Native American Bat Mitzvah and Barbie Construction Set

This week I attended an unusual Bat Mitzvah ceremony performed according to Native American wisdom and customs. Bar/Bat Mitzvah is a Jewish celebration of youth maturity, which typically takes place at the age of 12 (girls) and 13 (boys).  Traditionally they were held only for boys and signified a boy becoming old enough to follow religious commandments. With the wave of feminism that demanded equal rights for both genders, some non-orthodox Jews started celebrating maturity ceremonies for their daughters as well: Bat Mitzvahs.

The ceremony I attended was an intimate, women-only, spiritual gathering where our 12-year old relative was welcomed into the world of women. We ate (no religious celebration goes without it), played Native-American drums, learned a Native-American song, took turns to tell our wishes to the hostess and hang them on her giant dream-catcher. But, most importantly, we were empowered with the stories of traditional Native-American women wisdom. This may have been a free interpretation of their traditions but it still sounded good. We were reminded that Earth and Nature are of a female gender, that both nurture us all in; That spirit of a household centers on a woman, and if she is well everyone will be well, therefore it is important to take good care of ourselves physically, mentally and emotionally; That the average mom lacks thousands of hours of sleep yearly; That in the rush of our obligations to work, husband, kids we frequently forget ourselves; That sometimes it is important to do nothing and not feel guilty; That we should teach our daughters not to be servants of the needs of others. We were told that in the Native American households not the oldest son but the youngest daughter inherits the house or business she grew up in, her husband comes to live with her family because a woman defines a house; and that by Native American tradition younger women are taught by older women the wisdom of life. The latter reminded me of a girlfriend of mine, a manager at one of the big financial companies who went to a female VP of her company and asked to be mentored by her professionally.  We were also told that in a fight for equality with men we frequently emulate them and lose our feminine traits. That while we fight our periods with pills and society defines pregnancy to be a professional disability, in the Native American communities menstruating women were gathered for a VIP treatments. This all was true and hard. While the younger girls at the ceremony enjoyed the celebration rituals, the older women reflected on how slow and painful such changes are in our still rather traditional society.

Two days later an article in NYTimes I discovered some surprising statistics that showed that we may be a bit further ahead in these transition than we think.  It states that according to the latest Census Bureau data, one-fifth of fathers with preschool-age children and working wives said they were the primary caretaker in 2010. And 37.6 percent of working wives earned more than their husbands in 2011, up from 30.7 percent 10 years earlier.  As women spend more time at work, men start to do more shopping. Hence the surge in male grooming products, male-targeted advertising and store rearrangements.   Barbie and Lego both came up this year with house construction sets for girls, aiming at fathers looking for daughters' presents and luring daughters into the engineering world with likable colors and context. These sets have been named "hot holiday toys" by Amazon and Target, and their sales doubled the predictions last year. But not only fathers are buying them.  Emphasis on developmental toys has never been so high.  Sociological research says that "playing with blocks, puzzles and construction toys helps children with spatial development. Children with better spatial thinking are more likely to eventually go into mathematics, engineering, science and technology."  While the connections between Barbie construction set and true gender equality are vague, our awareness to the importance of nurturing scientific and engineering skills of our girls as we do with our boys is obviously on the rise. These skills may open many doors for our daughters and guarantee financial independence that many of their mothers and grandmothers didn't have. Financial independence will likely allow them to take better care of themselves physically, mentally and emotionally. As more women will be climbing up the professional ladder, the more comfortable and relaxed everyone on the ladder will be with feminine wisdom, nature and physiology. Unfortunately one thing we may not be able to solve - and this is a lack of mothers' sleep.

Mega Blocks Barbie Build n' Style set


 Lego Friends construction set, image by eilonwy77, distributed under CCL.

9 comments:

  1. What an incredible article!!

    I think it is one of the best pieces I have read on the subject in some time. It is informative as well as creative on the part of the participants.

    My attention was awakened to the special gender problems women have when a nun who lived in our community gave me a book called the Natashas by Victor Malarek. The book is about the planet wide sex trade. She and her order are very active in fighting this hideous practice.

    I bring this up because I think that women have taken a great deal of abuse over the centuries; training them to enter into the technological opportunities is one way of preventing the kind of abuse Malarek documents. I’m glad to see that a Bat-Mitzvah can have such a creative, useful and symbolic setting. Thanks for reporting.

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  2. The description of the Native American Coming of Age ceremony sounds very special and meaningful....but not for a Bat Mitzvah. Was this girl part Native American? That might offer some explanation. What is sad is that our own Jewish heritage has much wisdom to offer and female role models. You did not mention anything about the girl's own heritage--her Torah. There is a Jewish saying: turn in over and over again for everything is contained in it. I don't mean to be disrespectful for I do believe there is wisdom to be had in other spiritual practices, but when you are celebrating a girl becoming a Jewish adult, taking on Jewish practice, it seems out-of-place to put so much emphasis on a completely different tradition. Why run so far from your own backyard?

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