The tagline of this year’s Jewish Feminist Alliance (JOFA) 8th annual gathering on Dec 7-8 has sparked a conversation: “It’s not just for feminists anymore.”
Long time JOFA supporter Jennifer Moran’s Facebook feed blew up when she posted this status: “Just received an ad for the 8th International JOFA Conference, which proclaims, ‘It’s not just for feminists anymore…’ How I wish that I could convince my fellow women’s rights activists to stop disparaging, diminishing, or distancing themselves from feminism.” Others wondered if JOFA’s mission had changed, if social norms in the Orthodox community had led JOFA to shift its recruitment strategy away from the “radical” notion of feminism.
What’s the motivation behind this tagline and what’s happening at the conference? We spoke with Sarah Blechner, Marketing Chair for the upcoming conference. Blechner was raised in an Orthodox feminist household and has attended JOFA conferences since she was in high school.
Jewschool: What can we expect from this year’s JOFA conference that’s different from previous years?
Sarah Blechner: Whereas many of the past conferences have focused on the Orthodox community writ large, this year, while we will still be tackling those large, community issues, we are also talking in a much more personal way than ever before. We are really looking forward to bringing many of the “big” issues down to an individual level and discussing how many of these issues impact the everyday, the individual, and the quieter moments.
Jewschool: Talk about the tagline “It’s not just for feminists anymore.” It’s generated a lot of conversation- why and how did you choose it?
SB: We went about this tagline with the intention of speaking to our core audience who’s been with us for years, and to pull in a new, slightly younger, slightly different audience. When the line was initially articulated, we knew it would generate conversation but we felt it was exactly the kind of conversation we want and shouldn’t shy away from. We want to open up the conversation about the relationship between avowed feminists and the people who may not call themselves feminists for any number of reasons. We wanted to be both inclusive to people who may not raise their hands as feminists, but stay committed to our own values at the same time. There are many people out there who when asked, find many topics we will be covering interesting and relevant to themselves, and this line is a not to those people. It represents the balance and the inclusivity that the JOFA conference wants to encourage and promote.
Jewschool: A lot of the reaction to the tagline has been folks being frustrated at the idea that JOFA wants to distance itself from the word “feminist” so it’s not seen as scary or radical. Can you speak to that?
SB: JOFA is most definitely feminist, at the same time that we’re trying to be include and respect those who might otherwise see themselves as outside of this important conversation. We are not distancing ourselves from this word, if anything we are trying to broaden the amount of people who will call themselves feminists once they come to the conference and are engaged in the discussion with us. We are trying to ensure that the word itself is not a reason for people to automatically assume this is not for them. We want those people to come in an experience JOFA, we want to open the doors for them and have them learn about everything that JOFA, very much a feminist organization, stands for.
Jewschool: What are you most excited about in regard to the conference?
SB: Where to start! Whenever I look at the schedule maker, I get overwhelmed and excited by the choices I will have and the amount of great speakers and great subjects that will be covered. But I am super excited to hear Ofir Ben Shitrit (winner of Israeli “The Voice”)! She is beautiful and brave, and it will definitely be a highlight for me!
For more on the tagline and the conference, check out Elana Sztokman’s piece, “It’s Not Just for Feminists Anymore.” JOFA will host its 8th international conference on feminism and Orthodoxy — Voices of Change — on December 7-8 at John Jay College in New York City.