International Women’s Day: A Purim Story.

Independent. Savvy. Intelligent. Courageous. Brave. Outspoken. Heroic. 

In a time where damning attacks on everything from reproductive rights to basic human rights occur around the globe, it is essential that we continue to instill and promote the traits above in every young girl and woman.

At the same time, it is important to remember that there is no ONE way to be a woman.

Today, of any day, proves that.

Today is International Women’s Day.

Today is also the Jewish holiday of Purim.

* * *

Today, you will find hundreds of other people blogging for International Women’s Day. Today you will find many other people writing about how to involve, educate, and inspire young women around the globe. Many will focus on the present and future as they write about this year’s topic: “Connecting Girls, Inspiring Futures.”

I’m taking my own spin on this topic and looking toward the past to inform the future. Today, while people across the globe celebrate women, Jewish people are celebrating the holiday of Purim. Kids and adults will dress up in costume, eat lots of delicious hamentashen cookies, and rattle their noise-making groggers as they listen to the Megillah – the story of Purim.

Purim is a perfect “fairytale” story in every sense. There is a king and queens, a villain and even a few different heroes. There’s intrigue and deception and finally, at the end, a happily ever victory. I’m not going to get into the nitty gritty details of the story – there are plenty of places online to read the whole Megillah. But what I will go into is the role of women in the story. Because it is during the story of Purim that it is clear – there is no one way to be a woman.

There are those that say the Story of Esther is a feminist tale… That the King’s first wife, Vashti, is indeed a feminist icon, while the King’s second wife, Esther, is a post-feminist icon. Regardless of their icon-status, and the choices they made within the story, both women still held the attributes above: Independent. Savvy. Intelligent. Courageous. Brave. Outspoken. Heroic. 

However, many historians, scholars, and drunken Purim revelers end up pitting Vashti against Esther when recounting the story. Some paint Vashti as vain or *gasp* slutty, while at the same time boosting Esther to savior status. Others build up Vashti as an independent woman who stood up for herself, while decrying Esther as submissive or weak.

The notion of needing to break down one woman to uphold another is nothing new, but that doesn’t make it any less acceptable. In the end, there is no need to pit one woman up against the next. Instead, let us celebrate the fact that in one story there are two strong, autonomous women who made their own choices. And that despite the differences in perceived personalities they both held fast to traits that are still honored, respected and sought after today.

Queen Vashti show dignity and courage when she refused to be summoned to dance naked for an audience by her drunk husband. While Vashti’s “disobedience” was eventually punished, just the mere fact that this ancient story includes a woman saying no and standing up for herself is worth mentioning.

Then we have Queen Esther, promoted as the heroine of the story. Though many question her methods, it can’t be ignored that Esther made the active choice to play the system, and that in and of itself it noteworthy. Whether you agree with it is another story.

So let’s look to the past, to these two Persian women. Let’s remember the traits that earned them a story in the first place, and celebrate them. BOTH of them. Then let us continue to find ways to instill these traits in our daughters and sisters and other young women around the globe. Let’s turn young women around the world into the heroines of their own stories. Whether through education, activism, voting, or financial aid, let us continue to ensure that every young woman across the globe has the opportunity to stand up for themselves and be their own hero.

This video crossed my path recently, and I couldn’t help but share it today… There truly is no one way to be a woman… let’s celebrate them all! Happy International Women’s Day! 

11 thoughts on “International Women’s Day: A Purim Story.

  1. It is true, there no one way to celebrate women, some might be angry and post signs on how much a woman makes, some will complain that there is no day off on our day how we continue to work. I would like to meditate and see the blessing that is today’s women. How is my blessing to have my job.
    I am a stay at home mom, older I mentioned this because I feel that I don’t need to join the race to get ahead and my career started while at the same time having to take care of a home. My heart goes out to the women how cut themselves to give pieces of themselves to be able to satisfy all the requirements of that role. I am an older mama, I stay home and I educate my children, I make home meals, I make crafts with my kids. Today I celebrate that I am able to go to an English Learners Meeting because I am a stay home mom and now I feel I can celebrate that role without shame.
    Happy Mamas, Happy Women day, I will just watch a blue Jay🙂

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  3. I remember learning about Purim for the first time (in college. not too many Jewish people in Northern Minnesota…) and thinking that I it was so awesome that this religion/culture that had a masquerade party with cookies! Seriously? You get to go to a masquerade party *and* eat cookies? What?! What! (Liz Lemon impression…)

  4. I had a Twitter discussion about girls/women using their looks to get what they want – as an assertion of a certain kind of power. This post seemed to speak to the turn our conversation had. It doesn’t always have to be completely horrid.

    This is beautifully written, Avital! Happy Purim!

    • Thanks!

      And yeah…using looks/body to get what you want – it’s a tough space to navigate. You want to teach autonomy and independence (in thought & action) but at the same time, our society is still heavily entrenched in patriarchy, so you have to wonder if people are making authentic choices or ones subtly swayed by the (at times) sexist status quo. But who’s to say what somebody’s motivation is, you know?

  5. I love the point you make about pitting women against each other. I really dislike when that happens. We all have so much to gain when we respect one another for each woman’s unique combination of strengths. We have so much to gain when we support one another rather than competing with one another. I have always loved the story of Esther. In the Christian tradition we don’t hear too much about Vashti. I find that sad. We need strong role models from across the generations.

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