True Bluestocking

By: Masha Shollar  |  October 2, 2016

shollarA few weeks ago, a friend and I decided to check out a bookstore on the Lower East Side called Bluestockings. The store, devoted to feminism and social activism, takes its name from the women’s group called the Blue Stocking Society that was founded in 18th century England by critic Elizabeth Montagu. Bluestocking is now a catch-all term for an educated, intellectual woman.

As an all around fan of literacy, lady power, and social awareness, I was excited, and spent the first few minutes in the store happily browsing, excitedly ogling over Americanah and a choose-your-own-adventure Romeo and Juliet.

Until I wheeled around and was faced with an entire section of the bookstore about State Repression. Among the stacks of books about stamping out racism in America and the battle for reproductive rights was an entire section about Israel and Palestine.

It boasted titles like “On Palestine,” “The Ruin and Resistance of Gaza” and “Before the Next Bomb Drops.” It was at that moment that I realized that we weren’t welcome there. Our support of Israel meant we were disqualified as feminists: we were deemed to be on the side of the oppressors.

I think of Israel often. Because I’m a Jew who condemns terror and hopes for safety. Because I’m a human who worries about the rise of global terrorism and feels sadness and anger when I see that bloodshed is always news, unless the blood being spilled happens to come from Jews in Israel. Because my morals and values preclude murder as a problem solving technique.

None of those things are tied to my ovaries or estrogen levels. We have to banish this emphasis on reductive feminism: it’s a fallacy, and a ridiculously unfair one at that. Feminism has grown and changed over the years. Today, it’s simply impossible to state, with earnestness, that support of specific policy issues is the only thing that can grant one admission to the club. It’s a simplistic narrative that depicts morality as a binary choice: if your social activism is not my social activism, what kind of feminist are you?

This kind of a feminist: the kind who knows that I can embrace empowerment while also proudly supporting the people of Israel. Because I am more than one thing. I am not an either/or. And my feminism and my support of Israel are not contradictions that exist within me: I don’t struggle to reconcile those two parts of myself. The Jew within me needs empowerment just as much as the woman within me does.

There is no one way to be empowered; there is no one way to be a feminist. To the owners of Bluestockings: it should not come as a gasp-worthy shock that the diverse women of the world do not fit into some neat little package, all tied together by our fallopian tubes.  In fact, the sisterhood that you claim to represent contains many of my fellow students at Stern College, an institution fairly jammed with smart, hard-working and empowered women, most of whom are also fervent supporters of Israel. Those two things are not mutually exclusive, nor are they the result of thoughtless apathy. They are considered, ethical choices.

I choose to support Israel and its people, my brothers and sisters. I throw in my lot with the strip of land that is our ancestral home. In the spirit of Elizabeth Montagu’s original Blue Stocking Society, I have educated and informed myself, and I know the facts. Bluestockings tells me to choose between them and the blue and white flag: but to do so would be to deny a part of myself. And as a proud Jewish woman, I refuse to do that.