In a Debate Midrash forum held this past Tuesday, November 7th, students and faculty brought gender inequality, its possible existence in our school, and its implications on society into question. The forum was one of the first in which such a divisive and topical issue was discussed, and both students and faculty members shed light on different opinions and situations.
“Today is going to be the day we open up this Debate Midrash business,” said Assistant Principal Rabbi Assaraf. “I want everyone to try their best to think, and I want you to respond.”
The forum’s topic was introduced with a short video depicting a battered woman. The video played in rewind to the time before she was battered, sharing the message of taking precautionary measures in preventing harassment and abuse. At the video’s end, Rabbi Assaraf narrowed the issue down to two leading questions.
“Is gender equality a Jewish problem?” asked Rabbi Assaraf. “If you are a boy in this school, do you feel superior to the girls? I want to note that I’m in no way saying that domestic violence happens in our school, but if you think that insulting a girl in our school won’t lead to that, you’re mistaken.”
Ron Ben-Hayoun (12th) took the microphone first and noted that men recite, as part of morning prayers, “Blessed are you, Hashem, king of the universe, that I was not made a woman.” Michal Cohen (12th) shared that women are not obligated in as many mitzvot, and don’t have to say as many prayers, because they are born on a higher level, closer to G-d. She explained that men say the blessing of “that I was not made a woman” because they would not have necessarily been able to handle the responsibilities of women. Cohen continued and shared her view on the environment and culture of the high school.
“As for gender equality being a problem in our school, I think it is a problem in our school, and that women are not being treated the same way. There’s culture in this school and it’s not right. Many guys in the school feel like they can say whatever they want to girls, and they call them out and call them all these disgusting things and it’s so wrong. And, personally, I don’t see anything being taken care of, and as a woman, that’s very offending.”
More students began to chime in.
“I just want to address something that no one has said yet, which is a big issue, especially for me. I think that you can’t put all the fault on the guys because the girls say it about each other, if not more,” said Rena Kahn (12th) “If you’re going to say something about another girl, or call her a slut, or call her whatever you want-how shes behaving, how shes talking, how shes dressing, and you’re going to say that in front of your male friends, what stops them from turning around and saying the same exact thing?”
Some male students expressed a different view of the happenings in our school, and felt differently about the issue at large. Some looked at the progress society has made in moving towards a more equal society. Biological differences between the genders were also noted, and some responded to others.
“Biologically speaking, men and women are not equal,” said Caleb Katz (12th). “In response to what Mrs. Baumgarten said earlier, about women carrying the burden of history and generations past and all that stuff, you’re looking at it negatively. We should be looking at all the progress society has made.”
“When guys talk to girls like that, like Mrs. Simauchi said, they’re not doing it because they’re girls,” Yakov Schwab (11th) said. “We talk to everyone that way. It doesn’t matter if it’s girl to girl, boy to boy, girl to boy, or boy to girl. Everyone speaks that way to each other, and not to be mean, but cause we’re all friends and we just interact in a joking way.”
“Listen,” said Mikey Shakib (12th). “My sister and I used to play around all the time, like brothers and sisters do, and at some point, I realized she would start getting hurt if I touched her even a little, like a poke and she would have a bruise for a week. My dad eventually even talked to me about it. I get that we’re biologically different, because who would have thought me barely touching her would hurt her. I didn’t know I was that strong. But I think this all comes down to respect. Everyone is a person, doesn’t matter if she’s a she or not.”
Faculty members shared their own insight into situations that they have witnessed occurring firsthand in our school environment. Responses to students were offered to students, and some even felt like the forum was not being taken seriously enough, rebuking the students for their rebuke.
“There shouldn’t even be a situation in which a woman should have to defend herself,” said History Department Chair Mr. Matla.
“I teach honors math, and in those classes, I see boys and girls interact,” math teacher Mrs. Simauchi said. “The boys command the girls and it’s really just rude.”
“Y’all’s behavior here just shows how you all feel about this issue, like it means nothing and it’s unimportant,” said history teacher Mr. Curley. “Time to get serious.”
After some back and forth between the boys and girls, Jacob Rosmarin (12th) took a stand and motioned for progress to be made.
“This forum, so far, has been everyone blaming each other. Just stop blaming each other. Let’s try to move towards a solution.”
By: Raquel Zohar (11th Grade)