International Women’s Day, Purim, and Feminist Parenting

Today is International Women’s Day. It also happens to be Purim, the Jewish holiday celebrating (as always) a story of someone trying to kill the Jewish people and the Jews somehow surviving against all odds. I used to teach Sunday School at my synagogue, so I got used to summarizing our holidays so the kids would stay awake. And by “teach Sunday School,” I mean I hung out with a bunch of boys and girls who would rather have slept in than analyze Torah stories through a feminist lens… “Now kids, how do you think Rebecca felt when she had to leave her whole family and way of life behind to go marry Isaac?” Stuff like that.

This colliding of holidays is particularly special for me because it reminded me of some of my earliest feminist memories. I guess it’s no surprise that a lot of my feminism developed through, and in response to, organized religion. The first thing you need to know to understand how this works is that my mom is a HUGE feminist. Like, whatever the most kind of feminist there is… she’s that. It’s wonderful. The second thing you need to know is that on Purim, you wear costumes to celebrate.

The way I remember and probably taught the story of Purim (NOT the official story) is that it takes place in a Persian city called Shushan. The king has a wife named Vashti and he tells (not asks) her to come perform for his dude friends and she’s like “no thanks”. So, like any self-respecting king, he banishes his disrespecting, non-subservient, no-good wife. Then he realizes he’s down a wife and needs a new one, so he holds a contest. Shockingly, it’s a beauty contest (insert shock here). Meanwhile, Mordecai is a smart Jewish guy in the city (who refuses to bow down to stuff that isn’t the one and only deity he prays to, including the king’s wicked advisor) and works at the palace as a scribe. He overhears a couple of soldiers plotting to kill the king. His warning saves the king’s life. In order to thank him, the king makes his evil advisor (Haman) parade Mordecai around the city like royalty, which doesn’t help matters. Haman plots to hang all the Jews. Mordecai convinces his niece, Esther, to enter the wife contest so she can try and save the Jews. Not a super feminist plan as far as plans go, but she’s down. So, shockingly, she wins and the king totally falls for her. There’s a big rule that prohibits people from approaching the king uninvited. She risks her life (remember Vashti?) to go to him uninvited to reveal that she’s Jewish and ask that she and her people not be killed. He’s horrified and wants to know who’s big idea that was. Haman is outed, hanged from his own gallows, and the day is saved.

Action-packed story, right? Still awake?

So all the other little girls used to dress up as Esther, of course. She’s the heroine and the only lady, except Vashti who everyone (except my mom) either forgets about or vilifies. My mom’s a major Vashti fan.  So you can guess who I used to dress up as.  It was my little brother who would go as Esther. He’s cool like that. We had to explain these choices to a lot of people, but that’s just something feminists get used to doing. I want to give a big kudos to my Ma for always ensuring my Judaism was filled with feminism and making today the unexpectedly easiest combination of holidays ever. Happy International Women’s Day!

3 Comments on “International Women’s Day, Purim, and Feminist Parenting”

  • Caity

    Wicked!! The innovative ways that we can find to navigate the world around us in order to insert feminism where it’s needed is fantastic. Kudos to your mom!

  • Hilla

    Purim used to be my favorite holiday. I would have butterflies in my stomach weeks before. It took me years to finally have the courage to wear my desired costume – cowgirl – not a common vision in the streets of Jerusalem.
    Two more points about the Megilla – the king wanted Vashti to perform Nude to his friends – and she, as a great anti porn activist – refused. Also, Mordechai and the rest, kind of pimped Ester to save themselves…
    This Jewish holiday (Like the rest of them) is basically a celebration of Jewish survival against all the odds. A much needed mythology for the oppressed Jews in the Diaspora for hundreds of years. This is not the case now…

  • Thanks Caity!

    And thank you so much, Hilla, for your comment and your memories! I love the idea of Vashti as an anti-porn activist.

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