Kate Bornstein highlights this reality with an exercise in “My New Gender Workbook” in which she asks readers to rate a number of identity markers on a scale of -5 to +5 on how deeply each affects their lives. (p. 60) Factors include race, age, sexuality, religion, disability, political ideology, and several others. From this exercise she concludes that not only do these factors contribute to one’s gender identity, but also in essence lead to a multiplicity of unique genders. In other words, my experience as a white, able-bodied, liberally leaning woman is much different from that of a self-identified woman who is black, has a disability, and/or is politically conservative. Because of those different circumstances, we cannot claim to have the same gender.
I think about this exercise in the context of gender analysis of Jewish literature in particular. Circumstances particular to women of Eastern European origins writing in Hebrew and Yiddish led to a much different experience than that of women in Western Europe, Africa, or other region/socioeconomic backgrounds (as well as from each other), which led to a unique identity, which in turn led to a particular sort of literary production. No, women did not carry the oral tradition in Judaism, as did black women in America, because Jewish oral tradition is very intimately tied into the religious patriarchal culture. (p. 12) Similarly, there are a number of reasons which Norich highlights for why Eastern European Jewish women turned to poetry more readily than prose, each of which is inextricably tied into one of the specific aspects of this gender identity.
I had not previously considered viewing Jewish women’s writers through the lens of their own unique gender, but now I can’t take those glasses off. I think this is particularly useful and crucial when reading this literature (and any other literature), because it enables me, as the reader, to be mindful of the complex web of factors that could have contributed to this woman writing this piece in this particular way. This tool enables me to complicate, sharpen, and enrich the picture.