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One Rock at a Time: Addressing the Impact of Feminine Norms on Jewish Girls

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Take a look at the snapshot below of a piece by Riki Wilchins. As the Executive Director at TrueChild, Riki leads the action-tank that helps address gender norms. She discusses the impact an NCG member workshop had on her work. 

In 2012, following a workshop at the Women’s Funding Network (WFN) on the impact of feminine norms on young women of color, I was approached by two program officers.

They were from a Jewish Women’s Foundation, and while they said they had enjoyed the presentation, they wanted to know why I mentioned Black and Hispanic (and even lesbian and transgender) girls, but never Jewish girls.

It was a good question; so good, in fact, that I had no answer.

It was not that I was addressing an unfamiliar population. On the contrary, I had been raised in the tightly-knit Jewish community in Cincinnati, Ohio. My grandfather had studied to be a rabbi at Hebrew Union College.

Nor was I entirely unfamiliar with the impact rigid gender norms could have for American Jews. I had plenty of examples from within my own family – my brother, sister, and mother (not to mention myself).

But as Executive Director of TrueChild – an action -tank that helps foundations, schools, and public agencies address gender norms – I am usually asked to address “at-risk” populations. I simply had never been asked before about Jewish women and girls.

As I often do when presented with a new question, I decided to check the academic literature, to see what research on Jewish girls has been done, and what those studies had established.

What I found (and didn’t find) surprised me.

Clearly Jewish girls have well-known vulnerabilities when it comes to rigid feminine norms, as was been amply documented in a wealth of articles in popular outlets like Tablet, the Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle, and the NJ Jewish News (as well as a core of writers and community groups addressing the issue).

Yet when it came to formal academic studies, there was almost nothing, with the exception of a few dissertations by doctoral candidates. (One outstanding example was Stefanie Teri Greenberg’s 2009 paper, An Investigation of Body Image Dissatisfaction among Jewish American Females.)

The disconnect was striking: here was a population with known vulnerabilities, which almost no one was bothering to study.

Read the full piece.

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