Categories
Feminism

Kate Chopin as a Feminist Writer

Kate Chopin is a feminist writer in the sense that she vigorously advocated and hankered after female spiritual liberation. She did not emphasize her beliefs and conceptions in her writings but she has taken into account the ideas of feminine individualism and personal autonomy at the start of twentieth century. Her feminist approach was quite different from the contemporary feminist writers who primarily concerned about the social elevation of women but she craved an understanding of individual sovereignty by penetrating into the conventional needs and wants in the male domain of social life. Helen Taylor proposes, “…shared her concerns with questions of sexuality, bourgeois marriage and woman’s role (p.157). All these facets of women life is comprehensively discussed by her.
Moreover, Chopin’s idea of feminist emancipation is not limited and of debase nature. Her approach is not restricted to physical liberation but she broadened it to intellectual as well socio-political autonomy. She was of the view that psychological and intellectual emancipation is the primary requisite that would bring forward the social and physical freedom.
Social standing of females was a favourite subject to the writers at the start of 20th century. Society was dominated by patriarchy, male chauvinism and supremacy whereas women were perceived as fragile and dependant. In “The Story of an Hour,” Kate Chopin manifests these themes by means of imagery and characterization. She had enough literary skills and intellectual strength to express these ideas in her writings at a time when writing about these issues was considered a taboo. In her anthology, she clearly illustrate that women are quite accomplished at showing strength and independence. Chopin skilfully utilizes imagery and vigour of her female characters to track female pains to flee from the debase character that societal compulsions have mandated to agree to. She takes into account their pathos and miseries implying that social compulsions are profound, rooted into the intellectual and institutional make-up of human beings and thus can not be easily swayed.

In the leading story of her anthology, The Story of An Hour, she begins with portraying the socio-psychological afflictions of her protagonist, Louise. She describes her as “afflicted with a heart trouble” (Chopin, 170), symbolizing the feebleness and fragility attributed to females at the turn of the last century. But as the story progresses, her characterization turns from feebleness to potent one. For example, when her sister discloses death of her husband in “…veiled hints that revealed in half concealing” (Chopin, 170), she shows strength. Her relief at the news further manifest the fulfilment of her longing for emancipation, both physical and psychological. Contemporary society and reader do not presuppose this outcome i.e. a woman being capable of dealing with such ruthless realities of life, due to their pre-conceived notions. But Louise thinks that “There would be no powerful will bending her in that blind persistence with which men and women believe they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow creature” (Chopin, 172).
All short stories in the anthology give an idea about the social particularly male response to each difficult situation that a woman faces. Society is too myopic that it only takes a stereotypical view of the situation. To remove or minimize the stereotypical effect, Chopin instigates a elementary change in her disposition as society fixes firmly to its typecasts, disinclined to admit change easily.
References
Chopin, Kate. The awakening and other stories. New York, Holt, Rinehart and
            Winston. 1970.
Taylor, Helen. Gender, Race and Region in the Writing of Grace King, Ruth McEnery
            Stuart and Kate Chopin. Baton Rouge and London: Louisiana State UP, 1989

Categories
Feminism

Jewish Feminism

Jewish feminism has had a significant impact on the development and expression of Judaism. They have faced many obstacles and brought about much change in the Jewish tradition. Jewish feminism is a movement that seeks to improve the religious, legal and social role and contribution of women within Judaism. Feminism can be traced back to the early 1970s where women began to question their roles amongst society. For Jewish women, they wanted to focus on the composition of the minyan, the exemption from some mitzvot, exclusion of women as witnesses of Jewish law and the position of women in relation to divorce proceedings.
Each variant has responded differently to feminism and the level of impact as differed amongst Reform, Conservative and Orthodox Jews. Judaism is known for being more patriarchal than many other organised religions. This has made it difficult for Jewish feminists to bring about equity and tzedakah. Jewish feminists have one main agenda and that is to challenge and fight sexism within Judaism. They see their work as part of their duty to tikkun olam and believe their actions bring tzedakah to their faith community.
Jewish feminism created much controversy as many men thought that it would have a weakening effect on Jewish life, however many would argue that it has been strengthened. The Orthodox Jewish communities found the impact of Jewish feminism to be a significant issue for their interpretation of the halakah and how their religion is to be expressed. They seeked change in a manner that can be defended by Jewish law and always worked within the framework of traditional worship. However, amongst the Reform and Conservative Jews, their attitudes have been much greater.

Reform Jews have accepted that a woman can perform any religious ritual that a man does. They were the first group to do away with the mehiztah, that separated men from woman in the synagogue, they felt the customs and practices should be more in keeping with modern society. This had a significant impact as it led to the change in service and synagogue, and the service was rewritten in English from Hebrew. Jewish Feminism called upon all variants of Judaism to reconsider its response to the mitzvot and other elements of the halakah.
Jewish feminists challenged Judaism in areas such as the patriarchal interpretation of sacred texts, role of women in rituals, role of women in leadership eg: Rabbi and the general rights of women. In 1972, ten New York Jewish feminists calling themselves Ezrat Nashim presented a document, “Call For Change”, to the Conservative movements Rabbinical Assembly. This “Call for Change” demanded that women be considered to perform all mitzvot, allowed full participation in religious observances, be counted in the minyan, have equal rights in marriage and initiate divorce.
Judaism was changed by this document in 1977 when Conservative Judaism introduced feminist rituals. Until the 1950s Jewish women traditionally took a back seat in communal worship. The synagogue was divided with a mehitzah as they felt that men could not concentrate and keep their thoughts purely on prayer and their individual connection with God. Jewish feminism’s impact on this issue was significant as they changed the physical direction of the mehitzah in the synagogue so women could see the front and yet the men were still separated from them.
This change of the direction symbolises the change of views. Jewish feminism had a strong impact on the religious observances, laws and services. The role of women amongst society was changed in 1973 when the first female Rabbi, Sally Priesland, was ordained. There were many objections to the allowance of female Rabbis and numerous questions were raised such as their abilty to raise families and cope with the religious demands and if they were able to interpret the Scriptures correctly.
However, non feminists were able to see that these women brought intuitive perspectives that positively questioned the base of the Jewish beliefs. Therefore the extent of change in response to Jewish feminism varies across the differing expressions of Judaism. It has brought new and fresh perspectives to the nature of worship services. Women will continue to demand and receive equality in both the secular and religious worlds. Jewish feminism has brought to each of the variants a closer relationship and a stronger response to the call tikkun olam.