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Not Like the Other Girls: Orthodox Women at the Intersection of Gender, Religion and Education

Tue, December 19, 3:15 to 4:45pm PST (3:15 to 4:45pm PST), San Francisco Marriott Marquis, Lower B2 (06) Salon 1-2 (AV)


Note: Tanya Zion-Waldoks is a co-author on this paper. She will not be presenting this paper or appearing on this panel.

The division between Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jews provides a valuable case study for examining the impact of ongoing interactions between individuals of differing beliefs, especially relevant today as political, religious, and ideological differences have caused deep and ever-widening divisions within North American society. This study is an examination of the tension between two distinct religious communities in North American society, represented by ultra-Orthodox Bible teachers, whose community adheres to traditional gender roles and limitations on women's participation in religious life, and their students in the non-Orthodox, or pluralistic, Jewish day school milieu, where gender equality and women's religious leadership is the norm (Greenberg, 1981; Zion-Waldoks, 2015). The educational setting forces multi-directional interactions that potentially destabilize teachers' identities, and force them to see themselves and their community through the eyes of their students. While teachers are generally thought of as the ones who influence both students and subject matter (Pajares 1992), this study is unique in that it focuses on the impact on the teacher rather than the impact on the students.
A symbolic boundaries approach was used to explore their lived experiences at the intersection of gender and religion in an educational context, unique in that the classroom setting “forces” ongoing interaction around culturally sensitive subject matter. This theoretical framework allows one to pay attention to the boundaries drawn by research subjects and to note the criteria used in boundary creation, noting who they exclude and stigmatize (Lamont and Small, 2006 ), and how they build community by defining in-groups and out-groups based on shared beliefs and rituals (Olson, 2011).
Findings indicated a difference in how these women identified when in the outside space as opposed to their home spaces. They defend their boundaries in interactions with students, with regard to portrayal of women in the Biblical text as inferior, and contemporary Orthodox religious practices seen as oppressive to women. The expectation of role modeling of religious norms blurred the public and the private identities, and created additional tension and challenges. Boundaries were also set “at home”, as these teachers expressed their otherness vis a vis those within their own communities.