Ma’yan is a nonprofit research and education incubator that focuses a feminist lens on the cultural challenges and identity issues facing Jewish girls in contemporary society. Through research, innovative programming, and community events, we work with these girls, their parents, and their educators to provide resources that help all youth grow into critical, curious, and committed global citizens.
A Challenge for Our Community
The girls most often served by Jewish communal institutions—many of them socially, economically, and racially privileged—are thriving. And yet, these same girls report feeling intense pressure to accrue academic and extracurricular distinctions. They feel bound by the constraints of feminine “niceness,” through which individual ambition appears aggressive and selfish. They are surrounded by mixed messages about femininity and anger, affluence, beauty, and more. The impact of these cultural contradictions may be largely invisible, but for some girls they contribute to the development of emotional distress, relationships issues, and self-harm. While we are committed to addressing the sources of girls’ suffering, Ma’yan challenges the common assumptions that most girls’ problems are largely psychological and individual. Instead, our work recognizes girls’ strengths as well as their pain and approaches these with an eye toward their cultural roots and shared solutions.
A Solution that Starts at the Source
Listening to girls is the key to serving their needs and interests. In our own research, we start with the voices of girls—as participants in our studies and as Research Training Interns. Working this way brings to light the complexity of modern Jewish girls’ lives, challenging popular-but-misleading accounts of a “girl crisis” plaguing our daughters. This crucial shift in perspective can transform hand-wringing over girls’ perilous fates into countless opportunities to engage girls (and their adult leaders) in examining critically and deeply the influences that shape their sense of self. This approach also models a kind of power-sharing or partnership between girls and adult leaders which w e think is key to cultivating girls’ skills and capacities as leaders.