I was a kid in the 1980s. I wore outfits comprised of matching pieces in bubble-gum pink, I watched “Thundercats” the first time it was on, and, though I was only four when it happened, I remember Reagan getting shot. So to say that casual sexism was part of the air I breathed feels a bit obvious. But I lived in a special kind of bubble that added its own thick layer of a special kind of sexism to my formative years: I attended a Modern Orthodox Jewish day school in NYC. (The “modern” apparently meant that the skirts we were required to wear merely had to cover our knees, unlike those poor girls in Brooklyn stuck wearing tights, long sleeves, and denim skirts to their ankles, even in a Brooklyn July.) Starting in 7th grade, we said our daily prayers sitting and standing behind a literal screen in the school’s tiny sanctuary. And when it was time to teach the boys how to chant the melodies of Torah reading, the girls instead, took Israeli folk dancing class.
When Rachel asked me what it meant to me that we have a woman running for President of these (not very) United States, I immediately remembered a small exchange between me, my fourth grade teacher, and our assistant principal, Rabbi Cohen.
Me: something about wanting to work in politics
Teacher: “Well, Rachel could be president someday.”
Rabbi Cohen (laughing): “Yeah, she could be the first woman president.”
That the equality of women in the secular sphere should be a joke to a rabbi trained to see as normal a way of life that keeps women sitting behind screens should come as no surprise.
But that’s what I think of, when I think about what it means to me that the Democratic nominee for President of the country I love fiercely (no matter how hard that has become in the last 15 years, and, increasingly, the last several months). I think about fourth grade girls today – even ones stuck wearing skirts – catching a glimpse of Hillary. Perhaps to them, the idea that they, too, could someday run for president will not be a joke.