Some of the most harmful ideologies have used this.
Nazism promoted itself as a new solution to old problems. Combining nationalism with socialism was presented as the best way to achieve equality in society -- at least for those deemed Aryan, anyway.
New cars! New vacation opportunities! New laws for factory works!
In reality, Nazism derived much of its ideology from pagan occult traditions. Even its infamous swastika is just the old Buddhist symbol for death and decline.
And its hatred of Jews was nothing new either.
Communism also touted itself as a new solution to old problems. But it turned totalitarian fairly quickly. "Rob from the rich and give to the poor" is not a new concept, nor is the idea that the government owns your stuff and can parcel it out according to whim.
Old Tyranny with a New Twist
For example, in the above example of Nazism, the VW bugs produced in Germany were indeed a new kind of car. (Cars in general were newer to the scene.) And the idea of parceling out cars to citizens was technically a new idea.
But the foundation for Nazi ideology was pretty old. And the idea of catering to a chosen populace over another populace is also pretty old and overdone.
Thus, the means for carrying out these ideologies and methods were new, but the ideologies and methods themselves were not new.
The Old-New "Liberated" Woman
They peppered their propaganda with persuasive words related to "new": "Remarkable! Revolutionary! Discover! The New Woman!"
("Self-discovery" was and still is a big hit with them.)
Yet much of what they presented as new wasn't actually so new. It was old with a new twist.
Women & Housework
For example, the idea of "freeing" women from domestic chores? Women who could afford it have been doing that since time immemorial.
The modern twist was that rather than being born or marrying into such financial capability, feminists wanted women themselves to earn it.
Women & Paid Work
Likewise, there have always been working women. There have even been women were the main breadwinners, either because they were widows or for some Jewish women of yore, because they wanted their husbands to learn Torah full-time.
The modern twist was that feminists wanted this for all women.
Women & Respected Professions
Throughout the ages, you can find women who fulfilled professional jobs of authority. There were ruling queens, doctors, lawyers, sailors, soldiers, storekeepers, printers, teachers, and more.
Massachusetts midwife Martha Ballard would be called a "healer" in today's lingo, but back then, her ability to also treat disease was simply part of what a midwife did -- and something she did quite successfully. According to what she writes in her diary during the years 1785-1812, she was clearly considered a respected medical professional & colleague by the male doctors who knew her.
And the modern twist?
Feminists wanted access for all women to any profession they desired -- and this included access to the education necessary for the desired profession.
This coincided with increased opportunities for males, BTW. Unless they hailed from the "right" class, many males throughout the ages never managed to achieve professions, education, prestige, or other opportunities outside their limited station.
So the expansion of opportunities for women actually coincided with expanding opportunities for men, and wasn't just a feminist thing nor just a feminist accomplishment.
Women & Childcare
And since time immemorial, women who could afford to hired others to care for their children. Yes, the mothers and caretakers and children remained on the same property, often in the same building together. But wet-nurses, nursemaids, nannies, and governesses often fulfilled the roles that mothers otherwise fill. Even today, many women who can afford it do hire a nanny or two.
In Dov B. Lederman's remarkable book, These Children are Mine: A Story of Survival and Rescue, Lederman remembers his childhood governess and their walks to the park. He also remembers kindergarten as a "newfangled invention," recalling that children generally started school at the age of 7.
In fact, Lederman recalls overhearing his mother speaking to someone about "the horror of taking a child away from his parents and sending him to kindergarten at a tender age."
(But please note that even as Lederman's mother opposed kindergarten, the responsibility for her child did not rest on her alone 24/7; she hired a governess to lighten that responsibility.)
And that's the modern twist.
Many working women couldn't (and still can't) afford to hire a nanny to their home. So they searched outside the home for babysitting and daycares and preschools (which didn't exist in the quantities and quality they do now). Nowadays, these are popular options in modern society. But having your child physically far away from you -- even an hour's traveling time between mother and child -- is the norm. No longer under the same roof, the child is part of a group and hopefully receives the necessary care and attention as one of several.
So What is the Real "New" for Women's Roles?
What's new is the following:
- Breadth (widespread; the above is embraced by most women in modern society)
- Acceptability (Female lawyers, for example, are no longer an oddity.)
- Opportunity (Women - and men, for that matter - can access opportunities previously available only to upper-class white men.)
- Long-distance separation between mothers & children (although even this occurred in some areas during certain eras, such as British colonists in India sending young children to boarding schools in England or widowed parents placing their children in orphanages to meet the children's physical and educational needs, even if the parents made regular visits)
- Group care (although, again, children in boarding schools or orphanages received group care)
Therefore, certain attitudes and methods common today are different, but the actual ideas (women investing time and energy in something other than domestic responsibilities or hiring another person to carry out specific maternal responsibilities) aren't new at all.
The Old Danger of "New!"
Therefore, it gives the impression of not being covered by Chazal or halacha or mussar.
And if it appears to not be addressed by Torah sources, then where does the frum Yid feel he or she should look to for guidance?
To psychologists. Consultants. Researchers. Teachers.
Secular professionals, in other words. (Or frum professionals taught secular theories.)
This is a problem, though it doesn't look like one at first.
The more something is "new," the less likely it is to be found in Torah sources...because it's new, right? It wasn't around during the composition of the Shulchan Aruch. It's not there, so we just have to come up with stuff on our own!
But as stated in a previous post, Chazal do discuss working mothers and this idea is even mentioned in Mishlei/Proverbs.
It's very important to hold out against the flood of "New!"
It's not good (or even true) when we think we're outside or above Torah.
Bubby vs the Fire-Truck Feminists
The news outlets raved about it and it all seemed very exciting.
So the kids ran home and enthused about it to their old chassidish grandmother, who'd lived through 2 world wars and survived a death camp before finding refuge in America.
She'd seen all the "modern" movements come and go and she knew just how to handle them. (She also knew first-hand how extremely destructive these things tend to be.)
So Bubby said, "Well, I don't know about female fire fighters. So let's go look it up in the Shulchan Aruch."
That immediately set things into an interesting perspective. What could the Shulchan Aruch have to say about female fire fighters? After all, this was new!
At the same time, that immediately took some air out of the feminist sails. Maybe it wasn't actually so new?
Let's go see!
So Bubby opened the book and read the appropriate passages, then said, "You know, all I see here is that if there's a fire, then anyone who can needs to help put it out. It doesn't matter if you're male or female. If there's a fire and you can extinguish it, then you're obligated to do so."
Well then...it's just another halachic obligation.
Put into that perspective, then the modern twist is NOT the idea of a female fire fighter, but the idea of a fire-fighting force at all. In fact, the trucks and sirens themselves are suddenly "new"! (They weren't around in the time of the Shulchan Aruch either.)
Except that they aren't so new because the kids had been born into the existence of a fire department and indeed, horse-drawn fire engines had preceded trucks by decades.
Then Bubby commented that she didn't see the point of racing around town in fire trucks with the sirens blaring if you're anyway obligated to put out a fire if you can.
And maybe there was concern whether these women had the physical strength to deal with the high-pressure fire hose, climb the ladder wearing cumbersome equipment, drag heavy people or more than one person at a time to safety.
There was possibly even concern about the danger to life and property if a fire emergency occurred while the trucks were already occupied with these feministy non-fire-emergency purposes (which also makes the trucks low on gas, etc.).
And that just took the wind of out the sails completely.
It's not new, it's not that big a deal, so...who cares? What's all the hype?
So instead of seeing them as remarkable or glorious, the chassidish kids were able to see these fire-truck feminists for what they actually were: useless show-offs wasting time and vital community resources.