A Guest Today!
Today’s post is by my daughter, Sophia, a 19 year old Junior at UC Santa Cruz. I’m happy to have this piece as a strong lead towards the more Creative & Social side of this blog!
Sophia is a double major in Modern Literature and Spanish Language Studies, and you can find her writings at Sophia Words. This piece, “Star Trek Barbie”, was first published in the Leviathan Jewish Journal – you can find it on Calameo (page 16).
I wont set this up too much, except to say that it’s two facets of her upbringing, and she reflects well about Then and Now. Sophia did have every Disney Heroine, and it is true that I was pretty reluctant about the whole Barbie Thing. Sophia and I used to watch a lot of SciFi (Star Trek, Star Wars, etc.), and Star Trek Barbie was my way of getting an accomplished / smarty angle in.. a compromise of sorts.
I didn’t let her watch “Barney” either 😉
Star Trek Barbie
As an only child, I didn’t have siblings to play board games or sports with, so I amassed a pretty impressive collection of stuffed animals and dolls. Although I had a variety of baby dolls, my dad refused to buy me Barbies. For my eighth birthday, he finally caved and got me my very own Star Trek Barbie. She was dressed as the Commander of The Voyager, had her own phaser gun, and even came with a subordinately dressed Ken doll.
My dad didn’t like the message that Barbies send to young girls. He considered them to be vain, vacuous, and placing emphasis on beauty and clothes over traits like intellect and determination. Dad didn’t want me to feel pressured or preoccupied by Barbie’s hyper-femininity, and so he kept it out of my toy chest.
I was well aware of why Barbie was withheld from me, but just like sugary cereal or a forbidden TV show, I craved what I couldn’t have, and always sought to play with Barbies when I went over to a friend’s house. I felt guilty for doing this, because I could hear my father’s voice in my head encouraging me to do something more mentally engaging.
With my dad’s influence, I learned how to skateboard, how to play guitar, how to code web pages, and how to think for myself. I wouldn’t trade these skills for the world, but the fact that I didn’t feel as secure in my girlhood as my female peers definitely caused some problems for me during elementary school. Even though he was well-intentioned, my Dad’s emphasis on stereotypically boyish activities like skating, music, and technology over “girly” activities like fashion and boy bands led me to bottle up a lot of internalized misogyny. Whenever I would see a girl with acrylic nails or fixing her makeup in public I would roll my eyes in frustration and reassure myself that “I’m not like other girls! I’m smart and practical and I don’t care about stupid girl stuff!”
Just as I was not encouraged to be excessively feminine from a young age, so too was I not exposed to my Jewish heritage or traditional Jewish activities like my father had participated in during his youth. I was raised by a Jewish father and a Christian mother. My mom has a large, close-knit family and because of this I was raised to celebrate Christmas and Easter with my maternal relatives. My father was raised in a Jewish household, but didn’t have much motivation to expose me to Judaism; I never went to temple, celebrated holidays, attended Hebrew School, or had a Bat Mitzvah. Whenever I asked my dad about taking a more active role in my Jewish education, I was usually told that I could “decide for myself” when I was older.
I lacked an exposure and a comfortability with femininity and Judaism throughout my teenage years. Whenever I met someone whom I perceived to be a more authoritative or confident figure in either arena, I felt slightly uncomfortable because I saw a fulfillment in them that I myself lacked; I felt less knowledgeable and self-assured in areas of femininity and Judaism. This uncomfortability bothered me enough to begin to address these previously overlooked aspects of my identity as I became a young adult. I have embarked on a journey of hashing out my identity on my own terms, as a woman and as a Jew.
In my youth I had convoluted my Dad’s lesson about the dangers of emulating Barbie; I became convinced that femininity and success were mutually exclusive. I had decided that femininity was inferior, so surely it would only hold me back. My mom was a feminist and taught me to believe in equality from a young age, but it wasn’t until I entered college that I realized that feminists don’t have to be anti-feminine. I could be as girly as I want to be and still care about pursuing education, being passionate about women’s rights, and remaining dedicated to my less-feminine hobbies like skateboarding.
Over the course of my college years I have come into my own space within femininity, but I am still struggling with what Judaism means to me. Reconnecting with my Jewishness has come in small, incremental steps. Spending time with Jewish friends and working for the Leviathan has given me a new perspective on a younger, fresher version of Judaism than my grandfather’s traditional faith. During childhood I thought of Judaism as a series of rituals performed in a strange language that I didn’t understand, but after meeting a variety of Jews in college who come from diverse backgrounds, I have come to see that Judaism is not as narrow a label as I once thought. While my Jewish identity is by no means conventional, I am confident that I can still find a place within this diversity.
I have discovered that I really enjoy nail polish and high heels. I feel that the things we enjoy are a foundational part of who we are. Even though my father might have equated girly behaviors with impracticality, for me they have become a source of empowerment because I have reclaimed femininity as an integral part of my feminist philosophy. Just because some people might make this connection between femininity and impracticality doesn’t make femininity a universal waste of time. More generally, the labels that we reclaim for ourselves don’t have to fall under the same connotations given to them by our elders.
A huge part of reclaiming labels has been redefining them for myself, my identity, and my lifestyle. This has helped open a door for me to become my own person. Arianna Huffington, a founder of the Huffington Post, asserted in an article that “too often we outsource the definition of our success to others in ways that are self-destructive…But shouldn’t the major element of success be one’s own satisfaction and fulfillment?…And, even worse, [outside pressure] leads to people making wrong decisions, or, at least decisions that are wrong for them” (1). This rings true for my experiences thus far; I used to gauge my success based on others’ definitions of my identity as a woman and as a Jew. My entire life I have heard other people’s definitions of “woman,” or “Jew,” e.g. girls should be pretty, quiet, pleasant and accommodating, or Jews should be scholars of their faith, knowledgeable about Israeli politics, and vocal about their Jewish lineage and experiences. While hearing these narrow perspectives on identity can be interesting to hear on a sociological level, the choice of what a girl or Jew should be is ultimately up to every individual.
I like to paint my nails. I also like to skateboard. I like to talk with other Jews and learn about Jewish culture. I also like to eat bacon. These complexities to my identity don’t make me a “bad” woman or a “bad” Jew. They are simply a part of what being a Jewish woman means to me. Being successful as a woman or as a Jew means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. We all have different identities, and we negotiate the parameters of these labels in a unique and personal way.
1. Huffington, Arianna. Arianna Huffington: Success, Power, Ulcers, and the Need to Redefine Success. Empower Lounge. Web 17 Nov. 2012.