Unfortunately many people are confusing women's advancement with women's rights. And by pushing women or girls into various co-ed environments in which they themselves do not wish to enter, they are abusing women's rights. They are imposing upon women a new set of parameters that may be detrimental to their growth and development. In fact, forcing women into different life situations could in fact develop into a form of sexual harassment.
In Israel today there are many opportunities for women to advance in all segments of society. For the past sixteen years, I have been editor of a monthly publication and now editor of an on-line TV channel. I have never been held back because I was a woman. My goodness, a former prime minister was a woman (Golda Meir) and the current head of the Kadima Party is a women (Tzipi Livni).
As a performer, I know that there are women who wish to perform in a mixed production for a mixed audience. There are many opportunities to do that in Jerusalem and throughout the country. They have never been denied their spotlight.
There are also women and girls who, for halachic or for personal reasons, wish to perform with and for women only. If there were no women's productions, these women would be side-lined forever. Instead of holding them back, my productions have always given them an opportunity in the spotlight that they never would have had - performing and growing creatively and personally in a safe supportive women's environment.
My productions - both Raise Your Spirits and Dames of the Dance, B"H, have empowered women to reach their full potential freely and vigorously. Besides all that, we know that girls' and women's performance is a special energizing experience. Women's performances for women have a power that can never be realized in mixed audiences. There is a sisterhood at a women-for-women performance that transcends the stage and unites women in an intensively positive bond.
Women for Women
Women for women productions, or projects of any kind, are not new inventions. There are women's banks, because some women feel more comfortable dealing financially with women. There are men's bathrooms and women's bathrooms, because women (and men) would rather maintain a certain level of privacy.
There are thousands of women's exercise programs or Zumba classes all over the world - only some for religious reasons, but mostly because women don't want the pressure of men watching them sweat in their leotards. They don't want to have to constrain their activity (whether dance or anything else) because men are watching.
Thanks, Men, We Don't Need Your Help
Men may say they don't want religious coercion, and therefore want to be able to watch women perform, but that is religious coercion - forcing women or girls who halachically do not wish to perform in front of men to be bullied into doing so. Men may say they don't want sexual discrimination, so therefore women should perform in front of men, but that is sexual discrimination itself, and is actually abusive.
Women who wish a safe environment to grow and flourish without the involvement of men should be able to find one. Girls, who physically are self-conscious about their developing bodies, should not have to worry that men or boys are watching them. They should find their own voice in dance without being inhibited by men.
B"H in my town we have a community center that is a a safe place for women/girls – a place for women to be able to express themselves freely in a supportive environment without the pressures of boys and men around them. Matnas Efrat nurtures women from childhood onward to reach their creative potential, to develop a freedom of expression that they could only achieve without the strains of the presence of men/boys.
There are many kinds of community centers in the country - some with women's performance, some with mixed performances. People can find the option that is right for them - whether they're men or women. My community center knows that for the social rights of women, women/girls should not be forced to dance in front of men. My community center also know that for the religious rights of women, women/girls should not be forced to dance in front of men. The Efrat Matnas promises women/girls a safe environment in which to express themselves and grow.
My hope is that every community should have the option of such a supportive nurturing environment for women and girls.
(Thanks to Hardy Girls, Healthy Women for their art: http://www.nonprofitmaine.org/ArchivedPages/FM_HardyGirls_Feb06.asp)