The (Power in) (Fear of) Women’s Voices

By: Molly Meisels  |  October 24, 2019

By Molly Meisels, Editor in Chief

On erev Yom Kippur, October 7th, an article written by a leader of Jewish learning, published in the YU Commentator, suggested that the YU Observer is illegitimate. The article, “Why YU Needs a Rosh Yeshiva” was written in response to the Observer-published article, “On Halakha and LGBT” by Professor Aaron Koller. 

The author of the response piece chose a route of slander, instead of respect, in responding to Professor Koller’s opinions on the humanizing of LGBTQ+ Jews and the Observer’s decision to publish the piece. We were most taken aback by the article’s delegitimization of our publication. The article expresses perplexity over the Observer’s position on campus, since the author was told that “the Observer… [is] not really a fully sanctioned YU newspaper.” By choosing to include this seemingly minor viewpoint in his article, the author insinuates that the Observer had no right to publish Professor Koller’s “heresy,” since we have no right to exist to begin with. This was done without recognizing that the Observer and Commentator are both equally independent and equally representative of the YU student body. His comment makes it seem like the Observer is not a true student newspaper — that we are a group of silly girls attempting to make our voices heard at YU. He is publishing his piece in the Commentator — which he sees as the real student paper of YU. The Commentator even had to include an editor’s note atop the piece, clarifying the Observer’s standing as an “independent student newspaper of Yeshiva University.” The only difference between the two papers are our names and our histories.

The Observer has, since its inception, been considered the inferior younger sister of the Commentator. Since we are traditionally female-led, as we represent Stern College specifically and Yeshiva University generally, while the Commentator represents Yeshiva College specifically and Yeshiva University generally, sexism at YU has deemed the Observer less-than because of our female-oriented roots. 

In the past, Commentator editors have “hypothetically” asked the Observer to close up shop and consolidate with the Commentator, to become one student paper, erasing our 62-year history and the power of the female voice at YU. Last year, Commentator staff writers and even YU staff, mocked the Observer to me openly, questioning our existence as a newspaper and constantly comparing us to what they considered to be the superior paper — the Commentator

This year, the Observer has been lucky to have a courteous and friendly relationship with the Commentator. The Commentator’s current editorial board views the Observer editorial board as equals, and it shows. However, the strains of sexism which emerge at YU through the comparison between the two papers is beyond Commentator control. The YU student body, administration, and general Modern Orthodox community view the Commentator as the student newspaper of Yeshiva University. The Observer? We exist in their minds, but merely as blips, even though the work we put in, and put out, matches that of our Commentator counterparts. 

The inequality that is placed on our paper has spoken volumes, specifically in the reactions our articles receive from students and the administration. This year, the Observer has attempted to speak truth to power — to wrestle on behalf of student groups silenced on campus. This has involved questioning the administration and the way the university is run. 

The Commentator has been doing so for years. This year, the Editor in Chief of the Commentator published an editorial titled, “On the Absence of Leadership at YU.”  The Observer’s first editorial of the 2019-2020 academic year was titled, “Bigotry is Heresy: The Observer’s Religious Mission to Eliminate Intolerance” and our second, “Yeshiva vs. University: YU’s Institutional Identity Crisis”. These articles (in both the Commentator and Observer) offer significant criticism towards YU, but with a purpose — to make YU a home for all its students and for us student journalists to transform the issues which plague YU into a list of goals for YU to take on. 

While the Commentator’s editorials and other critical articles upset the university and some students, the paper is still taken seriously and the Commentator is not demeaned for its controversial messaging, but rather praised by some for standing up in the name of journalism. But when the Observer — YU’s women — begin publishing controversy, heads turn. For instance, this year, the Commentator received an interview with President Berman and the Observer did not, without an explanation. We have been told that our pieces have been too harsh on the administration, even though our male counterparts do the same. But when we do it, it’s different — it’s subversive, because instead of men speaking the truth, it’s women. 

The problem does not only lie within the administration. Students, too, act as if the Commentator is superior to the Observer. Students choose to publish their pieces in the Commentator over the Observer for no other reason than “the Commentator has more reach” and “it’s more legitimate.” When the Observer publishes an opinion article with which they disagree, students will not come to us to publish response pieces, but instead turn to the Commentator. They have become the default, even for YU’s women. Instead of using the Observer as their publisher of choice, students and student groups turn to the Commentator. We, the women of YU’s student journalism, are cast aside. It is no wonder that the author of “Why YU Needs a Rosh Yeshiva” does not view us as he does the Commentator. Why should he, when our own administration and student body cannot do the same? Students and administrators need to ask themselves — are the Observer and the Commentator unequal, or is the institutional sexism present at YU emerging through the newspaper hierarchy? 

The Observer publishes dozens of pieces a month with articles reaching tens of thousands of readers. Our team of strong women and men strive to represent the YU student body through allowing students to amplify their voices. Our articles showcase diversity in religious practice, sexuality, gender identity, and political affiliation. We have proven ourselves as equals to Wilf’s student journalists. We have recognized our ability. Now it’s your turn. 


Photo: 1958 – First Stern College for Women graduating class and first year of the YU Observer