In typing the word Traveler in the title, I was not sure whether to say Tourist instead. Tourist seems to have a passive connotation. I picture an American with a fanny pack and baseball cap sunbathing in Mexico, oblivious or choosing to ignore the widespread poverty surrounding them, but maybe that’s just my own stereotyping. Traveler sounds more exotic, more cultural, more inquisitive. So, if you follow my train of stereotyping thought, it would be the traveler who notices the treatment of women in religious contexts.
My absolute favorite history teacher and former feminist club advisor is currently traveling throughout Southeast Asia and blogging about her experience as an active traveler who is shocked by the oppression of women that goes on right infront of her. She writes,
Often, when I express frustration with the local status of women, people justify it with cultural relativist arguments. But all too often, these are unfounded, obscuring the problem with accusations of insensitivity and ignorance. And all too often they are rooted in skewed, opportunistic, or self-serving interpretations of religious doctrine.
When I was in Israel this summer, I was on a see-saw of thought – I sometimes tipped to the tourist arena and sometimes to the traveler zone. I now realize that I went from tourist to traveler when the treatment of women came into play. I remember being on the outskirts of Meah Sharim, a haredi neighborhood in Jerusalem, and seeing the sign detailed in bold letters what women must be wearing in order to enter the village (everything but their faces must be covered) and not seeing a similar sign for men. I remember sitting claustrophobically at a synagogue in Tsfat watching my guy friends’ heads bob up and down Carlebach style, while the wall of a mechitza gave women the drastically smaller part of the temple. It was when I was able to look at Judaism through a feminist lens that I became a traveler – an active observer of the community I temporarily existed in but was not a part of.
The role of the feminist traveler is an especially difficult one. Patriarchal religious institutions tell us we are not authorized to criticize a culture that is not our own publicly or ethically yet we cannot compromise our own values in light of sexist religious practices we do not identify with. It is my goal to be an active traveler in the future, to seek out sexism, expose it, and let the feminist thought grow.