“Unorthodox:” A Woman’s Journey from Repression to Freedom
By Sarah B. Weir
Growing up, Deborah Feldman had to wear skirts that covered her ankles and high-necked blouses made of woven fabric so they wouldn’t cling to her body. She wasn’t allowed to read books in English because her grandfather, with whom she lived, said they were written in an “impure language.” When she was twelve, she suffered a sexual assault, which she kept hidden because she had been taught that men’s lust was ungovernable. This was supposedly the reason her world was segregated by gender.
At 17, Feldman’s grandparents pushed her into an arranged marriage with a virtual stranger, but she had never even heard the word “sex” spoken or learned about the very basics of human reproduction. Once married, she was expected to shave her head and wear a wig—something she rebelled against after a year because she found it so depressing. Seven years later, despite the fact she knew she would be hated as a pariah, she abandoned her community and started life over.
You might be surprised that Feldman didn’t grow up in a far away country with repressive laws against women, but in an ultra-conservative Jewish enclave in New York City. “They’ve passed more laws from out of nowhere, limiting women—there’s a rule that women can’t be on the street after a certain hour,” Feldman told the New York Post describing the Hasidic Satmar community in which she was raised. “We all hear these stories about Muslim extremists; how is this any better? This is just another example of extreme fundamentalism.”