of course, that no yeshivah boy would want to marry a girl with a shifty relative. The girls are frightened into obedience with the prospect of not having a future, and are thus kept down. In some ways, they remind me of Frankie Mae, resigned and beaten into place. It is my hope that more will come to resemble the courage of Frederick Douglas, and will have the courage to be the oddball cousin.

1 comment
  1. I think the comparison of an ultra-orthodox woman’s plight to Frankie Mae is quite apt. I’ve long been interested in cloistered women’s lives of all sorts: Nuns, Amish, ultra-conservative-polygamist-Mormon, ultra-conservative Christian’s (have you ever seen the film “Jesus Camp”?)

    I’m working on a project with a Jewish woman who is from BoroPark Brooklyn. She did not grow up ultra-orthodox, but orthodox enough to only break free from her community at her husband’s premature death due to cancer in his early 30’s. She left and became an artist, with two children in tow, and upset her family. She’s still very religious, but she uses her own interpretation of the five books of Moses, and has done some pretty amazing and feminist work around this: http://tinyurl.com/8yer2mx

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