The Intersection of Purim and Feminism
Across the world, more than ever, it seems there is a rallying cry for women to be heard.
For me, it is no coincidence that Purim and International Women’s Month fall next to each other.
In the story of Purim, Queen Esther saves the Jewish people from Haman by speaking up to Ahashverosh.
Her heroism reflects the power of being heard, not just seen.
Modern times have also re-characterized Vashti as a woman who stood up for herself, rather than someone who disobeyed Ahashverosh.
As this article “The Feminist History of the Jewish Holiday of Purim,” published by Time elaborates, Vashti gained more respect with the feminist movement of the 1980s.
Though earlier activists like Harriet Beecher Stowe also praised Vashti, today she continues to radiate more power. Female rabbis cited in the article noted they are encouraging their congregants to “embrace Vashti as a hero.”
Esther and Vashti remind us of the history of fearless Jewish heroines and their actions to be heard.
This relates to the United Nations theme for International Women’s Day on March 8 is “Time is Now: rural and urban activists transforming women’s lives.”
The UN calls it “a day when women are recognized for their achievements without regard to divisions, whether national, ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic or political.”
According to the UN, the holiday began in 1909 alongside labor movements in North America and Europe.
Today, there are movements like Times’ Up, against sexual harassment, #MeToo, demonstrating the widespread prevalence of sexual assault and harassment, or the Women’s March on Washington that mirror past movements for suffrage and work equality. This year’s Women’s Day theme springs partially from these movements.
“International Women’s Day 2018 is an opportunity to transform this momentum into action, to empower women in all settings, rural and urban, and celebrate the activists who are working relentlessly to claim women’s rights and realize their full potential,” said the UN.
Women activists understand the power words have to launch movements. Pieces of literature are significant markers in women’s fight for equality.
There’s the “Declaration of the Rights of Woman and of the Female Citizen,” written in 1791 by French activist Olympe de Gouges. It notes the failure of the French Revolution in giving rights to both men and women.
“A Vindication of the Rights of Woman”, another early work of feminist philosophy was published in 1792 by Mary Wollstonecraft, who aimed to instruct movements about how to overcome gender inequality and push the importance of education for women. A final example is “The Feminine Mystique” by Betty Friedan; published in the 1960s, it is often said to be a marker for the second wave of feminism.
Jewish women, like Shulamit Aloni, Bella Abzug, Mayim Bialik, Gal Gadot, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Golda Meir, and Roni Zuckerman, whether you agree or disagree with their politics, are outspoken about their beliefs too.
These women activate and educate people across the world about the diversity of thought and power within Judaism and the variety of ways to speak out.
Today, while books and speeches maintain their power, the addition of another powerful communication tool, broadcast, online and social media, allows messages of equality to spread farther and faster.
As you celebrate the story of Purim this month, think about the marks made by heroines past and present and you might find some motivation to be your own version of Esther or Vashti.