Where Are the Opinionated Jewish Women?

by Esther D. Kustanowitz

Where are the opinionated Jewish women? This cry of yearning comes (certainly) not from the profiles of men on JDate, or from the comics who pronounce Jewish women as totally, (in some cases) intolerably, overbearing and overopinionated. This question hails from the halls of Jewish journalism, but echoes into other areas – feminism, relationships, work/life balance, attitudes and work methodologies – in none of which have I received a degree, but to all of which I can speak from my experience and the experiences of my female peers.

During her tenure as the interim op-ed editor at the Forward, associate editor Karen Loew noted – in a piece titled “Missing Half of the Potentially Best Ideas” – that most unsolicited submissions came from men. This led her to wonder why women weren’t speaking up.

I don’t have an opinion about this. I actually have several – from the list below, looks like five of them. (This post is an expansion of the response I posted on the Forward website, but which – as of press time – had been held for approval, apparently indefinitely). And I’ve given each of these opinions a dual title from the world of TV, just because.

1) Mad Men vs. Designing Women. The key word in describing the Forward’s submissions may be “unsolicited.” Most of the writers I know are women, and most of us tend to design our approach to publications: we do our research on the publication, find an editor who might be receptive to our pitch on a certain subject, and submit to that person. Instead of throwing a lot of stuff at the wall and hoping for publication, engaging a strategy to hit a specific target seems like a more reasonable option. Sometimes this process results in a delay on conveying the opinion to the editor-in-charge, and by that point, sometimes another writer – for the sake of this argument, perhaps a (mad) man who just fired off a response and didn’t go through any channels, gets there first.

2) Desperate (for free time) Housewives / The Real Housewives of (Your Jewish City). Perhaps married women with children (certainly with another job, but even without another job) have less time than married men with children, not fewer opinions.

3) Damages / How I Didn’t Meet Your Mother. Perhaps single women (with or without children) can damage their marital potential if they are perceived as “too opinionated.” If there is indeed a paucity of female op-ed articles, perhaps there is also a social reason: it’s unfortunate, but true, that Jewish women are often criticized for being overbearing and over-opinionated, especially in the dating realm. Jewish women who write opinionatedly are often seen as “too opinionated,” or too strong-willed and independent, which can threaten potential suitors. Yet, somehow, Jewish men never damage their marital potential by being “too opinionated,” or even obnoxious, in print. Having spent several years writing about singles issues, I can tell you that this “challenge to authority” through assertive opinions, educational achievement or humor presents a real challenge for strong-willed women who are trying to find meaningful relationships.

4) Gilmore Girls vs. Sons of Anarchy. Perhaps women in general are more collaborative than accusatory – a work style which sometimes translates to a perception of weakness because it’s not perhaps as strongly stated or unilateral as another piece on the same subject written by someone who is more of a leader and less of a collaborative thinker who is committed to conversation. We see this all the time in the Jewish blogosphere, although I won’t name names. But while I’m generalizing, think about the division of labor even in the emergent social media world: you’ll likely find many more men who are designing wireframes for websites, and many more women who are engaged in the work of audience-building, which relies heavily on relationships, establishing trust, and providing content that’s valuable.

5) Community / Who’s the Boss? If you scan most Jewish newspapers’ opinions sections, you’ll find that Jewish op-eds are often submitted under the names of Jewish organizational execs, a population in which women are underrepresented. Within this explanation is also a sub-explanation that many people don’t talk about – it is entirely possible (and, in some cases, probable) that organizational op-eds are ghostwritten completely or partially by women, and then sent out bearing the name of the organization’s leader.

Loew closes her piece with an invitation/challenge: “Women, it’s time to start typing. I’ll make it easy: Forward Opinion Editor Daniel Treiman awaits your submissions at treiman@forward.com.

I realize that I’ve made some generalizations above about men and women and how we operate, and that there are exceptions to every rule. I fully expect that some of you will disagree with me. But I’d like to close this piece with a wish for all writers: may we always be blessed with opinions, the words to express them, venues where our work is valued, and the ability to make respectful and positive contributions to communal discussions. I hope that some of those discussions may begin here.

Esther D. Kustanowitz is a writer and consultant based in Los Angeles. She was also co-producer of the 2010 ROI Summit for Jewish Innovators. This piece originally appeared on Esther’s blog, MyUrbanKvetch.com.