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Artists, Influencers, and Cyberfrumenists? When Ultra-Orthodoxy Dialogues with Postcolonial Feminism

Sun, December 18, 10:00 to 11:30am, Sheraton Boston Hampton 3rd Floor (AV)

Abstract

In this paper, I examine the use of social media by ultra-Orthodox women as a tool for the development of female empowerment and social change through an online ethnography on Instagram with four influencers and artists. The women I follow engage in writing, music, and film, sharing their productions on their social media platforms to promote them. They label themselves as frum (Torah observant) female artists, acquiring training from professionals in music, film or writing, then teaching within their community and earning an income from their productions. Their thousands of followers readily join their Instagram live stories, Zoom calls, online live shows, and YouTube channels. I argue that frum female artists and influencers use social media as a transformative counterpublic space (Fraser 1990; Warner 2002; Hirschkind 2006; Fader 2020), in which they simultaneously challenge and reinforce religious norms and authority. This concurrent act of reinforcing and challenging norms covers multiple new expressions and understandings of empowerment developed as a response to the feminism that focused solely on the experiences of secular women from the West. This paper offers to reinterpret the various expressions of women empowerment online in dialogue with postcolonial feminism, leading us to question the definition of ultra-Orthodox Judaism as a product of the West. This interpretation suggests strengthening the dialogue between Jewish Studies and Postcolonial Studies through the lenses of women’s studies and to work toward “decolonizing” Orthodoxy from the canon of liberal secularism. This conversation allows for a reimagining of intersectionality and its boundaries of religion, race, and ethnicity, provoking questions about the categories of analysis in social sciences and among the general public.

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