How to Suppress Yiddish Women’s Writing

Faith Jones


Edi­tor’s Note: Click here for Sonia Gol­lance’s com­pan­ion arti­cle, a case study draw­ing upon Faith Jones’s analy­sis of the strate­gies used to sup­press Yid­dish women’s writ­ing (based on Joan­na Russ’s 1983 essay) to under­stand the ways that Yid­dish writer and actress Tea Arciszewska’s male con­tem­po­raries all too often belit­tled and dis­missed her contributions.

"​​[To maintain patriarchy] in a nominally egalitarian society the ideal situation (socially speaking) is one in which the members of the “wrong” groups have the freedom to engage in literature (or equally significant activities) and yet do not do so, thus proving that they can’t."

Joanna Russ, How to Suppress Women’s Writing

In 1983 Joanna Russ published a witty, furious, floppy, anecdotal, and strangely affecting book-length essay called How to Suppress Women’s Writing, which takes as its central premise that patriarchy sets out to deny women’s creativity: if we look closely, Russ argues, there is a method to the seemingly random occurrences that together work against women. 1 1 Russ refers to “women” as an unproblematized category; I will retain this categorization when looking at historical figures who were seen and treated as women, in the absence of evidence of a different gender identity. When looking at the present and future (or the past together with the present and future), I will use terms such as “non-men.” I am indebted to participants at my workshop at Yiddish New York in December 2021 who suggested this terminology and added many insights and ideas to this work. Russ catalogs eleven strategies and dynamics that create an almost unbearable weight on non-men when they venture outside their socially-sanctioned realm — particularly if they claim for themselves the right to a satisfying artistic practice. 2 2 Russ’ framework precedes the articulation of “intersectionality” by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989. While she mentions race and class as a part of social hierarchy, neither is well-integrated into her analysis. Other systemic oppression isn’t mentioned at all, and in earlier writings Russ displays transphobia (which she later recanted). The foreword to the 2018 35th anniversary re-issue analyzes this weakness and assisted me in using the framework while maintaining an intersectional lens.

Russ looks almost entirely at the English-language literary tradition, but includes examples from the visual arts, non-English writing, and, in one memorable anecdote (for In geveb readers at least), the Yiddish theatre. In the summer of 2021 I was reminded of Russ’ book, which I had read as a Women’s Studies undergraduate some time around 1990. The occasion for this reminder was a pair of lectures by Avrom Novershtern about women writers, hosted online by YIVO for the benefit of their summer intensive students. Only a few minutes into the first one I started to feel queasy as his argument emerged:

  • Women did not write
  • They wrote so badly
  • Thank goodness men inspired them to write

It’s like the old joke: “First of all, I never borrowed your pot. Second, the pot isn’t broken. And third, it was broken when I borrowed it.”

This incident sent me back to Russ to look at her eleven categories and see how they might relate to Yiddish literature. I saw that they did explain a good deal, but needed some augmentation, both because of the passage of time and because of the specific dynamics of modern Yiddish culture. Here, then, is a brief overview of Russ’ schematic, with examples from Yiddish literature, followed by my additions.​​

    1. Prohibitions

    These consist of overt prohibitions against writing; social systems that serve as prohibitions; and the overall situation of non-men that can make writing impossible, such as lack of time to write or lack of money to afford supplies.

    2. Bad Faith

    The creation of social systems that exclude women (whether intentional or through ignorance) combined with a denial that the system exists or, if it exists, that it excludes women.

    • Women’s limited roles on Yiddish newspapers: answering reader queries, writing “women’s pages.” Men were able to write for publication more frequently, honing their skills, and covered a wide variety of topics, building their readership and making a name for themselves.

    • In 1937 Leo Rosten said of the Café Royal, a central gathering place for the Yiddish literati: “East Side matinee idols in the rich flush of public favor must be seen at the Royal to seal their popularity; it is the show window where they strut their fame, their wives, their amours, and their profiles.” 4 4 Leonard Q. Ross (Leo Rosten), “A Reporter at Large: Café Royal.” The New Yorker 10 April 1937. So we know women’s place in that context. Women going to the Café Royal as writers, rather than as arm candy for writers, was exceedingly rare. Set up a location that is central to Yiddish literary culture, then limit how women can access it.

    3. Denial of Agency

    Denying the author exists; denying the author is a woman; insisting that a man associated with the author is the true author; insisting that a male spirit within the author is the part that wrote it; acting as if the work wrote itself.

    • When you review women make sure you say they wrote “instinctively” or in an untutored way. Perhaps they are “uninhibited diary jottings”? 5 5 Yankev Glatshteyn, “Tsilye Dropkin.“ Yidisher kemfer 14 December 1956. Translation Samuel Solomon.

    • This new author “Anna Margolin” is surely a man—the work is just too good to be a woman’s. 6 6 See Ruvn Ayzland’s letters of January 8 and January 11, 1921, in “Ana Margolin–Materyaln tsu ir poetisher geshtalt,” introduced and edited by Avrom Novershtern, YIVO Bleter naye serye, band 1, 1991.

    4. Pollution of Agency

    She wrote it, but she shouldn’t have (too sexy, too personal, too shameful). She looked or behaved lasciviously. She looked frumpy; she was a prude.

    • Sh. Charney: “It irks me…that Celia Dropkin was oppressively personal…. It irks me that she let into her book things which are important only to her, and not to us, readers.” 7 7 (Sh. Charney). “Di royte blum: In heysn vint fun Tsilye Dropkin.” Der tog 1 March 1936. Translation Samuel Solomon.

    • Ravitch: “I don’t find morality lacking in the Yiddish poetesses. Indeed, quite the opposite. I find them too moralistic, too petit bourgeois, and yet not ethical enough. They are moralistic even when they are singing songs to men, even to men who might not be their own husbands.” 8 8 Melekh Ravitch. “Meydlekh, froyen, vayber—Yidishe dikhterins.” Literarishe bleter 27 May 1927. Translation mine. That’s right: women are both overly prim and proper and are shamelessly carrying on affairs, at the very same time.

    • Here’s some homophobia directed at women writers generally, disguised as a compliment for a specific writer. Bashevis reviewing Shumiatcher: “It’s good to know that someone among the Yiddish women writers can still be entranced by a male, and feel his kiss to be ‘the eternal essence.’” 9 9 Varshavsky, Yitskhak (I.B. Singer). “Tsvey naye Idishe bikher.” Forverts, April 28, 1957. Translation mine. This was literally the only positive thing he had to say about her.

    5. The Double Standard of Content

    Men’s experiences are normative and universal. Women’s experiences are deviant or particular. What women know is worth less than what men know. Women’s writing is stamped with femininity: you can always tell that a woman wrote it.

    • As a student of Yiddish literature, I was told that women’s memoirs are domestic; men’s are chronicles of their generation. You can only believe this one if you think Malka Lee’s memoir, where she describes her life as a pre-teen during World War I — during which time she had to earn money to bribe her father’s way out of jail, figure out strategies for not getting raped, and smuggle various goods back and forth to family members —is somehow about good housekeeping. Also: domesticity is an essential part of history! Anybody who would rather live in a rabbit warren can go ahead and insist otherwise.

    • Shumiatcher’s poetry is sweet and vague (Charney called her poems “gentle and bloodless”). 10 10 Sh. Charney, “Naye lider” [in column “Fun der bikher-velt”]. Di tsukunft Sept. 1932. Translation mine. You can squint and see this if you leave aside her poems about pogroms, her play about orphans in the war zones of Eastern Europe, and her almost violent birth and death poem cycles.

    • All genres belong to men; only some genres are appropriate for women. If women wrote in a non-approved genre, reframe it as an acceptable genre.

    • Instructor: Women didn’t write fiction.

      Me (at the time a newish Yiddish student, but I’d heard of one Yiddish woman writer): What about Kreitman?

      Instructor: Well, that was mostly autobiographical.

    6. False Categorizing

    Seeing women as adjuncts to men or a particular man; seeing women as a group even when they share few attributes.

    • Group reviews of unrelated women’s books (see the Bashevis review of Shumiatcher’s poetry, mentioned above, which also reviews a children’s book by Molodowsky).

    • Leftwich anthology The Golden Peacock, in which every section is categorized by era and location except for the section “Women Poets,” safely containing them in a chapter you can easily skip if you’d rather not waste your time on these unmoored lady-people who belong to no specific tradition.

    • Shumiatcher was influenced by Peretz Hirschbein (but he was not influenced by her); Veprinski was influenced by Mani Leib (but he was not influenced by her); Dropkin was influenced by Uri Gnessin but he…

    …was apparently not influenced by her. He literally stole one of her poems (see Dan Miron’s problematic but informative chapter in this book), so clearly there was no influence there.

    7. Isolation

    Limiting the importance of a woman by finding only one of her works good enough.

    You can probably recite these along with me:

    • Dropkin, “Circus Lady”

    • Molodowsky, “God of Mercy”

    • Margolin, “I Once Was a Boy”

    8. Anomalousness

    An insistence that there is only one, or a very small number, of women good enough to include; an insistence that there were no real connections between women writers.

    • The varying, but always few, women in anthologies. 11 11 Table of anthology contents by gender from Hinde Ena Burstin, “Embracing Difference: Challenges and Strategies in Translating Two 1920s Yiddish Poems by Women,” The AALITRA Review no. 11 2016,

    The fact that the particular women who are included change from anthology to anthology proves that there are more than enough to have proportional representation, but somehow, when a woman gets added, another one gets dropped.

    • “The first/only erotic poet” (Dropkin). Guess what? She was neither the first nor the only.

    • “The first/only novelist” (Kreitman). Neither was she.

    • Biographical dictionaries that omit women (sometimes criteria-related; see #5, The Double Standard of Content. The Forverts published its own biographical dictionary of its writers in 1987 and left out the women it had graciously allowed to write the “women’s pages.”) 12 12 Eliyahu Shulman, Leksikon fun Forverts-shrayber: zint 1897. New York, 1987. My thanks to Eve Jochnowitz for pointing out who was missing.

    9. Lack of Models

    Erasure of the lineage of women writers, which diminishes the legitimacy of current writers and creates a need for them to defend their presence in literary culture.

    • Have a look at any of the standard histories of Yiddish literature and you will find precious little about women. In Roback’s The Story of Yiddish Literature (1940), women’s names are dropped here and there, but analysis is reserved for Men. Except in this one sentence about memoirs:

    10. Responses

    Not a strategy, but a dynamic created by the strategies mentioned: women respond to their own suppression by stopping writing, by asserting themselves not to be women (or not like other women), and by moving into genres deemed acceptable for women.

    • Serdatsky stopped writing

    • Shtok stopped writing

    • Margolin stopped writing

    • A lot of women had small outputs in general 13 13 The classic in understanding this dynamic is still Tillie Olsen’s Silences.

    • Karpilove wrote popular genres

    • Smith wrote popular genres

    You cannot be accused of stepping out of your lane if you stay in your lane.

    I haven’t found Yiddish women asserting they were not women, except in poetic works that complexly look at gender. And declaring yourself a man might not always be a response to suppression. It’s not clear to me what Russ knew or understood about transgender identities in 1984. So… that one’s a draw, for now.

    11. Aesthetics

    Certain genres, techniques, topics, and emphases merit aesthetic approval. Works that demean women may be aesthetically good. Do not allow works that adhere to different aesthetic principles to be considered good.

    • Allusions to Hebrew texts were very much admired during the blossoming of Yiddish literature. Even once women were allowed to read and write Yiddish, very few were allowed to learn Hebrew. It feels too neat and tidy to say men specifically chose a formula that put women at a disadvantage, but it is impossible to deny that their aesthetic values had that effect.

    • The contemporary fascination with Bashevis is sometimes framed as entirely aesthetic. Yes, okay, he’s terrible about women, we say to each other, but how can we ignore his brilliance? I get it — none of us in Yiddish can truly ignore Bashevis (I haven’t myself). I’d just like us to bring the same level of critical analysis to his gender weirdness that we do to other aspects of his work.

    Addenda to Russ’ Schematic

    Jones 1: Mention Their Bodies

    Do not let anyone forget for a single moment that you are talking about a writer who is not a man. You don’t even have to be insulting about their bodies—just be sure their (female, non-writerly) bodies are kept front of mind.

    • Esther Shumiatcher was petite and wore dramatic scarves. 14 14 See, for example, Melech Ravitch, “Ester Shumyatsher-Hirshbayn.” Keneder odler 19 Dec. 1958

    • Actual words spoken in a Yiddish class by a knowledgeable instructor, circa 2000: “Anna Margolin got fat and was too embarrassed to be seen in public. That’s why she stopped writing poetry.”

    • Rivkin on Dropkin: “She has talent but … even her illusions can’t get away from her body—her body won’t let up.” 15 15 B. Rivkin. “In Heysn Vint: Lider fun Tsilye Drapkin.” Tsukunft September 1936. Translation Samuel Solomon. You can find something similar in almost every review of Dropkin.

    Jones 2: The Inclusion/Exclusion Whiplash

    This one is so Yiddish. You desperately want to be seen as modern, and having women in your literary movement proves how incredibly modern you are, but you don’t actually want women. 16 16 See Irena Klepfisz’s absolutely crucial essay, “Queens of Contradiction: A Feminist Introduction to Yiddish Women Writers” in Found Treasures: Stories by Yiddish Women Writers, edited by Frieda Forman, Ethel Raicus, Sarah Silberstein Swarz, and Margie Wolfe. Toronto, 1994. Also see Allison Schachter, Jewish Women Writing Modernity: 1919-1939, Evanston, IL, 2022, which also theorizes how and why women prose writers posed a particular challenge to masculinist desires and structures in Modernist movements. So publish their works, but review them very little, or cruelly, or damn with faint praise; question their motives (fame?); describe them in stereotypically feminine terms; present yourself as “brave” for questioning their talents.

    • Don’t bother to get your sister’s book reviewed in the newspaper for which you write. Looking at you, Bashevis and I.J. Maybe if you ignore it long enough it will disappear.

    • When your sister writes a second book, don’t get that one reviewed either.

    • Ditto her third book.

    • Ravitch speaking, presumably, of Shtok, who was subjected to a broad cross-section of Russ’ strategies in the Yiddish press: “We had a poetess from Galicia. A woman with fantastic talent. She took herself off to America and wrote to rapturous applause. Then suddenly, due to some minor incident, she fell completely silent. Hysteria overcame her; she was probably more woman than writer. I will never forgive her for her silence—although I know that the blame lies not with her, but with our unfortunate lack of a true poetess.” 17 17 Melekh Ravitch. “Meydlekh, froyen, vayber—Yidishe dikhterins.” Literarishe bleter 27 May 1927. Translation mine.

    Jones 3: “Er”klerung 18 18 Sasha Berenstein, musician and prolific contributor of new, gender-inclusive Yiddish vocabulary, may have coined this term. Nobody is entirely sure, but it seems to have occurred in Karolina Szymaniak’s class on Galician women’s autobiographies at Yiddish in Paris. (Mansplaining)

    Russ actually gives many examples of mansplaining, but doesn’t have the terminology for it or a unified theory of how it occurs and what function it serves.

    • Malka Lee goes to the Writer’s Ball, 1920. She’s 16, already writing poetry. Three poetry dudes invite her to recite a poem for them. They exclaim over it. They decide to publish it in their journal. One of them then explains how poetry works (he’s big on the unity of form and content). Reader, she married him. But she still made fun of him in her memoir.

    • Moving to the current day, we find “er”klerungen on Yiddish Facebook, Twitter, TikTok. This happens to me constantly; look for it and you’ll see it everywhere. I particularly enjoyed Yiddish TikTok star Cameron Bernstein’s sassy retort to being called out for not including Hasidim as Yiddish speakers, when months earlier she had made a TikTok about the very issue of Hasidim being ignored as Yiddish speakers.

    YIVO, Novershtern, and Me

    “[I]f the theory of conscious conspiracy won’t do […] while the theory of total ignorance won’t do either, what’s going on? (There is a third theory, in which each supposed case of sexism, racism, or class disadvantage becomes a matter of personal enmity here or chance there or some other motive somewhere else. Such a theory is part of the problem, not its explanation. It amounts simply to the denial that there is a problem.)”

    Joanna Russ, How to Suppress Women’s Writing

    Twenty years ago, I studied with Avrom Novershtern in a six-week summer program at the Jewish Theological Seminary. It was exceptional. He spoke beautiful Yiddish, had encyclopedic knowledge of the works under discussion, kindly and carefully corrected us, and was funny and engaging. I do remember him saying at the time that women writers were allowed to publish in journals even when their poetry wasn’t good because male editors wanted women’s participation. I remember my internal eyeroll (which may have manifested externally) and I also remember deciding to let it drop. It’s hard not to notice that this formulation leaves men as the unquestioned arbiters of what’s good, but the course was in general so great that I didn’t want to start a war over it. I just put it down to old guard/male privilege/unexamined assumptions. I didn’t take it very seriously.

    To be honest, at that point I had no real idea how the Yiddish literary world worked or what power was held by whom. I had read A Marriage Made in Heaven: The Sexual Politics of Hebrew and Yiddish and Gender and Text in Modern Hebrew and Yiddish Literature, the proceedings of the Women and Yiddish conference of 1997, and articles and essays by some of the same authors wherever I could find them, but in reality there were very few scholars who centered gender analysis in their discussion of Yiddish. Were there five? There certainly weren’t ten.

    In 2021, things felt so different to me. I could attend feminist Yiddish AJS panels and read dozens of translations of women — even prose, which apparently did exist after all. New books were appearing all the time about women and gender, about specific women, and about their place in the Yiddish literary landscape. Can it really be a coincidence that this was the moment — just as critical mass was building towards full inclusion of women in Yiddish literary history — that Novershtern felt it necessary to give two full lectures that deny women’s accomplishments?

    The venue is also relevant here. Speaking to the zumer program — YIVO’s summer intensive that I attended, and adored, three times — Novershtern seems to have specifically been trying to forestall student adoption of the new normal, the feminist-inflected Yiddish Studies that is exemplified by In geveb, for example. Nothing in the event moderation indicated that YIVO’s leadership saw much wrong with Novershtern’s lecture. Some individual lecturers in the zumer program thankfully chose to give their students a different viewpoint in their classrooms later on, and after some rapid-fire feminist organizing (okay, by me among others), YIVO added a lecture by feminist critics Anita Norich and Karolina Szymaniak to debunk the worst of Novershtern’s claims. In an email to me, they sent a list of all the women who had spoken at YIVO in recent years. This is a very common institutional strategy for deflecting criticism, but I am not sure how it helps us grapple with the wrongness of Novershtern.

    You may think I’m being too hard on Novershtern, or over-reacting to what he said, or to YIVO’s sluggish and unenthusiastic response to our criticisms. You may think Novershtern is too out-of-date to be taken seriously, or is trolling us, enjoying being “controversial” (his word) and the resulting brouhaha. I disagree. Let’s look at some of his specific claims and see how they work vis-à-vis Russ. 19 19 Most of Novershtern’s problematic statements were in the first of the two lectures, found here: . Time stamps of the quotes and paraphrases are as follows: “controversial,” 02:28 and 06:01; women writers not overlooked, 26:25; Gnessin’s theft of Dropkin’s poem, 42:55; Sarah Bas Toyvim, 12:28-13:50; men ensuring women wrote in Yiddish, 41:00; Dropkin’s husband, 48:07; Rokhl Korn, 36:55; Leyeles and Lee, 38:15; tradition problematic, 22:15; Yidishe dikhterins, 22:30; post-war writers, 23:30. All translations are mine.

    Novershtern claims women writers were not overlooked or discriminated against at all by editors who were men. In fact, he says, male editors were entirely happy to publish women writers as long as they wrote in the style and on the themes they approved of. This combines Russ’ #2, Bad Faith (denying that systems exclude women) with a startling frankness that the editors employed #11, Aesthetics, in which men declare certain types of writing superior. Later on, Novershtern repeats this combination in his discussion of Gnessin’s theft of Dropkin’s poem, which she had sent to Gnessin in Russian. He says it was “perhaps not ethical” for Gnessin to use Dropkin’s work without permission, but quickly moves on to praising Gnessin’s version as far superior to Dropkin’s. I have only read the Russian and Hebrew versions in English, but based on those I entirely disagree: Gnessin’s poem takes many more words to say something much more hackneyed. This is Novershtern claiming for himself the right to determine the aesthetic values by which we should judge Dropkin, while minimizing the harm Gnessin did to her by stealing her creative work.

    Novershtern seems particularly fond of weaponizing #3, Denial of Agency. He casts doubt on the existence of Sarah Bas Toyvim, one of the earliest known women poets in Yiddish. This one is a cute trick. It’s true we have no documentary evidence of her. This is the case with many eighteenth century women, but for argument’s sake, let’s give them this one and assume a person named Sarah Bas Toyvim did not exist. Novershtern asserts that therefore the tkhines ascribed to her were written by a man. But why is this the obvious conclusion? There were other attested women writers of tkhines at the time, so it could just as easily have been a woman using Sarah Bas Toyvim as a pseudonym.

    This Denial of Agency is not limited to Old Yiddish literature either. He speaks at some length about the importance of men in ensuring that twentieth century women wrote in Yiddish. Among them, he quotes Dropkin’s memoir: “if my husband had been comfortable with the culture of our surroundings, I would probably have assimilated.” 20 20 This memoir was partially published in Hebrew translation in Uri Nisan Genesin: mehkarim u-teʻudot, edited by Dan Miron and Dan Laor. Jerusalem, 1986. The Yiddish manuscript is in the Gnazim Archive in Beit Ariela, Israel. Rokhl Korn’s husband liked Yiddish books. Glantz-Leyeles was apparently quite nice to Malka Lee! The problem with Yiddish studies is apparently that we have not given enough attention to the very nice men who brought women back to Yiddish culture.

    Novershtern is at pains to explain that there is no woman’s tradition in Yiddish poetry (#9, Lack of Models). He says so explicitly with a one-sentence dismissal of Kathryn Hellerstein’s magisterial book, A Question of Tradition. 21 21 For scholars who have entered Yiddish since Hellerstein’s book was published in 2014, it may not be clear how important it is. Hellerstein worked tirelessly for thirty years to bring the work of women writers to light, translating and teaching, publishing scholarly articles, and convincing publishers that there was a market for this material. Novershtern may be applying the same strategies to dismiss the work of feminist scholars that he uses to dismiss the work of Yiddish women writers. In this case, he denies Hellerstein her place in the lineage of scholars (#9, Lack of Models) and does so while making such a minimal effort to engage with her ideas that it also seems like #2, Bad Faith and, you know, “er”klerung.
    “This matter of tradition in Yiddish women’s poetry is very, very problematic,” he says. His evidence is that after the publication of Yidishe dikhterins in 1928 and a flurry of reviews in the press, the matter of women’s poetry was very little mentioned in Yiddish criticism. This is a classic confusion of cause and effect. The reason people stopped mentioning women’s poetic traditions is because those reviews of Yidishe dikhterins were brutal. If I didn’t want to start a war over gender in 2002, kame vekame in 1928 fans of women’s writing were not interested in getting on the bad side of the influential critics of the day.

    These examples suffice to demonstrate that Novershtern’s arguments readily fall into Russ’ framework. But he also employs a classic Yiddish twist. At one point, he mentions that we should really be reading postwar women writers instead and lists some names. But he does not discuss them. Instead, he immediately returns to his discussion of all the women whose work is weak and unworthy of notice, or not written by women, and only happened at all due to the elevating influence of men. Yes, my friends. It is the Inclusion/Exclusion Whiplash, in which a brief acknowledgment seems like it might lead to appreciating women writers, but is quickly overwhelmed by a return to the main argument about the weakness of women’s writing in spite of the kind and caring help of men. It is also a classic deflection technique, a whataboutism of the academy, if you will. If Novershtern honestly thought those writers were so worthy of critical attention, he would be talking about them, instead of taking pot-shots at scholars who have spent decades uncovering a different group of women writers.

    Refusing to Be Polite

    “All of us must perforce accept large chunks of our culture readymade; there is not enough energy and time to do otherwise. Even so, the results of such nonthought can be appalling. At the level of high culture with which this book is concerned, active bigotry is probably fairly rare. It is also hardly ever necessary, since the social context is so far from neutral. To act in a way that is both sexist and racist, to maintain one’s class privilege, it is only necessary to act in the customary, ordinary, usual, even polite manner.”

    Joanna Russ, How to Suppress Women’s Writing

    Women writing during the Yiddish modernist heyday had to make choices about how they would manage men’s dismissal, including the psychic and emotional toll it took, as well as the practical difficulties of writing and getting published. They refused to sanction men’s standards: they ignored Hebrew texts and used Christian and Pagan imagery. They wrote their own diatribes (Molodowsky famously, but Serdatsky too endlessly fought with newspaper editors). They published and reviewed each other in the few instances when they were in editorial positions themselves. Their letters in YIVO’s online collection show the many ways they supported each other.

    Russ has received criticism for offering no escape from the crushing weight of patriarchal judgment. But there are many things we can do. In my workshop at Yiddish New York last year, we worked together on a whiteboard to come up with strategies we can use, wherever we happen to be, to give women’s writing the place it deserves in our classrooms, our scholarship, on social media, and in our own intellectual lives. Here are some ideas.

    If you are a student:

    • Ask your instructor to include women on the syllabus—both literary and critical sources. If they are teaching a class, they should be able to provide meaningful gender inclusion.

    • Notice assumptions your instructor makes. Ask them how they know. Ask them what evidence to the contrary would look like. Ask them if they have looked for that evidence.

    If you are a teacher or scholar:

    • Make a syllabus completely of non-men for a general course on Yiddish literature/culture

    • Include gender analysis in everything you write, including when all your subjects are men

    • Use feminist citation practices

    • Get your organization to set up scholarships for studying women/queer/trans writers

    • Acknowledge when there aren’t the right sources, translations, or information available by and about non-men

    • Foreground differences among women/non-men

    • Do a class project like Wikipedia’s Women in Red

    • Use Russ’ framework as a teaching tool

    If you are on social media:

    • Make a TikTok about women writers you’re reading

    • Notice and respond to mansplaining or perpetuations of misogyny in Yiddish studies, when you have the energy

    If you are anyone who works in or cares about Yiddish culture:

    • Choose a non-man writer for your leyenkrayz or book group

    • Translate women

    • Apply for funding for feminist projects

    • Let organizations know when you’re offended

    I know none of this will make the patriarchy go away. But our project now is the same as that of those shrayberins and dikhterins a hundred years ago: to make the Yiddish future, and to make our place in it. It would be wonderful to do it together with you.


    Correction: An earlier version of this piece incorrectly stated that YIVO turned off the ability to thumbs-down their videos on YouTube due to the number of dislikes on the Novershtern lectures. The change in the like/dislike button was actually a result of YouTube policy and not a decision from YIVO.

    Jones, Faith. “How to Suppress Yiddish Women’s Writing.” In geveb, May 2022:
    Jones, Faith. “How to Suppress Yiddish Women’s Writing.” In geveb (May 2022): Accessed May 21, 2024.


    Faith Jones

    Faith Jones is a librarian and translator in Vancouver, Canada.