The US may just possibly have its first female president-elect in just a few days. Other qualifications of the current candidates aside, it brings to bear the question of what has taken America 241 years even to be in this position of having our first female nominee of a major party.
A quick study tells us that at this moment there are 22 female heads of state in the world, not including royalty. We can add to that the dozens of other nations that have had female leaders in the recent past, including such bastions of feminism as Mozambique and Bulgaria. There have even been a handful of female dictators. The club of nations who have been led by women is surprisingly large. But America is still looking on from the outside.
The Creation account in this week’s Torah portion traces America’s ambivalence back to the beginning of humanity. Genesis 1:27 indicates that male and female were created simultaneously, perhaps even androgynously, which would have made it very hard for them to use a bathroom in North Carolina. Commentators have tried to reconcile this depiction with a second version of the story in Genesis 2, where Eve is created out of Adam’s side (“rib” is a mistranslation). But in this account Eve goes on to take a role of subservience to Adam (Gen. 3:16) as her punishment for that little fruit-eating caper.
That still leaves us with the woman from chapter 1, who disappears mysteriously but never is relegated to a submissive position. Folklore has ascribed to her the name of Lilith, and ancient sources are replete with stories about her. Our ancestors were both fascinated and scared to death over the prospect of a powerful, independent she-creature. In order to protect their newborns from being absconded by this cold-hearted demon, Jews buried Magic Bowls with Aramaic incantations in front of their homes.
So as soon as there was a woman who was equal to a man, there was a demonized woman. Unlike other strong women who followed, from Hagar to Hillary, Lilith’s demonization was quite literal — she was turned into an evil spirit — and that demonization set a precedent for insecure baskets of testosterone like me to replicate until the end of time.
The long, slogging process of achieving equal status for women has been, in many respects, a process of Eve-tizing Lilith in the eyes of males; that is, domesticating Lilith by transforming her from demon to help-mate, while simultaneously transforming Eve from Betty Crocker into a post-feminist apron burner, unabashedly equal, with no more glass ceilings to shatter or even any idea that such ceilings ever existed. That transformation is not yet complete, but between Phyllis Schlafly’s passing last month and the possibilities of what could happen next month, we are right back to the place where God and original couple were at twilight of the Sixth Day.
At that instant, the apex of the Creation saga, the perfect balance between male and female was forged: male and female, distinct and powerful, and utterly equal. But before you could say “Shabbat shalom,” the balance was shattered and God called for a fateful cosmic do-over. It’s as if God couldn’t contemplate the implications of what S/he had wrought. Humanity’s first cold night produced divinity’s first cold feet, as God backtracked away from the unimaginably harmonious world that was about to be born.
It’s almost as if God was about to forge this perfect male-female balance, and then S/he rigged the system so Lilith would lose. Yes, God rigged the system. The glass ceiling was installed, and what was shattered was not that ceiling, but the harmony between man and woman and the unity between Adam’s two better halves, Lilith and Eve.
If the polls are to be believed, Lilith, Eve and Adam might just be coming closer to a new merger. America is about to do what Israel did long before Israel was Israel: to empower women, not by accident or by revolution, but by design. Not by might, not by power, but by the power of the vote.
Compared to Israel, America’s long been stuck in the Neanderthal age. Just to refresh our memory, let’s peruse some old posters from the pre-state Zionist Yishuv, as well as the early days of the state. Not a single Suzie Homemaker is to be found. In iconic posters, especially those produced by the Shamir brothers, like this one done for the Jewish Agency in 1940, we find strong women with clenched fists, who weren’t just keeping the seat warm for males, like America’s Rosie the Riveter, they were parachuting in with the big boys, like Hannah Senesh.
There is something to be said for Israel’s socialist origins. See this poster, where a couple who could pass for Adam and Lilith, awash in their worker’s utopia, proclaim, “How beautiful it is that we are a free people.”
Here’s a young Golda Meir, then still called Myerson, in a mayoral race, at around the same time that, in America, June Cleaver was bringing Ward his slippers and serving Brussels sprouts to the ‘Beve.
Here’s a proud pioneer, a worker, an army recruiter, a Warsaw Ghetto fighter. None of them could have made the secretarial pool on Mad Men. While Americans were watching “And God Created Woman” and dreaming of Brigitte Bardot, and while Rat Pack dudes fondled and were objectifying their dames, Israel was enlisting and electing theirs.
Now I have no illusions of Israel’s ever having been an ideal society for women. Far from it. One could justifiably claim that America recently has lapped Israel many times over in the area of women’s rights, especially in the practice of Judaism. Even Golda, the gold standard for female achievement, was praised in her day primarily for her rock solid cojones, and since then has been demonized no less than Lilith or Hillary.
But Israel can still point to Golda and say, “We’re in the club,” and at this moment, America cannot.
The election will be determined by lots of factors having nothing to do with gender. But these past two months since the Democratic Convention can perhaps best be understood as the determined effort on the part of Democrats to transform their candidate from demonized Lilith to Ubermom Eve in the eyes of the electorate.
And if, on the night of November 8, America finally joins the not-so-exclusive club of female-led nations, regardless of all that it will mean for US policies and relations with the world, it will certainly be a good day for Adam and both of his better halves.