Last weekend I was in Brooklyn, NY for the funeral of my aunt. S. died at age 77 of complications from cancer. She grew up Orthodox Jewish on the Lower Eastside of NYC - and became more religious than her parents living in what became a heavily Orthodox Jewish area in Brooklyn. She helped found and lead a Jewish girls school for approximately 30 years. Her entire life was based upon her Jewish identity.
At the funeral there was a white, simple curtain above a divider separating us men on one side of the room from the women on the other side. The lectern was on our side. Her three sons and a number of rabbis spoke - perhaps 7-8 men in total. No women spoke (she had two daughters).
During the funeral the tears of women were often heard. Much was said about my aunt, describing her in very positive terms. She was an incredible woman in many ways. The voices of the women present were otherwise not heard at all.
The remainder of my day-and-one half with my family was spent in a combination of being in the kitchen (which was "integrated) and the living room which had separate female and male space. While visitors were there around the times of the Shivah (mourning ceremonies for the deceased), there was a divider up creating a visual divide between men and women.
Within the world of Orthodox Judiasm there is a serious separation of men and women. Women, upon marrying, have their heads shaved and wear wigs, so that they are not exposing themselves to men besides their husbands. My aunt could not touch me (kiss or hug) beyond age 13 when I was Bar Mitzvahed (and "became a man") because I am male and was not her husband.
The world of Orthodox Judiasm, similar to some Christian faiths, relies upon an absolute belief in life being based upon "God's will". The father of one man paying respects was crippled for life because of a man (or his henchmen) mistakingly attacking the wrong man (who was thought to owe money to the attacker). This was "God's will" - not a random tragedy in their life view.
I appreciated the opportunity to mourn the death of my aunt. My relatives and their friends were very nice and supportive of me, an outsider to their way of life.
At the same time I felt very, very uncomfortable in this world of clear separations and distinctions between Men and Women that fixed us in our "life roles". Obviously many religions and many people view men and women in similar terms.
I do not want to label such people as "the enemy" in why we have sexism. They generally are not the ones who ridicule women because they are women or act in blatantly sexist ways to put women down. Where they are not hypocrites, they do things in a respectful way that in my mind is incredibly limiting to women.
My aunt would have argued that she was not discriminated against. She would say that her role was equal to that of men.
I always disagreed with that perception, though generally didn't argue with her. It is pointless to argue with "faith".
I wish to respect my aunt and others like her. I also want to help build a world where her view of our world doesn't limit the opportunities that women have to not have to face sexism and where men are not stuck in our roles as "real men".