How we speak tends to dictate both how we identify and where we come from. Especially in Jewish feminist jargon, where we seek to redefine in a female lexicon what has already been defined in a male lexicon, language takes on deep implicit meaning. Ri J. Turner from The Lilith Blog has a post on what it means when language gets confusing and how to embrace that confusion. Turner writes,
…classifying people based on their language usage can oversimplify things. Some people share the same vocabulary but use it in different ways — and some people have entirely different vocabularies but the same — or at least compatible — values. (To continue the Reconstructionist analogy, different Reconstructionists can have different theologies, and one Reconstructionist may find that her theology has a lot in common with the theology of a particular Orthodox Jew that she meets.) Once the initial “Oh, you are? I am too!” passes, we may learn many things about each other that surprise us or contradict our assumptions. I’ve learned the hard way to be flexible about language — just because someone uses language in a different way than I do doesn’t mean that “they’ve gone over to the side of evil.” It might mean that they aren’t aware of something, and would be happy to be informed. It might also mean that I’m not aware of something, and if I ask them to clarify, I’ll learn something new. Or, it might just mean that there are different ways to say the same thing, each of which is grounded in a particular set of experiences. (Or that multiple things are all true, even if they seem to contradict at first glance!)
What I’ve noticed is that I’ve been able to develop my political self-awareness and integrity by paying attention to those moments in which language becomes messy. After all, I can’t stop feeling certain things just because I believe that I “shouldn’t” — I learn a lot more when, rather than denying or ignoring my experience, I observe and explore it. If I ask questions about why I might feel that way, I sometimes learn something new. For example, I’m all for gender egalitarianism in Judaism, and I dislike the gender binary (so much so that I prefer gender-neutral pronouns), and yet I sometimes enjoy being in a synagogue with a women’s section! What’s going on here?
Turner goes where I am sometimes afraid to go: the mess. It is necessary to embrace the mess of language because identities are a mess of seeming contradictions. It is only when we can embrace these contradictions that we can see what it means to be a Jewish feminist and how the language we use in various settings reflects how we interact with the oppression of the world.