Tonight, we will again read of Moses being saved from the river, growing up in the palace, understanding oppression, defying Pharoah with help from his brother, leading our people out of Egypt, through a sea to a mountain where he gets two tablets of stone.
I should warn you, I’m not in a great mood. And it’s not the Pesach cleaning that’s getting me down.
On March 9, one day after International Women’s Day, with its women’s issues, statistics, discussions and guests on panels, I turned on the box to see just men in the news and reporting on the news and analyzing the news and in interviews, panels, standup, and being Master Chefs on all the TV channels. There was a point where I thought this could be funny if it wasn’t so infuriating. And the condensed standard version of the Pesach story I just served up is one where the supporting roles of women are essential but secondary.
Since International Women’s day, these pieces touched a nerve. Interviews with some trans-folk speaking about their contrasting experiences in both genders. As women, they experience/d being silenced, ignored, undermined, belittled, etc., etc., etc., etc. Then there was the piece about women being 5% of the artists, but 95% of the nudes in museums and the lack of women choreographers. Another was the widely reported experience of a guy called Martin whose electronic signature got swapped by mistake with that of a colleague called Nicole and found clients impossible until he started signing off as Martin again.
It’s also true that Nicole has a job and has rights in her workplace. It’s not enough. The Fortune 500 sense of progress is too simplistic.
Watch this Ted Talk by Peggy Orenstein, if you dare. I am still reeling from it. I feel like it needs a feminist trigger warning. If you chose not to watch, suffice it to say, what happens in the board room is secondary to what happens in the bedroom and on the tables of plastic surgeons.
Whether you watched or not, let’s get back to the Pesach story. Imagine the same story but where the roles are reversed. Imagine the poor, little girl babies being thrown into the Nile and big brother Moses saving his precious little sister, Miriam, and then convincing a royal to take care of her. Imagine Miriam being raised as a powerful princess who has an epiphany about justice and one day walks into the queen to demand freedom for her people. When her demands are not answered she leans in hard and gets some major 10 plague back-up. And then she gets what she wants. Now imagine her giving directives to the whole people about how to leave and then imagine Miriam leading her people to freedom, splitting a sea on the way and then climbing a mountain to receive The 10 Commandments.
The only thing that would be different is there would be a woman in the main role.
Here’s Why on Screen Representation Actually Matters, seeing women in roles of importance on screen, in books, in the news, analyzing the news, on panels, on interviews – especially as the interviewee, as chefs, as standup comedians, choreographers and artists cultivates agency in girls. Seeing is believing.
It’s the kind of core, repeated layering of experience called conditioning that shapes destinies and self-esteem. It impacts what happens in the boardroom and the bedroom and in the land I want to promise to my daughters and son.